Kopi Meets Whiskey—A Take on Expat Dating in Singapore by a Queer Malaysian

TL;DR—casual dating sucks. So the real question is, what do you want for yourself?

When I finished the first draft of this article about expat dating in Singapore, I was thinking, am I that jaded? Have I lost so much of my hope? It sounded so angry and frustrated. I was waxing poetic (ranting) about the queer dating scene in Singapore. So I re-wrote it. Because it’s already riddled with article after article about all the different experiences people have and tips on how you can do better. I mean, The Ministry of Social and Family Development literally has a ‘Social Development Network’, complete with tips and a directory for dating agencies in Singapore. Not to mention all the dating apps and dating agencies. It all feels too easy, too clean. Like you can access every memory and every wisdom with a snap of a finger.

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But can you still remember the first date you went abroad? What was it like? Where did you go? Did you follow any of the tips from all the articles you read? Do you remember?

I don’t. Or maybe I don’t want to, even if I’m 28. I was only eighteen when I first got to Singapore. From my hometown of Kota Kinabalu, I was about to embark on my tertiary studies—mass communication. I thought the world was opening up to me. And I would find myself, find the love that I wanted. Well, I did, in some sense. (Full disclosure: I have a partner now.) I came out of it, alive. But there is still this brewing dissatisfaction, even if I could leave the dating pool. I was so convinced then, that I would live out my life meeting strangers whose faces would only blur and fade in my head. As you can tell, my dating experience as a quasi-expat in Singapore wasn’t pretty.

Maybe it’s just me, and my refusal to reckon with the yawning gap between who I was and who I wanted to be. Maybe I wish that I put up more of a fight. There was just this mould that I felt like I had to fit into: young, fair, pretty, and of course, toned. It’s a tired cliché even then. For the record, I hate clichés. But even then, the Singaporeans on Grindr around my age were already falling into it. How could I not?

Playing The Game

So I started to lose weight, running four, five times a week. I took dance classes, trying to find a purpose other than being and feeling desired. After months of carving my body as best as I could, I thought I was ready. At 2 metres, I thought I was a novelty.

But the messages only trickled in. So I kept doing the same experiment, just to see if it was true, how they were all looking for beautiful bodies and beautiful faces. I would change my regular, clothed, photo of me on Grindr to something that showed more of my pale skin. And then I’d watch as the visitor count hit 200, 300, 400.

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Yet, it wasn’t enough. As an eighteen-year-old Malaysian Chinese then, I thought at least I had ticked off some of the prerequisites. So it was easy enough to get texts from people who looked like me. I was already changing the way I talked then so that I could sound Singaporean, so I could sound like them. I became something they thought they knew, whether they just wanted casual flings or deep conversations about all those oft-repeated progressive views. It was easy enough; I am a writer, after all.

So, I came out of my shell, creating profiles on all those big-name dating apps. Taking the initiative to say the first hello, trying to relate to what they put in their bio. I would pour in my heart, so much of it. I would paint myself as this perky, creative, smart-dumb blonde. I wanted to make them feel loved. I would compliment anything and everything about them, to prove that I was deserving of their affection, their love. I went to meet them, from hotel rooms to serviced apartments, dinners at romantic restaurants, and all those fast midnights that would paint all the streets and buildings in the same shade.

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Busy City, Busy Singles

Some people have said that Singaporeans are sheltered, given how the government has laid out a well-trodden path for them. But the guys I met mostly had their own things going, though I’d keep asking to meet, making up reasons why they’d still want to, even though they’re already low-key ghosting me. It’s a busy city with busy singles, I guess.

I’m lucky that the gay men I’ve met were mostly well-mannered, at the very least, if not slightly opinionated. But I think most other foreigners would beg to differ. I can easily pass as Singaporean Chinese, the majority. I am afforded the privilege of looking and talking like everybody else in the community. When you deviate from the beauty ideal, you might as well be thin air.

The gay community can still be racist and fatphobic in Singapore, despite attempts to project solidarity. Profiles would explicitly say “No Indians; No Malays; No Femmes’. Even Pink Dot, the closest thing that Singapore has to an annual pride parade, cannot run away from allegations of racism by some of the attendees over the years. Pink Dot did try to re-affirm its stance against racial discrimination. But getting Preetipls and Subhas Nair every year isn’t going to cut it for much longer, though.

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The Singles Scene in the Big Apple

The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the world too. One of my intimate friends, Darren, faces the shades of the same problem in New York. And I think one of the most telling signs that race is still such a big discussion is that I still have to mention his race to give context to the story. He’s a Singaporean Chinese who has been living in New York for 6 years.

I asked him over Telegram, is it something like: new place, same problems?

‘Well it’s unique since in Singapore as a Chinese person you are the majority,’ he texted back.

‘Here (in New York), you know what it feels like to be a minority. There’s racism brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, stereotypes associated with being Asian, and the Asian fetish chasers.’

Though Darren admitted that in New York, it’s not all bad. It’s a more liberal state, so he knows that his rights are protected. He’s able to live more freely, compared to the more conservative states in the Midwest. That’s despite all the toxic rhetoric by Fox News.

‘I will say that the same issues in Asia are not that much different here. Like the masc jock guys being chased after and the exclusive circle of super masculine bodybuilder types that are seen as the pinnacle.’

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Come On, People

I’ve always thought about how silly it can get, like how the minority can still create a minority among themselves. Because, at the end of the day, everyone’s just lonely. All we’re looking for is a connection. But there’s this wave of apathy affecting how we connect with new people, romantically or not. I still like to meet new people, so I still get on Grindr and Tinder to see who’s around (with my partner’s knowledge). It’s like, no one even talks to anyone anymore, unless there’s an explicit intent to ‘have fun’. Or you get flooded with unsolicited dick pics if you post a picture of yourself in your Speedos.

And how can we even ignore the discussion about race and class in this day and age? How do we confront it? For me, I always tried to act against my bias, even if I can’t run away from it. I was chasing after beautiful people too, despite watching all those neo-romantic romantic comedies. I try to strike up conversation when I match with people tinder. I try to turn guys down as gently as I can. I try to afford people a little more grace, as jaded as I am. Because Lorde knows we all need it.

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How Do You Want to Make Your Bed?

So, what do you want out of all of this? That is the perennial question you have to ask yourself: who do you want to be? What do you want to stand for? What are you living for? We all want fantasy, but to what end? There will always be beautiful faces on beautiful bodies, and nice dinners at romantic rooftop bars will only go so far.

Everyone will have their heart broken—if only once was all we could get. Yes, I am saying this when I only needed to swipe right to find my partner, that I am happy with him. But at the end of the day, we’ll only lie in the bed we make, so we might as well learn how to make a better bed.

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