Old and Lonely: an expat tale of (not) dating in Thailand

Written by on November 14, 2012 in Asia, Blog, Expat Life, Indonesia, Thailand - 47 Comments

It’s one of those thick and gorgeous nights in Bali, when the air gently whispers in your ear, the ink black water of the Indian Ocean licks the soft butter-colored sand, and you can just barely make out puffy clouds lingering in the night sky.

Grand Mirage Resort Bali

Sitting outside at the Jukung Grill at Grand Mirage Resort, Daniel and I are enjoying overly-full stomachs, thanks to a decadent dinner, and more rose wine than we should. Late into our evening, an older couple sits across from us and we all begin chatting.

From the Isle of Mann, the two are on a 12-day holiday and this is their last night in paradise. Eventually, Daniel converses with the husband and I chat away with the wife.

She tells me of her battle with cancer (she’s been in remission for five years) and her need to just get out there and live. I tell her about my travels, my life today.

And, that’s when she says this:

“Please, dear. Do me this one favor.”

I raise my eyebrows, awaiting her response. Her face immediately turns from bright and sunny to a look of remorse.

“Please, with your life right now and traveling and everything, please do not turn Old and Lonely.”

Old. And Lonely.

Within a second, my airy October evening goes from light and happy to serious.

Old. And Lonely.

“Oh,” I say quickly, waving my hand, “I won’t.”

I try to say it with confidence, but there is none in my voice … or in my heart.

The truth is, being Old and Lonely is one of my greatest fears. I’m the single girl. I’m the girl that always gets asked by the perpetually-in-a-relationship girl “why on earth are you still single?”

As if it is a curse.

It’s not that I haven’t been in relationships — I have. Although most of them were horribly self-destructive. And, it’s not like I haven’t dated — I have. Although, most of the guys I have dated were total assholes. (Yeah, my taste in men has — up until very recently — sucked).

For many years, I stopped caring if I had a significant other. I mean, when I quit my job at 30 to go and travel, I was so thankful I wasn’t leaving the Love of My Life in Atlanta. Then, when I went backpacking, I was so thankful I wasn’t in a relationship with the person on the train next to me. But then, I was 31. And decided to move to Las Vegas. Which is like a cesspool of sleaze as far as dating goes. Ask any of my single (and amazing) girlfriends there. Finding a decent guy is next to impossible.

When I told my parents I was moving back there, I also told them I realized this decision would likely impact one of the things I wanted most in my life — to have children. Because, let’s face it, I wasn’t going to meet the man of my dreams living in Nevada.

It wasn’t until recently, I felt this sudden sense of urgency. This feeling of holy-shit-I’m-still-single-and-there-aren’t-even-any-potential-people-in-my-life moments. I mean, suddenly, I am 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, (gasp) 33 and I have … no one.

Old. And Lonely.

Arriving to Thailand, I hoped things would be different than Las Vegas.

Guess what?

They’re not.

In fact, it is worse here.

A few weeks ago, I was walking with an American (guy) friend and we were talking about dating.

“Shit, D,” he says to me as we walk down the street talking about him meeting Thai girls, “it must be just awful for you here in terms of dating.”

Thanks, buddy.

“Yeah,” I sigh, trying not to let the sting of his words penetrate my skin. “It pretty much sucks. The western guys want to date Thai girls … and the Thai guys …” I trail off.

So, on the gorgeous Bali evening when the woman tells me not to be Old and Lonely, it hits home. Hard.

As soon as I return from Bali, I make a promise to myself to go out more. To meet more people. To engage. To try and date in Thailand.

I’m in no rush to meet someone. I’ve waited 33 years for Mr. Right to walk down the tarmac. I don’t doubt it will happen at some point. And I can promise this: I will not be Old and Lonely. Just Old.

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is a former career breaker and long term solo traveler. Today, she helps promote responsible elephant tourism and is the co-founder of #RTTC, a weekly chat on Twitter focusing on responsible tourism. When she isn’t writing, Diana handles the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation, which runs the popular Elephant Nature Park. Her writing as appeared in About.com, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Luna Luna, Vegas Seven, World Nomads, Viator, CheapOair, OneTravel and more.

47 Comments on " Old and Lonely: an expat tale of (not) dating in Thailand "

  1. Bobbi Lee Hitchon November 14, 2012 at 9:58 am · Reply

    I think this is something almost every woman thinks about, no matter how career driven or just how good the state of their life is with or without a man. But I think the worst thing any person (man or woman) could possibly do is get involved with a partner just because of fear of becoming “old and lonely”. The haunting question for the happily single, independent woman in her 20s and 30s is will it still be this much fun on my own in my 40s? The answer: who knows!

    But one thing I can add that’s positive: my dad has been single since he was in his mid-40s and honestly I think since then he’s dated more than me in my 20s. And it seems the same for the women he’s met who have been of the same age. Dating or not-my dad has always been really happy.

    I think being single at an older age is more common these days because, well, so is divorce. I think finding a partner to grow old and grey with is amazing. But I don’t think anyone should feel forced to do so. With traveling-this all becomes a lot harder of course. Inevitably I don’t think it’s something you or any woman should worry about and for a stranger to say that to you-well I think it’s just stupid.

    About the Thai thing though: that has to be the worst place in the world to be a single expat woman living and working in terms of dating of course. I feel for you.

    • Diana November 14, 2012 at 10:06 am · Reply

      It sucks in Thailand! But, I promise, Bobbi — there is NO WAY ON EARTH I would settle. Or go crazy trying to find that one person. I am blissfully happy being single, although there are definitely times I would love to share a special moment with someone I love. If single is my future, I am OK with it. :)

  2. Sasha November 14, 2012 at 10:10 am · Reply

    I think ‘Old and Lonely’ is every girls worst fear!

    I must say I really relate pain of this sting “Shit, D,” he says to me as we walk down the street talking about him meeting Thai girls, “it must be just awful for you here in terms of dating.” That really brought back a lot of memories of my disastrous dating life living in China. It was the same thing, all the western guys wanted to date strictly Chinese and the Chinese guys, well they mostly seemed far to intimidated by free spirit western girls to even consider dating one!

    I vividly remember a conversation at a bar with the friend of an American guy I was dating, he said “I don’t know why any western girls who aren’t married come to China, no ones gonna date you and no ones even going to have a one night stand with you either.” It was a pretty rude and blunt remark but it pretty much summed up expat life in China as a single gal.

    After the China experience I told myself the next country I’m going to live in I’m going to make an effort to date the locals and see if that has better prospects. So far it’s working out!

    All I can say to you is go out there and see what charming, handsome, adventurous Thai men are out there who will give a gorgeous, confident, driven person as yourself all you deserve. In the very least it will be an interesting cultural experience!

    Good luck, have fun, and don’t let all the talk of yellow fever amongst the expat male population get you down!

    • Diana November 14, 2012 at 10:34 am · Reply

      I’m so glad it is working out for you!! I don’t plan on leaving Thailand anytime soon, so have just accepted the reality as far as dating here goes. But, I am OK with it. I would rather be happy with what I have than sad about what I don’t. :) Definitely not letting it get me down. As far as dating Thai men … haven’t done it yet … it’s really interesting actually. Other than the people I work with, I have not met any. I have quite a few Thai female friends, but can’t even count on one hand the Thai men I have met.

  3. Tawny of Captain and Clark November 14, 2012 at 11:12 am · Reply

    “Old and lonely” is not something that I think you’ll ever really have to worry about. You have made so many incredibly friends from all of your travels. I know that you’ll find the perfect guy for you when the time is right. The hard part is finding your match. You’re so beautiful inside and out that it would be a huge challenge to find someone who even comes CLOSE to being as awesome as yourself.

    • Diana November 18, 2012 at 12:05 pm · Reply

      Awww, Tawny. Thank you! <3 I’m not really afraid of being old and lonely … I have so many wonderful people in my life and am in love with what I’m doing … a partner-in-crime would be icing on the cake, but not a necessity. You just made my day, though!! <3 <3 <3

  4. crazy sexy fun traveler November 14, 2012 at 2:32 pm · Reply

    Well, it is horrible for me when it comes to dating everywhere around the world as everyone is shorter than me!

    • Diana November 18, 2012 at 12:04 pm · Reply

      Ha ha!!! If that’s the only problem you’ve got, you’re lucky!!

  5. Kit November 26, 2012 at 3:36 pm · Reply

    Holy I just read my own story here. I’m the holy shit I’m 30 and single and want to leave Canada for at least the winter… I’m going back to Thailand on a one way ticket to work in an elephant camp (I was there in October and fell in love with the elephants) and I’ve been looking at dating in Thai culture the past week. If you’d ever be interested in meeting up in Chiang Mai let me know, this concept is one I’d love to talk to someone about and I feel like you would have similar thoughts and feelings!

    • Diana December 3, 2012 at 3:31 am · Reply

      Hurry up and get on over here!

  6. Nico @ ATravellersJourney November 29, 2012 at 2:06 am · Reply

    Had a number of friends say similar things about living in Indonesia. If you’re single and a woman above a certain age everyone starts to give you strange looks. If you’re male, people will nod their heads wisely, smile and tell you “you’re still young, there’s plenty of time.”

    • Diana December 3, 2012 at 3:29 am · Reply

      It is a really interesting dynamic here. The Thai women warn me not to date Thai men. The expats want to date the Thai women. Rock. Hard place. :) Thank goodness I have a fantastic job, amazing friends and heaps of animals to hang out with. :)

  7. The Guy November 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm · Reply

    I understand your fears but really don’t worry. Society is full of perceived pressures which really don’t have to be conformed with.

    I’ve just turned 40 and I will be getting married next year. Better to take your time and make the right choice than a bunch of wrong ones. After all the best things are worth waiting for.

    • Diana December 3, 2012 at 3:28 am · Reply

      Absolutely! Such true words.

  8. Charu November 30, 2012 at 2:29 am · Reply

    I think love happens when you’re least expecting it too…and from what I see, you are far too interesting and talented a person for that special someone not to take notice. There are difficult cities though…NY being one of them. I feel women complaining far too much of this nowadays than before…which is really a pity, considering how accomplished you are. But I have NO DOUBT you have nothing to worry about!!! It’s just a matter of finding that special city that is more caring than the one you’re living in!

    • Diana December 3, 2012 at 3:27 am · Reply

      Oh, thank you so much for the sweet words!!! I don’t have any plans on leaving Chiang Mai, so this is going to have to be that special city. :)

  9. Mina November 30, 2012 at 3:54 am · Reply

    I think most of the expats in Thailand you wouldn’t want to date anyways! They seem to go worse here (too much opportunity?). Not all of them of course, but many do.
    Luckily there are great Thai men out there who are actually decent guys. Of course in any part of the world a woman has to look out and avoid the losers and liars . Dating prospects in Thailand (or Asia) are not that bad for expat women if they’re open for local men. I guess if expat men would only look for expat women they’d have a hard time too.
    But being happy with yourself and your life can be so much more worth than having a man in your life. And if Mr Right one day comes along… great! If not, well, you’ll still have a wonderful life, career and friends. :-)

    • Diana December 3, 2012 at 3:27 am · Reply

      So, so true!! I am thankful I am ridiculously happy in my life :) And, maybe I will broaden my horizons a bit … :)

  10. Lindsay December 1, 2012 at 4:20 am · Reply

    But D, don’t you know… We’re gonna be young and PIC’s forever…
    Well, until you find a boyfriend. Then you can be old and someone’s girlfriend which is okay too.
    But until then… Hostels, I’m telling you. Xoxo

    • Diana December 3, 2012 at 3:25 am · Reply

      Ha haaaa!!! I love you, Lindsay!! <3 And, hostels … MAYBE.

  11. Abby December 9, 2012 at 10:41 pm · Reply

    People think I’m insane when I say I won’t leave Vegas because at least I date here. ANYthing is better than the zero activity I got as an expat. Luckily, there are soooo many other pluses to being an expat!!!! Live the dream, girl… there is plenty of time for the rest!!

    • Diana December 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm · Reply

      Totally understand that. I am living the dream … just solo :)

  12. Punch Out And Travel December 9, 2012 at 11:15 pm · Reply

    It seems love always happens when you’re not searching for it. Remind yourself that at least you have such an interesting story and plenty of experiences to keep your mind off of the “old and lonely” thought. Keep your chin up because it will all fall into place when you least expect it. And who knows, it might even be with a Thai guy!?

    • Diana December 10, 2012 at 11:20 pm · Reply

      Chin is definitely up!! Thank you!! :)

  13. Sally (@unbravegirl) December 10, 2012 at 11:07 pm · Reply

    I’m coming to this post a little bit late… but, man, can I relate. Although I did have female friends who met the love of their lives in Asia, they were few & far between (especially compared to the guys!). In the six years that I was in Asia, I went on, umm, 3 dates… and on one of the dates the guy brought his supervisor along with him as a chaperone. Let’s just say that put a damper on the romance!
    One of the main reasons why I came back to the States was because I couldn’t deal with the dating situation in Asia. And I can’t even say I want to get married or have kids (not that I definitely DON’T want those things… they’re just not top priority for me). But after 6 years, I realized feeling constantly like the unwanted & un-dateable was taking a major toll on my self esteem & that I needed to come home and regroup a bit.
    On that note… um… I hope things work out better for you! (Seriously, I do know lots of ladies who fell in love in Asia… so, hey, it could happen!)

    • Diana December 10, 2012 at 11:46 pm · Reply

      Sally — I am so glad I’m not the only one who has this problem! If I ever have a date here, will have to compare notes with you!

  14. Tim December 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm · Reply

    Life in a foreign country dating is not just difficult for a single woman. It can be hard for a single man also. Thailand’s culture, values, and way of thinking is very different from the west. As a man, it is just as hard. How do you know they really like you for you, and not just your money or what you can give them? How do you know if they are really single or just choose not to tell you about the Thai boyfriend? Finding a real partner is hard for everyone. Being in a foreign country just adds to the difficulty.

    • Diana December 29, 2012 at 1:41 am · Reply

      I totally agree with you. I have some western friends here who have a tough time with the culture, too.

  15. RM January 2, 2013 at 6:10 am · Reply

    I’m right where you are! Thank you so much for this post.

    • Diana January 4, 2013 at 1:21 am · Reply

      Ah, welcome to my world!

  16. Alex January 2, 2013 at 7:11 pm · Reply

    This is a horribly sexist thing to say, but I’ve noticed in Thailand there is a huge difference between expat men and women. Women who come to live in Thailand do it for all kind of reason, but many (the majority?) of men here are here because THEY COULDN’T HACK IT ANYWHERE ELSE!

    • Diana January 3, 2013 at 11:58 pm · Reply

      Ha ha! This is very true for most of the men!! Some of them are great, but most of the ones I have meet/seen in action are exactly as you describe!

  17. sarah January 29, 2013 at 3:21 am · Reply

    My oh MY can I relate!! :)

    I appreciate your attitude. I can seriously relate to exactly what you are saying. Especially the feeling of HOLY. SHIT. !

    You know, I don’t think you’ve reduced your chances of meeting the love of your life by moving to places you have moved. You cant stay somewhere just because it MIGHT increase your chances of meeting someone. Because then, even if you do, you wouldn’t be happy, even if you did meet him – so it wouldn’t be right! Right?

    Thats my theory ;)

    We have to live for ourselves. You are clearly doing that. If your gut wants to be there, thats where you have to be.

    Im 35 and single as well.

    And… I spent 2.5 months in Chiang Mai this past summer so totally know what you are talking about! Dating didnt really happen there, but then I didnt really try. All I did was hang out at the Blue Diamond, Doi Suthep, and ENP. And it was awesome! It is such a special place.

    Anyway, from one passionate, animal loving and child wanting female to another… I just want to say that I hear ya, and I am happy to hear about what you are doing out there with the elephants. How incredible. How truly beautiful, special and truly sacred.

    I wish I had the chance to meet you when I was out there this summer, but I am happy I found your blog. I am excited to hear about what you all continue to do out there to help these sacred beings.

    Thanks for sharing <3

    • Diana January 29, 2013 at 9:48 pm · Reply

      Thank you so much for the support!!! I am sure our paths will cross when you come back to CM. :)

  18. Michael February 24, 2013 at 8:53 am · Reply

    Hi Diana

    I enjoyed reading your story and can relate to it. I have been living in Lampang for the last year and am moving to Chiang Mai which is how I came across this. As a single male expat here there is a crazy expectation to get hooked up with a young Thai girl. The locals just don’t understand why I would not want to be with a young girl like most of the retirees here. It was bad enough when friends would try and set us up with people our own age and with similar interests. So to defend some expat men (minority I know) we are not all sexpats.
    I say enjoy being single and the freedom it gives you and if you find someone you want to be with then that’s ok too.

    Michael

    • Diana February 28, 2013 at 3:30 am · Reply

      I know quite a few men who aren’t sexpats … which is refreshing. And, I know quite a few men who are. And, I actually have gotten to know them and genuinely like them. Being single definitely gives you tons of freedom!! :)

  19. Daniel Freeman August 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm · Reply

    Not all Western guys are interested in Thai women. I’m not. I think Tim summed it up pretty well. Consequently, my dating prospects in Chiang Mai have been pretty limited over the years.

    • Diana August 28, 2013 at 3:46 am · Reply

      Good to know this isn’t exclusive to women in SE Asia! :)

  20. Greg Jones November 30, 2013 at 4:15 pm · Reply

    You are a twat.

    • Diana December 8, 2013 at 12:44 am · Reply

      Thank you, Greg Jones. I normally don’t allow for posts on here that are plainly mean-spirited, but I can’t resist commenting back to such a troll. Perhaps you should just go ahead and remove me from your reading materials. Or, you could continue to simply post rude, insulting comments and slowly wile away your life on peoples blogs (which isn’t much of a life in my opinion). Up to you. Personally, I prefer you piss off. :)

  21. gopinath December 30, 2013 at 6:05 am · Reply

    Is there anybody to help me to get a job in thailand , worked 2 yrs in vietnam – accounts job.Willing to do any suitable job other than accounts also

    • Diana January 5, 2014 at 11:09 pm · Reply

      It is not easy to get a work permit in Thailand. I suggest thinking about coming over on an educational visa and learning the language and meeting/networking to see what other opportunities may exist.

  22. xylem March 17, 2014 at 2:09 am · Reply

    Great! Really enjoyed reading your post. I so agree with you, we need not to hurry and find that special someone because somehow at some point we surely going to meet them at the right time. =D

    • Diana March 18, 2014 at 3:16 am · Reply

      Exactly!

  23. Curtis March 21, 2014 at 11:38 pm · Reply

    Excellent post and well written. I had this awful conversation last night with a sexpat guy who literally dripped with iniquity and misogyny. It was gross. I’ve been to Chiang Mai twice and both times I have these conversations with guys who presume you’re here as a sexpat. Quite frankly, I find it pretty damn exploitative. In my last couple of nights here, as soon as a middle aged, expat looking guy walk towards me, I’ll be on my heals. What gets me is the automatics presumption that if you’re a guy, travelling alone (I just needed an extended holiday to let my brain fizz and float from a pretty demanding job in London) you must be a sexpat. I know I’m making sweeping judgements, but these have been my only experiences with expat guys here. Not impressed!

    • Diana March 23, 2014 at 12:44 am · Reply

      Sadly, that is the state of many male expats in this country. As a single female, I have pretty much just stopped even trying to meet men here because of this. I know it IS a sweeping generalization, but nearly every man I know is after a Thai girlfriend or into the sexpat scene. I don’t judge them for it but I have this idea that people here go after the low-hanging fruit because they are low-hanging. I have seen many disastrous relationship because of this, but it doesn’t really phase people.

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