“You’re just cynical: people out there aren’t racist! You just gotta write a better profile! Take better pictures of yourself!” … are just three out of dozens of bullshit lines I’ve been fed in the last 3 years since I started my attempt at dating in Germany, several months after moving here.
For years while living in the Western hemisphere, I’ve been told that self-improvement, better writing and being the best version of myself was the key at succeeding at finding a date using the now-mainstream and socially-acceptable form of online apps. Just about every time I’ve brought up the miserable waste of time these apps have been for me and cited racism, my argument has been shot down as “not giving it enough of a chance, and being too picky and not giving people enough benefit of the doubt”.
While the information is all out there, that Asian men are verified bottom-tier picks in dating material for women (Archive version), so much that any success Asian men have in dating will be met with excessive overreaction and racist criticism, barely anybody seems to be aware of this, barely anybody talks about it because it’s “not politically correct” and some people even think it’s a myth that doesn’t apply to their friends in real life. Asian men in Western countries are routinely discriminated against in the dating market, even by Asian women!
Late last year in 2017, I ran into surprisingly positive results while trying online dating back home in Malaysia and decided to collect the data to determine if I really was the “cynical person who is always too negative”, or if these people with their Positive Vibes were the real bullshit-spewers. Here are the results from my research.
But first, an introduction to provide context.
Curiosity led me to try online dating for the first time
The first time I tried online dating was in late 2013 in North America. Tinder had just come out earlier that year and OKCupid was still an ‘in thing’. I had always found the concept and thought of online dating weird since first having seen ads for Match.com and a few other dating websites back in 2003 as a nerdy kid just getting into online marketing and reading SEO forums.
I still cringed as I put a disposable email address into the OKCupid signup box and also as I downloaded the Tinder app (little did I know it would become pretty much mainstream in the years to come) but it was a lazy, gloomy November and out of part boredom, part curiosity, I wanted to try my hand and see what the results would look like.
Fast forward a few months of on-and-off swiping on Tinder and applying (OKCupid was pretty much that, you write a first message that’s basically like a job application cover letter…), I had basically no luck. I don’t remember how many matches I had, but I’m pretty sure it was countable in one hand, out of which I chatted with maybe 2 average-but-not-attractive individuals, which ultimately ended in nothing, not even a date.
I wrote off online dating as a gimmick and a waste of time. There was no way anyone outside of a few individuals, probably socially awkward types, would use the internet to meet people and get dates – or so I thought.
Tinder is now mainstream (circa 2016)
It wasn’t till I went to Germany for grad school nearly 2 years later that I realized online dating, specifically Tinder had fully gone mainstream and basically all the single people I knew were using it and talking about all these dates they were going on as a result. Peer pressure probably played somewhat of a role in me downloading the app for the first time since I deleted it in early 2014.
The other thing was I wanted to give it a shot again – I was now in much better shape than I was in 2013 (or 2012 or 2011 when most of my first Tinder account’s photos were taken) or any point in my life for that matter. Also, I was on a new continent, and was told Europeans were more open minded, less racist than Americans. With so many things being different, maybe the outcomes would be different.
With my new pictures of new me, my new clothes, and meticulously crafted profile text, I went to work…
It wasn’t different from initial experience from 2 years prior. Over the course of the next few months, I spent dozens of hours on Tinder (not obsessively, just when I remembered to do it which was once every few days, but all that time adds up!) to no avail. I had tried everything from “swiping right” selectively (supposedly that signals that you’re a “picky person” and makes the algorithm provide better matches) to writing a script for my phone to automatically swipe right on everyone up to the “100 swipes per 12 hours on a free account” limit.
All I had to show after literally several thousand “right swipes” was matches you could count with two hands. After subtracting the unattractive ones and weirdos, and the matches that don’t respond at all to the initial outreach in chat, that’s basically zero. It seemed like online dating was the same waste of time as it was before.
What (I think) I look like
Looks play a massive role in online dating, especially for men; anyone who says otherwise is either lying or has no clue what they’re talking about. One of the things I’ve found weird, and continue to find unsettling, is how the various elements that are mostly “physical specifications” with a tiny sprinkle of “personality” (because face it, how much can you tell about a person’s personality based on a few lines of text on their profile) culminate in the form of someone’s decision whether they find you attractive, much like trying to pick out a new phone or car from a catalog, before they’ll even want to chat with you.
I’m maybe 176 cm, or 5’10” in American, which is pretty much the average height in America (where only 15% of the male population is over 6-feet-tall) and maybe slightly below average in Western Europe. I would consider myself to be in good shape since 2016 (based off people’s comments, I do look like I work out); no six pack, however.
I would consider myself a tiny tad above average in terms of facial aesthetics (especially if I use my face cream and DON’T cut my own hair with just a bathroom mirror, and let the professionals do it). I arrived at this conclusion regarding facial aesthetics based on a scale of what the “average” East Asian man on the street looks like, versus an attractive model of an Asian man. For what it’s worth, I do bear a resemblance to a relative who was a model and celebrity in Malaysia/Singapore back when he was aged 25 to 35.
I have a nice collection of dress shirts, which I like to wear – they are decidedly posh, proven by the sheer number of compliments I get while wearing them. That said, i’m a simple person and just like being comfortable; having nice dress shirts is mostly an excuse to not have to spend money and time dealing with layers and matching. The other stuff I wear are workout clothes (because they’re comfortable) and graphic T-shirts (because they’re comfortable).
One huge weakness is I’m not very photogenic (maybe this is a result of lacking practice?) and not very… narcissistic, if that’s the right word, as I keep forgetting to take those staged photos and other “enjoying the moment, by deliberately busting out a camera and asking a friend to take a fake AF photo for posting on the internet” crap whenever I’m out and about, which makes getting a good photo for my app profile somewhat rare. That said, I probably had/have sufficient to put together a decent profile.
The profiles that I like
What can I say, I’m a spoiled child and can be on the picky side, though I don’t think I’m excessively so. I am heavily slanted towards finding a proper and sustainable relationship rather than a fling or one-night-stand. If I make a friend out of the interaction than an SO, that’s fine too, but I really can’t be buggered with entertaining somebody who just wants a quick lay (or worse, want me to be their walking-talking cultural Wikipedia plus tour guide of Asia).
So yes, I do have a preference for the objectively attractive and conventional (see below). After all, if I’m being judged for how I look based on 5 to 7 photos, then it’s only fair that I’m entitled to do the same and it’s not like I’m particularly demanding (at least compared to the women who are like “6 ft and taller only, must have facial hair/full beard, successful, etc”).
By conventional, I mean:
- No smoking
- No drugs (no exceptions for recreational drugs)
- No excessive tattoos (tattoos in general not preferred, but small ones OK)
- No excessive piercings or piercings in odd locations (belly is OK, face or back/chest is not)
- No unnaturally colored hair (if your original hair color isn’t blonde/brown/black but you dyed it that way, it’s fine. But absolutely no RGB, purple, cyan, magenta hair).
Could it be racism?
After trying and failing miserably at Tinder in Germany in 2016, I was pretty sure there were external forces of discrimination at play here. Sure, maybe my profile could have been written better and I could have used more, better photos of myself. But I didn’t think I would be so unattractive and off-putting to have close to a null match rate.
What made me realize that my hunch might have been correct was when my (white-looking) classmates seemed to work the app so effortlessly. One day I saw the ongoing matches/conversation list on one of the guys’ phone and you could scroll through it to almost no end – I was shocked, the most ongoing matches that I have ever had on my phone till that point was TWO.
But still, friends around me continued to tell me I needed to change up my photos and improve my profile, that it wasn’t racism or any form of discrimination, and all my criticisms were just internalized and I was being “overly negative” and “too picky”. By then I just uninstalled Tinder and stopped bothering with online dating for the rest of 2016 and most of 2017.
Fun fact: At the time, one of the theories I had, since I seemed to have better luck (by leaps and miles) meeting people in real life and going on dates with them, was maybe it was racial discrimination as a proxy for language and culture discrimination. Maybe there was a default assumption Asians can barely speak English so there was a tendency to avoid them on dating apps, while one could basically avoid that problem in real life by proving otherwise the second the fluent English rolls off the tongue in an American accent. I also suspected the American accent might also serve as an indicator that one isn’t a traditional or fresh-off-the-boat Asian.
The vacation that changed everything
I went back to Malaysia on vacation in September 2017, it was just a routine vacation with a business trip to Singapore baked into the first week before I’d take the next 3 weeks off. Just prior to that, I had met up with an old grad school classmate who used to live in Berlin and was now visiting – she had moved to Hong Kong, where she’s from, after graduating.
Don’t remember the exact details, but I guess it was when we were talking about our dating lives when she brought up the fact she’s had a much better time with online dating back in Hong Kong (she had no trouble, as an Asian woman, getting matches while in Germany, but complained most of the guys seemed to move too quickly and weren’t her type). She told me to give it a shot while in Malaysia, and also recommended another app (Coffee Meets Bagel), alongside Tinder, which seemed to work for her in Hong Kong.
After my experiences in 2013/2014 and 2016, I honestly would have forgotten to give it a shot if it wasn’t for the fact I was bored the week after my vacation started (after winding down from the very intense week in Singapore, and prior 2 months of dealing with a chaotic boss who had no idea what she was doing).
I downloaded Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB) before going out and, thanks to the “want to post on Instagram but keep forgetting to” folder on my phone, I plucked out a few nicer looking photos of myself, filled out the forms on CMB, copy-pasted the “About me” into Tinder, and basically slapped together my online dating profiles in about 10 minutes in the car while being driven to dinner.
Results from KL
I’ve never actually been on a date in Asia before, let alone tried online dating (I grew up socially-awkward and bullied in high school) so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began my quest in earnest on the two apps upon arriving home that night. Given the previous experience, I didn’t have my hopes up, however.
I woke up the next morning to one match (on CMB, if memory serves right). Beginner’s luck, I thought – I went through about 10 people on each app and swiped yes to 3 in total, so not a lot. Then it happened again two days later. And again the day after. This made me curious: 4 matches in something like 5 days, that’s more than I have ever gotten before.
Out of sheer curiosity, I started keeping count how many profiles I went through (let’s call it the sample size), how many I “liked” (or swiped right, said yes, whatever) and how many liked me back (the mutual likes, or matches), and diligently writing down the 3 numbers at the end of each session after using the apps.
By the end of my vacation (or about 2.5 weeks of consistent dating app usage), I had a shocking overview of results that I had not only never seen before, but far exceeded any sort of expectation or belief than I ever had of online dating.
I tallied everything up and from Kuala Lumpur, I had:
- A sample size of 378 (profiles presented to me, regardless of whether I liked or dismissed them)
- Said yes/liked 66 of those from the above sample size…
- Which resulted in 12 matches, or an 18% match percentage!
Let’s try that again
By the time I returned to Berlin, I thought what happened in KL was very strange – either online dating had improved significantly (doubt it) or I was right all along, racism is a thing!
There was only one way to find out, so I opened Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel in Berlin, while adding a third app, Bumble, into the mix and repeated what I did in KL – keeping count of the three numbers, writing them at the end of the day so I could later sum it all up and be able to form a comparison. I used the exact same photos and profiles/text, with the only edits being changes to location name where applicable.
After 3 years of using the same phone, I bought a new one in November. This was in the midst of the experiment/research being in full swing, so now that I happened to have an extra phone, you just know I had to do it. I got a location spoofer working in my old phone and set up an additional set of Tinder, CMB and Bumble profiles, and set the location to downtown Stockholm, Sweden (again, using the same profiles and photos, with location name updated).
After a sample size of 1,000 for Stockholm, I decided to change things up in December and set my location to Toronto, Canada. I chose Stockholm because the stereotype is most Scandinavians are attractive, and I picked Toronto next because I heard it’s very “Asian friendly” due to its high population of Asian immigrants and Canadian-born Asians.
The numbers from 4 cities are in
I’ll let the numbers do the talking. Again, these results were measured from data collected by using the same set of photos and profile (in English) so there is no chance I might have “written something better” or “used a better photo” that would have skewed results. Just putting it out there for those who will be in denial.
Here are the sample sizes (profiles I went through, regardless if I liked or dismissed them) along with time period when they were sampled:
- 378 profiles – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Sep 2017)
- 2,631 profiles – Berlin, Germany (Oct-Dec 2017)
- 1,033 profiles – Stockholm, Sweden (Nov 2017)
- 466 profiles – Toronto, Canada (Dec 2017)
Number of profiles I liked:
- 66 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- 508 – Berlin, Germany
- 275 – Stockholm, Sweden
- 122 – Toronto, Canada
Number of mutual likes (matches):
- 12 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- 3 – Berlin, Germany
- 1 – Stockholm, Sweden
- 3 – Toronto, Canada
Matches expressed as percentages:
- 18.182% – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- 0.591% – Berlin, Germany
- 0.364% – Stockholm, Sweden
- 2.459% – Toronto, Canada
An independently-conducted study from late 2014 (archive version) tested the match rate for “attractive” versus “unattractive” guys on Tinder. He found that, in the under 30 age group, an attractive guy had a 22.6% match rate while an unattractive guy of the same age had a 0.4% match rate.
My results from the two big European cities are very much in-line with the “unattractive” baseline established by the study above. Since attractiveness doesn’t scale linearly and is even more unequal than US income equality (!), I might be average or slightly below average in Toronto. These results don’t surprise me.
The results from Kuala Lumpur, however, are a shocking revelation – apparently I sit closer to the “attractive” than “average”. This is news to me, since I guess I’ve never even thought about how I would fare when dating in Asia, having lived in the Western hemisphere for the better part of the last decade.
Telling people and seeing them plug their ears in disbelief
I started mentioning the results of my research to a handful of people I knew. Folks I knew in Asia were mostly “wow”, one person (who had studied in a Western country) was “not surprised”, citing knowledge that Asian men are highly discriminated against in Western markets.
Reactions among people living in Europe (which can include non-Europeans living here) were more mixed – as in, some people are still skeptical that was actually my experience. Wake up, this is real life, not fantasy land where all humans are equal and the world is perfect. Some examples of ridiculous non-arguments include:
- “I don’t think you’ve given it enough of a chance, maybe stay here a few more years and you might like it”
– Because 4 years of being treated like bottom of the barrel dirt isn’t enough
- “I’ve been living in Germany for the past X years and I’ve gone on many dates from Tinder”
– Non-Asian person who totally knows how life is being an Asian male outside of Asia
- “It can’t be the whole world or whole country at fault for our problems. If it’s framed this way, there is no chance of finding a solution”
– The solution is the same as dining in a restaurant with poor customer service and stale food, walk out, don’t bother coming back, and be sure to leave them a transparent review
One of the most ridiculous lines I’ve heard (from an Asian woman dating a white dude no less – I’ll save you the joy of googling and discovering the intense feelings of hatred many Asian women, who want to date white, harbor towards their own (Asian) race) so far is: “But how many of these people, whom you matched with, did you go out on dates with?”
That’s great material for a Part II to this study, but this is her counter-argument that it’s worse in Asia? Really? She’s trying to explain away a 30X match pool difference by questioning how many of those people would take it beyond the app and go out on a date?
Here’s the quick maths on that, assuming a sample size of 10,000 individuals:
- 0.591% of 10,000 is 59 matches in Berlin. Let’s say the conversion rate of matches to in real life (IRL) dates is 60% – we’re being extremely generous here.
60% of 59 matches equals 35 dates.
- 18.182% of 10,000 is 1,818 matches in Kuala Lumpur. Let’s say people in Asian cities are horribly reluctant to meet their online dating matches in real life (IRL), because Asians are paranoid or something (which is somewhat true of my parents’ generation), and the match to IRL date conversion rate is a paltry 2%.
2% of 1,818 matches equals 36 dates.
Even if the match to IRL date conversion rate is the inverse, where in Berlin the rate is 30X higher than that of Kuala Lumpur, the sheer match pool advantage of the latter will still result in more dates over time compared to the former.
As with any research, this one is not without its flaws. The weaknesses and gaps that could have potentially impacted results include:
- Differing sample sizes for each city (however, when recording results for Berlin, I did not notice any significant fluctuation in match rate at the 300, 500 and 1,000 data points)
- Differing time periods when data was collected per city
- Data could be broken down by app used to determine differences in effectiveness, if any
- Additional cities in Asia and English-speaking countries would provide a more detailed comparison
In summary, the results indicate that what I’ve hypothesized for years now is correct, and that I’m not a cynical person who doesn’t give enough benefit of the doubt. This, along with other reasons, have given me sufficient reason to seriously consider moving back to Asia to live a better life. I wouldn’t say it’s a fairer life because it’s not – just based on my American education and Western work experience, I’d still be treated unfairly… but on the opposite side of the spectrum compared to living outside of Asia.
My personal takeaway is that I had long suspected, as an Asian male, that I was metaphorically being told to sit in the back of the bus where my kind belong. Reading about all these cases of racism, first-hand accounts, and all are one thing, but having a personal data set that backs up everything you’ve read (and refutes what all the overly positive bullshitters have been trying to preach) really hits closer to home on the subject.
I realized there’s more than likely a seat reserved in first-class for me back in Asia – because if racism is so real in just how it affects dating, think about other aspects in life like employment, running a business, customer service, etc where it runs invisibly rampant. In Asia, I won’t just be able to live the quiet, middle-class life (which is what I’ve always wanted), but far more than that. The real land of opportunity is the one without the asterisk and fine print at the end that reads “Asians need not apply”.