Names have been changed.
Every article of clothing I owned was laid out on my bed, and Spotify’s “This Is John Mayer” playlist was playing in the background. I was determined to find the perfect outfit to wear on my afternoon date with Aidan.
I had made my less-than-triumphant return to Tinder after furiously swearing off the platform. Aidan was the first guy to strike up a decent conversation with me, following up with a date and promising me a slice of coconut cake on him.
As per usual, I was letting myself get way too excited about a first date. Even though I had tried to keep this date top secret in hopes that I wouldn’t jinx it again, I still slipped up and told my friends about him: Aidan is twenty years old, fifteen kilometers away from me, working as a graphic designer for a local print store, and his Spotify anthem is “New Light” by John Mayer.
We had been talking on and off for a few days, sharing our favorite movies and most visited spots in the city; we bonded over tragic romantic experiences and the difficulties of finding a genuine connection with someone over Tinder.
At first, I was reluctant to give him my Instagram. In 2019, giving someone your Instagram is allowing someone to see who you are, who you want to be perceived as, and who you once were. Even though you have control over the narrative, you have no control over others’ judgment. In my case, it was a link in my Instagram bio to my written record of every significant moment in my life—good and bad.
But he sounded like a genuine guy, and he ticked off all of the boxes I was looking for: he was polite, well-spoken, and easy on the eyes. And the cherry on top? He was one of the few guys that didn’t strike up a conversation with me by asking me to be his Asian persuasion or telling me how if she ain’t foreign, she borin’. So I gave him my Instagram, and he gave me his.
A while later, I was at dinner and Aidan was the last thing on my mind. My friends and I were splitting ribs, passing pints of beer, and sharing stories about our week at school. As everyone was finishing up their meal, I flipped over my phone to see a text from my neighbor.
“Do you know this guy named Aidan?” she asked.
“I know a guy named Aidan,” I responded.
“Is this him?” she responded almost immediately, attaching a screenshot of Aidan’s Instagram.
“That’s the Aidan I know. I actually have a date with him tomorrow. How do you know him?”
“I was dating him two weeks ago.”
She began telling me what had happened to her, and I heard a variety of excruciatingly similar details between our experiences. He had super-liked her and messaged her first, too, complimenting and asking her about her name, with both of us having clearly Asian-sounding names. He’d told both of us that he deleted Tinder because of us. She began sending me screenshots of Aidan’s following list, and I saw one Asian girl after another—from Chen to Huang, Kim to Lee, Nguyen to Wang.
“It’s sickening. This dude even has a routine for it,” I responded in disbelief.
“The fact that he has a routine for it means it worked on other people, doesn’t it?”
Yellow fever—a fetish for Asian women—preys on the stereotype that Asian women are submissive, hypersexual, exotic commodities. From the historical times of American soldiers being stationed in Asian countries with specialized brothels to the sexualized “China doll” portrayal of Asian women in later media, Asian women have always been taken at face value. Growing up, my Asian female friends and I were always aware of yellow fever. It was an age-old story, but we never gave it much care because we knew the truth—if anyone thought all Asian women were true to the stereotype, they clearly had never met one, or at least had never heard an Asian mother scream at her child in a restaurant parking lot.
I was seventeen the first time I encountered yellow fever. I was having dinner at my boyfriend’s house for the first time, and when I looked around I discovered that his father was married to a Japanese woman, his half-brother was married to a Chinese woman, and I, a Taiwanese woman, was sitting in between.
Was I just a part of a pattern? Was I only liked for my ethnicity? Part of me knew I shouldn’t label my then-boyfriend as having yellow fever since he was half-Asian on his mother’s side, but his track record of consecutively dating Asian women was concerning. Needless to say, seeing the trend in his family made me feel more than troubled.
Growing up, there had always been men—my senior-year prom date included—who enjoyed making racially insensitive comments to me, throwing around racial slurs, and making condescending remarks over people’s “ethnic” facial features. Yet even so, these men still prided themselves on wanting to be romantically involved with an Asian woman.
To be clear, Asian women are constantly harassed when they choose to date outside of their race. We’re labeled as “self-hating,” having a “colonial mentality,” and “white worshipping.” People even go as far as to generalize Asian girls as “easy,” suggesting that Asian girls allow themselves to be the subject of other races’ fantasies because of their supposed fascination with foreign men. But we’re none of the above. Quite frankly, we shouldn’t be forced to limit ourselves to a narrow dating pool because of other people’s actions.
As I approached my twenties, I thought my system of filtering out guys with yellow fever was foolproof. I watched out for red flags (see below) and immediately aborted conversations when I noticed them.
1. He talks about how “exotic” Asian girls are, asking you if the stereotypes are true.
2. He tells you about his travels in Southeast Asia, even if you aren’t from Southeast Asia.
3. He feels like he’s “super Asian” because he really enjoys Asian food and has a lot of Asian friends.
4. He has consecutively dated more than two Asian girls.
5. He assumes you’re Chinese, tells you about how he’s learning Chinese, and speaks Chinese to you.
6. All of the above.
The older I’ve gotten, the more uncomfortable I am about these interactions. But it’s also happened so much that I also feel like it’s inevitable. When I date someone outside of my race, I never really feel like they like me for the person I am. So no matter what country I move to or what city I visit, the possibility of yellow fever never ceases to dangle above my head. I don’t want to think the worst of others, but my bad dates cast a shadow of doubt over every guy I meet.
At the end of the day, I want to go to sleep knowing that if I end up falling in love with someone outside of my race, it will be because they love me for who I am—not because I am Asian Girl #7.
By Wen Hsiao
Illustration by Hannah Kang