Readers' Submissions

Can Any Long-Distance Relationship After Your First Really Work?

  • Written by James Sanuk
  • September 17th, 2012
  • 13 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok



As a long-time reader of this site (well, for the past three years or so) one comment Stickman made has always stuck with me – that, for the majority of Thai girls, it is the very first relationship with a westerner which has the greatest chance of success. I imagine this especially applies to Thai bargirls, who no doubt became jaded very quickly in their perception of farangs.

Having visited Thailand and SE Asia on numerous occasions, I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with Stick. However, I would say that perhaps the failure of subsequent relationships is not wholly due to the actions of the Thai girl, rather it wouldn’t surprise me if the western guy at least shared 50% of the blame.

Probably the best way for me to explain what I mean is with my own story – briefly, I’m 24 years old, from the UK, in reasonably good shape and (I’d like to think anyway!) reasonably ok-looking.

I first visited Thailand in May 2010, just after finishing university. If anyone has read the book Thai Girl by Andrew Hicks, my experience was pretty much identical to the main character, Ben – I originally went out to Thailand with my western girlfriend for 3 months, however our relationship rapidly soured and we split up after just the first week.

After experiencing the “craziness” of Bangkok (i.e. everything from the insanity of the traffic to the debauchery of the nightlife), I headed down to Phuket, where I would meet my future girlfriend, Nok, who worked as a waitress in a restaurant. Like Ben in Thai Girl, I wasn’t planning on getting a Thai girlfriend. It just happened. Along the way there were a fair number of cultural misunderstandings and faux pas, with Nok particularly concerned about her reputation and standing as a result of being seen with a farang, especially in a tourist destination like Phuket. However, after going out on dates over the next two weeks we ended up sleeping together and becoming an item.

So what happened next? I knew I didn’t want to spend the next two months in Phuket, so – after a lengthy heart-to-heart discussion – I persuaded Nok to leave her job and come travelling with me around Asia. She took care of her elderly parents in Isaan by sending them 5,000 baht every month, so I agreed to do this whilst she was travelling around with me.

We began our travels by first visiting Nok’s family in Isaan, then travelling on to Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia before finally returning to Bangkok. It sounds stupid to say it, but I think those 3 months were the closest my life will ever be to a Hollywood romance movie – in that I met an amazing girl and took her on an amazing journey, and for every day of those 3 months I was amazingly happy.

Don’t get me wrong – I’d had a fair few girlfriends before at university, but this was something entirely different. I used to think clichés like “love at first sight” and “my heart feels like it wants to burst” were just that, clichés, but suddenly I found myself believing in all the cheese, all the romantic sayings.

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August 2010 – Nok and I were sitting in a Bangkok hotel room, Nok weeping silently whilst I stare at the television glumly, watching but not really paying any attention.

My return flight to London was the next day, and I faced an uncertain future – after three months of bliss, I was going home broke with a maxed out overdraft and two credit cards, with no job, to live with my parents again. Nok, meanwhile, was planning on going back to Phuket, however by no means was it certain her job would be available again after such a hiatus.

For the main guy Ben in Thai Girl, this is the end – he visits his Thai girlfriend Fon’s family, falls in love with her, says he wants them to be together…and then goes home and returns to his dreary life in England, content for his experience of paradise Thailand to fade into memory, to become almost like a dream…

Everyone told me that was what I should do – my parents and any friends I told about me and Nok were instantly skeptical, saying I should just be satisfied at having had a great “holiday romance.” They all said how could I ever get a visa for Nok to come to the UK, when I had no money and she had never even left Thailand before meeting me? And, even if I did, Thai girls all just want your money, don’t they?

In fairness, I can’t dismiss them as “naysayers” – after all, they were just looking out for my best interests. And they had a point – how was I going to make this work?

But, as I turned to look at Nok, this incredibly beautiful, funny, generous Thai girl, with tears streaming down her face, I knew I couldn’t let her just become a memory. I had to make this work, somehow…

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What happened next? Well, contrary to everyone’s expectations – I made it work! The second I got home I was on the internet job-hunting, armed only with my recent university degree and the love I had for Nok.

Only two weeks later and after only four interviews, I landed an entry-level job at a top investment bank in London. The money wasn’t spectacular by most people’s standards (£25,000 a year) but for an ex-student it felt like a fortune – I instantly began saving up as much as I could so that Nok and I could be together again.

I slaved away solidly from September up until Christmas 2011, when I went out to see Nok in Thailand again. It was only for 2 weeks this time, which felt spectacularly short compared to before. However we made every moment together count, and – more importantly – submitted a visa application to the UK embassy in Bangkok, which was approved!

Nok then came to visit me in the UK for six months, a visit which went better than my wildest dreams. My mother, who was perhaps Nok’s biggest critic before meeting her, fell in love with her and they became firmest friends. My friends were stunned by her beauty and charmed by her innocent, naive Thai persona. They rapidly warmed to her too.

Also, contrary to my expectations, she really enjoyed the UK – she didn’t mind the cold, thought the people were actually friendlier and less judgmental than Thais, and became completely enamoured by the culture. She told me when she goes out with her friends in a western bar in Thailand now, she always asks if they serve pints of beer / on tap over the bottle any day!

Nok went back to Thailand in July 2011 – it was certainly a sad day waving her off at Heathrow Airport, but I also felt so content when I compared our situation to a year earlier when I had no money, no job, and no visa for Nok. We had overcome the odds and won my friends and family around. I felt sure that the future could only hold more happiness.

And that was where it all went wrong…

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Looking back, the signs were obvious, even if they didn’t seem so at the time. On the phone Nok started to drop heavier and heavier hints about marriage, and became increasingly upset when I would laugh her off. Of course I loved her and wanted to be with her, however I still lived at home with my parents, and anyway I was only 23 and she 25 – we had our whole lives ahead of her.

Things just started to go downhill from there, although I was still confident everything would be better when I went out to visit her in late 2011. However, she would start to not answer her phone, not reply to text messages etc. Then she dropped the bombshell – she had met someone else, an older westerner who was serious about her and wanted marriage, and that although she still loved me, she had to secure her future for herself and her family. She said she wouldn’t be beautiful forever, and if we waited another 3 or 4 years like I wanted, we might break up and she would have further squandered her window of opportunity.

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To say I was distraught would be an understatement. I think Nok is now engaged to this guy and he’s making a settlement visa for her to go live with him in Australia.

However, my story isn’t the point of this article, and I apologise for talking about myself at such lengths. It’s only because I’m such a good example that I felt it best to tell my experiences to illustrate the point – how can second, third, or fourth long-distance relationships work?

After Nok and I finished, I visited Thailand in Christmas 2011, and last week I came back from another month-long holiday. Both of these were with backpacker mates from university – I had reservations about going back to South-East Asia after Nok, however I put these fears to one side and I’m glad I did as I very much enjoyed Ko Phangan, Ko Samet and Chiang Mai (places I hadn’t previously visited.)

My problem, though, is with choosing a Thai girl. Meeting them is easy. I’ve generally stayed away from go-go / beer bars, preferring to go to more mainstream clubs / discos. This isn’t a problem, as in places like Khao San Road and RCA in Bangkok, it’s not incredibly hard to pick up girls – you just need to be friendly, chat to them and buy them a few drinks. Having spent some time in Thailand now, I’m able to speak some rudimentary Thai, which also helps get the conversation flowing.

So along the way I’ve met a whole variety of girls – hi-so girls, ex-bargirls, receptionists, bank clerks, university students. They’ve all been great (or most of them anyway) – the problem is me. Like a bargirl, I feel jaded. Let’s face it, if I want another proper relationship with a Thai girl, it is going to involve a lot of:

a) Emotional investment.

b) Financial investment (not necessarily ‘sponsorship’ but visa costs, plane tickets, holidays to Thailand etc.)

My question to you guys is – how do you make that choice? How do you choose that girl for a long-term relationship? I guess if you live in Thailand it’s somewhat easier, and I realise I was perhaps somewhat blessed in having 3 months to spend with my ex-girlfriend. However, now that isn’t available – does that mean it isn’t possible to meet your dream girl in such a short space of time?

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Case in point: 3 weeks ago on my last trip, I met the a special girl – her name’s Gon, she works for a large fashion house in Bangkok, educated in the United States, and lives in a 10 million baht penthouse with her sister in Ekamai district (owned by the sister who was bought it by her western husband, in fairness. Gon actually works in a relatively junior position I believe.) I met her at a trendy club in Khao San where she was out celebrating her sister’s birthday with her friends. I bought her a few drinks and things just went from there. Her English is great, she’s funny, generous and caring. Plus she’s well-travelled, having lived in California and also been to Australia on holiday.

So what’s the downside? Why aren’t I over the moon that I met this awesome girl several weeks ago? A few reasons:

a) She’s a bit older than me at 30 (this is quite minor, as she’s beautiful and would easily pass for 25, plus chatting to a more mature woman is actually pretty stimulating in terms of conversation).

b) She has a 5-year old half-American son – this is the main deal-breaker. If I’d met her in the UK I might be able to overlook this, but in somewhere like Thailand, with so many beautiful baggage-free girls, it seems the height of stupidity to pursue such a relationship.

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Anyway, there you have it – my dilemma, and one which I believe must be shared with a lot of western guys. It’s ok the initial time meeting your first Thai love, whether in a Pattaya bar or in Siam Paragon. But does visiting Isaan and meeting the family have the same appeal? Or what about making a visa application, or saving up the money for her plane ticket?

Secondly, what about your family / friends? They might tolerate one or maybe two Thai girlfriends, but any more than that and you will likely be perceived as a bit of a joke back home (even if you did meet them in Paragon!) So for me this means a second Thai girlfriend would be my ‘last chance’ – if it doesn’t work out, the UK Border Agency probably won’t give me a visa for a third Thai girl, and even if they did my family wouldn’t give them their seal of approval.

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I apologise for this long, rambling article (I didn’t intend for it to be this long when I first started typing it out!) but I guess I’m just putting this out there to see how any of you guys have dealt with this situation.

What did you do after your first major Thai relationship didn’t work out?

How did you go about meeting a second Thai girl?

Did that relationship work out, or did it also fail?

Like I said, I’d be interested on hearing everyone’s story – whether you met your girlfriend at a hi-so university or dancing around a chrome pole in Sin City, I want to know if it is possible to have another long-distance relationship after the first fails.

Or is Stick right in that, after the first long-distance romance goes sour, all the subsequent ones are almost certainly doomed to failure?



Stickman's thoughts:

Be careful of not making the same mistake that many Thai girls make when they go for a Western guy simply because he is a Western guy, and not necessarily a good guy with whom she is compatible. I cannot help but get the feeling you are hung up on Thai women when at your (relatively young) age with a good job and obviously a decent head on your shoulders you could just as easily meet a nice English girl, or an Aussie or a Vietnamese or a Czech or whoever – you've got massive options working in banking in "the city" in London!

It *is* unrealistic to expect that you can adequately get to know a woman with a foreign culture when you only have 2 or 3 weeks to spend with her. A woman who will commit to you that quickly is someone I would be a little suspicious of and I don't know how you could commit to her so quickly. You shouldn't try and push the fast forward button in relationships.

To clarify the point I have previously made that you refer to, I believe that most Thai women who fall in love with a Western guy – and I mean genuinely fall in love with him – only for the relationship to later go tits up (for whatever reason) may struggle to really commit to another Western guy quite the same as the first one. It's like that first relationship failure with a foreign man leaves a scar that doesn't heal easily. I don't think there is any issue the other way and I don't think it matters for a guy if things go tits up with a Thai bird. He can just as easily find another and file the last one into a dark, remote corner of his brain.