This is in response to a recent submission (“Let’s Grow Up Now, Shall We?” 26 Jan 04) calling for positive relationship stories to contrast all the negative stories that proliferate this site. The writer of that piece was involved with an unfolding relationship saga, and wanted to know if anyone out there had any positive stories to relate, and if so, what were the secret ingredients in a successful relationship.
Well, after thinking about my situation, I decided that I had two stories to tell, one negative, no wait, disastrous, at least as far as I’m concerned; and the other, well, very positive.
I entered into a catastrophic relationship in 1993 with one of the first Thais I'd ever met. Had there been a Stickman website back then, or if I'd simply known more about Thailand and Thais and bargirls, I could have saved myself a lot of grief. I’d just moved to Singapore on a work assignment, and was living the carefree ex-pat bachelor life. After a few months, I hooked up with her, and for almost a year we lived together on and off, and then, against all my better judgment, we got married. To make it short, after that all old we went through 8 years of near hell together, in Singapore, the US and Thailand. I look back at those years now, and am amazed I was able to function. She was every bit as debilitating to me as a heroin addiction would have been. Finally, better late than never, I came to recognize that I had to get out of the relationship. It cost me dearly financially, but I made it out. Most importantly, we have a son, now almost 7 years old. I have sole custody of him, and she'll never be able to undermine or interfere with his life, or use him to manipulate me, or my family ever again. For in the end, the divorce turned into an international abduction and custody battle, which took nearly two years to sort out.
Never underestimate how much the wrong Thai woman can disregard her own child's happiness, safety and well being in return for money, or worse, simply out of spite.
The problems with the relationship – she was simply a prostitute for as long as she could remember, our relationship was based on lies, and she was so adept at pushing buttons and made an art of guilt and manipulation. She lived in what I can only describe as an imaginary world, with an imaginary hi-so background. Sure, it helped that she was stunning and great in bed in the beginning, that's all part of the package; but in the end I found her to be mercenary, cunning and as cold as a reptile. When I met her, I simply didn’t know there were people like that in the world. My significant shortcomings were a tendency towards alcohol abuse and some kind of sexual addiction (never failing to ‘get it’ outside of my marriage, any chance I had), and I was content to remain with someone that I could manipulate into letting me carry on with my ways. This story can be filed along with countless similar others on this site.
Note that alcoholism and sexual addiction are both considered normal personality traits among many young (and old) ex-pat men in Asia; I had many peers and friends that were and still are every bit…ah, never mind, I digress. You all know who you are, anyway.
If you find yourself in a relationship that is characterized by tension, lies, manipulation, substance abuse, violence, theft – well, it's the wrong way to be. Funny how obvious it must sound; but how many guys out there, especially ex-pats in Asia, married to the wrong Thai or Indonesian or Philippina, come to accept that it’s normal.
OK, enough of the bad part; on to the good. As my marriage was coming to an end, my not-as-yet ex and I were legally separated, and I was in Bangkok on business, and then with 5 days to myself to see some old friends and recharge the batteries (I’d been living in the US for the past couple years). During that time I met, quite by accident and totally unexpectedly, the most remarkable woman (yes, she was a bargirl, to be honest). I'd lived in Asia for 13 years, and have been with hundreds of bargirls, some mentionable, but most, utterly forgettable. This woman astonished me. She was friendly, fun, talkative, intelligent, literate in both Thai, and more surprisingly, English. We just clicked in such a way that I'd never experienced before, and we stuck together like glue for my entire trip. A first for me; by the end of the week I was totally taken with her. I’d never fallen so completely for a bargirl in Thailand before, or any woman anywhere for that matter.
During that time I couldn’t help but to contrast her to my not-as-yet ex-wife. My ex was almost 50; I was 34. Idiotic situation, and I'll expect to lose all credibility with you on this point. Anyway, when I met her at 40, she was THAT hot. Problem was, by 50 she was, well, a 50-year-old, and a nasty one at that. She was still fairly hot mind you, but with all the attitude and personality of a hag. Jen, the woman I'd just met, was 32. All of a sudden my mind started to piece together the scenario of being with someone near my own age, with common likes and interests. It was something that never occurred to me over the years.
Fast forward almost three years later. Jen and I now live in Penang, Malaysia, where I work at a pretty ok job; hardly the fat ex-pat deals I'd seen in better days, but we get by. I can't say enough about how much I enjoy every minute with her. We never fight, everything we do together is fun, no matter how droll or mundane a chore or a task, the good times are incredible, and the bad times suck so much less. I now know what it's like to not have to walk on eggs all the time, never knowing when or why my partner will blow up or how violent it's going to get or simply how much she is stealing. And, I don’t have to get myself bombed out of my head or try to nail every woman that comes within in sight or look for any excuse to get out of the house and out on the town. It’s my first time in more than 10 years in a totally monogamous relationship; and the first time in about that same that I drink less than 7 beers a week (considered by some to be a clinical threshold measure of alcoholism). This is something that I simply never envisioned a few years back. It came to me just over a year ago, that these are things that normal, happy people experience in their lives.
Why does it work? What's the secret? Jen and I talk about this a lot. I suspect a big part of it is her early adulthood background. She spent her early life happily married and working hard with a guy of her age from her village. She was married for 8 years from the time she was 16. The fact that she was not another 'got knocked up and dropped’ statistic really sets her apart from so many others. From all I gather, she had a good marriage to a kind and decent man, and in that situation she learned what to expect from life and from her partner, and how to treat someone she loves.
During her first marriage, they worked together making and selling food in Pattaya, and she learned and understands how hard it is to make a buck, and the struggle it is to save the money that you earn. Most bargirls haven't a clue – thinking that money simply comes from opening your legs, and that there's always going to be more. Prostitution is their first and sometimes only exposure to earning. Jen had nearly 10 years of a normal life as a working wife and mother.
Her husband died in 1994, in a bike accident. She was left with 3 kids, and after her husband was put to rest, she took off with some relatives who were working in Soi Cowboy. After about a year, she came across an opportunity to work legally in a-go-go bar in Wanchai, Hong Kong. Big money and easy work, compared to Bangkok, so off she went. While in Hong Kong she met and married a Brit and soon got out of the bar scene altogether. It was hardly an idyllic marriage, and turned out to be more a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. Overwhelming problems came up, drugs, infidelity, domestic violence, to the point where after sticking it out for four years she left her now ex-husband and returned to Thailand.
Oddly enough, this gives us some very important common ground first, of course, if all this shit hadn’t happened to both, we never would have met. And we both have an understanding of disastrous relationships, and knowing what it’s like to be down. I think a lot of women I could meet out there would be in no way equipped to deal with my emotional baggage, nor be interested in nor understanding of my story. Jen faces the same thing, and in this matter, like so many others, we clicked. We both look at each other’s pasts and sometime questionable backgrounds, and say, “Well, shit happens, you live and you learn.”
We went into our relationship slowly. We only started living together about a year after we’d met. We were always honest with each other, even during the time early on when she’d still been working. I never tried to coerce her out of working or into some kind of life change. In my mind when you pay off a girl to stop working, and she goes home to her village, even if she’s up front and honest and really walks the walk, in the end, she’s still working; only difference is you’re her sole customer. That relationship is still one of prostitute client. Jen stopped working when I moved to Thailand, and she came to be with me, period. I never asked her to, she just did. We never talked about how much money was needed for her or her family, we just got by on what we had, even when, at times, it wasn’t much.
It hasn’t all been easy. Early last year we went through 6 months of separation when I had to go back to the US and undergo the last court battles to secure custody of my son. It was a financially draining time, and Jen stayed home in her village, and despite all the local family financial pressures, got by on ten thousand baht per month. I didn’t know how things were going to end up or when I’d ever get back to her, but we both waited it out.
Nowadays work and finances are still tough, and precarious; the company is always one quarter away from shutting down. The high-flying days of 1990’s technology boom and ex-pat living seem like a dream now. We’ve got my son with us, and Jen’s youngest will be coming down from her village in another 2 months (he’s 9 and he’ll have a major transition and it will be tough). But the good news is, I’ve got her on my side; and she’s got me on her side. That makes me feel like I’ve never had odds so stacked in my favor.
I feel like she found me at the worst possible place and time in my life, and she probably saved me. And I think that I probably saved her, too. She told me of how after the crazy years in Hong Kong and the bar years in Thailand, she thought she’d never feel normal again, and now, surprisingly, ‘normal’ is how she’s come to feel. Me too.
One other point, and that is I know several guys that are married to or in long-term relationships with Thai bar girls. I’m afraid that most of my ex-pat mates from Singapore are simply a few years behind me on the learning curve (most of them married a few years later than I did), and are all experiencing the kind of relationship that I had with my ex. Some are not as bad off, but I know of no one that seems happy and content. Of course, I can just as easily extend that outlook to everyone I know in the US, and say that most of my friends and peers are not that happily married; one or two exceptions only.
I come from a warm and close family background. My folks have been happily married for close to 40 years, and I can honestly say that they’re the happiest couple I’ve ever seen, and it’s been that way for my entire life. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what are their ‘secret ingredients’ for getting it right, and I finally feel like if I haven’t got it figured out, well, at least I’m on the right path with the right partner.
It is very nice to hear a positive story. But oh, I sounds like you went through hell to get there.