Four middle-aged White Dudes. All of them were bearded and balding. All of them resembled the aging, stringy-haired members of the band Metallica. And all of them were pressed up against the model-thin bodies of a heavily made-up Japanese Beauty Queen. Furthermore, I was bilingual, well-traveled and college-educated. But as I realized a few weeks into my stay in Japan, I was also mysteriously, frustratingly invisible. I asked for help reading restaurant menus and subway signs.
My boss had been right. It was hard to be a single, western woman in Japan. I turned to the Internet for advice and was surprised to learn that the Dateless Western Woman was a familiar character in the expat world, at least judging from the score of postings on expat forums by lonely, single females.
But as wide-spread as the problem seemed to be, it was one that many women avoided talking about. The pervading theory though, among expats and Japanese alike, was that Japanese men were in fact attracted to western women but were just too intimidated to do anything about it.
Western women in Asia were like the Jennifer Anistons of the expat world. Strong, independent, assertive and outspoken, they were interesting to admire from afar, but no man would ever dream of striking up a conversation with one.
Western women were so different, so foreign, they were virtually un-datable. Not true for their Y-chromosome-carrying expat buddies though. While the female expats spent Saturday nights alone, crying into their Ramen bowls, their male counterparts drank freely from the dating pool like they owned it.
Which in a way, they did. This would never happen anywhere else in the world. Because everywhere else, Barbie ends up with Ken, not his underemployed, socially-awkward, samurai-sword-collecting neighbor, Kevin.
But in Asia, dating rules defy all logic or evolutionary law. In Asia, the nerd is king. Not that I wished it otherwise. For the most part, I was happy for them. They were true success stories. Who could blame them for taking advantage of a magical loophole that allowed them to date women out of their league?
They were straight-forward and open-minded, for one thing. And through their Western, wire-rimmed eyes, they viewed relationships as an equal partnership, which was something the more traditional, close-minded of Japanese men still struggled to do. I figured that so long as they treated their girlfriends well and both partners were happy with the arrangement, what did it matter if their peculiar quirks and bizarre comments got lost in translation a little?
Even the socially awkward deserved to love and be loved. But it was hard not to feel jealous. They were like kids in a candy store. The Japanese women were gourmet truffles, while the western women were the three-year-old tootsie rolls melted to the bottom of the barrel.
The Japanese men might have been frightened of us but the other expat men just flat-out ignored us. But they were the minority. Most western women came to Japan single and stayed that way. I inwardly congratulated myself for having beat the odds.
But as I trudged home to face another evening of reruns of The Office and left-over sushi from , I wondered at what cost. Most days I felt unattractive, unwanted and worst of all, unfemale. When not even a short skirt or slinky top attracted more than a passing glance and even construction workers, who could usually be counted on for a leer, regarded me with bored, blank expressions, I felt like a Martian.
And very, very alone.