Dating and Relationships – An Average Thai Girl’s View
Dear Mr. Stickman,
I wanted to write about where the word "Farang" came from, but I found a Wikipedia article explaining the whole thing so I decided against it. However, since I asked the readers if they knew why Thais call them Farang, I will give you the answer before we get started with our new topic. Thais believe that the word Farang originated from a Persian word Farangi, which means "Frank," who are ancestors of the French. Thais hired Persians as translators in the Ayuthya era (1300s-1900s) and we learnt the word from them, but it was hard to pronounce so we settled for “Farang."
There are three reasons why I decided to put together an article on dating and relationships even though it has proven to be rather difficult (for me). The first reason is because many readers suggested it. The second one being princess Sirivannavari Nariratana’s recent announcement that she has been dating a Frenchman since January this year. The last one is a story and is probably the most interesting of the three.
This is how it went. A maid at home asked me to help her respond to a FB message from a foreign man, a Brit to be precise. She’s seeking a foreign husband to support her. To my knowledge, she has cheated on all her boyfriends, is cohabiting with her present boyfriend while seeking other relationships online via FB. Oh, and I forgot to add her other unique qualities—one being, she steals money from time to time. All that said, she is good at what she does and is very attentive to her boyfriend(s). Back to our Brit, I answered some of his questions for her and before I bid him goodbye, I told him to “Beware of people you meet online.” It’s stupid, but it’s a good enough hint according to my standard and it inspired me to write this article.
Note from Author:
1. This article is subjective. I am not a relationship expert so please bear in mind that my observations might be wrong. Since it is my observation from my point of view, it is only fair to tell you where I am seeing things from. I am an only child raised from what I consider a middle-class family. It is noteworthy that my family takes a strongly conservative view on dating and relationships.
2. The main purpose of this article is to inform. I hope it will help you see Thai views on dating and relationships and understand them. However, you don’t have to follow them, even in Thailand. Thai girls who choose date westerners should also be willing to compromise with your culture so don’t worry too much about it.
3. For the sake of simplicity, some generalisation will be applied in this article. Just don't take every word I say too seriously, because we're all different, and we may see things from different perspectives.
Choosing a romantic partner:
Love plays a lesser role here in comparison to the west. Try answering this: what is the most important thing in a relationship? A large portion of westerners would say it’s love. Thais would say a bunch of different things like trust, forgiveness, honesty, mutual understanding and mutual respect. Thais believe that love should be a basic fundamental, but love alone is not enough to build a successful relationship. Other factors, such as compatibility of lifestyle and personality are considered when choosing a partner.
Thais don’t mind the age gap so much. Thai girls generally prefer guys who are older than them, because guys are supposed to be the protector, the wiser one of the two. Personally, I think you would do fine as long as the age difference is no more than 12 years. Anything over 12 is a stretch.
From what I gathered from my male friends, Thai men would never marry a prostitute. Even if a 'bargirl' is defined as a girl who serves drinks, and occasionally lets a guy touch a feel, but can't actually be bar-fined, Thai men would only take her into consideration if they are head over heels in love. However, her past must be kept a secret, because no respectable family would accept someone from the adult entertainment industry as their daughter-in-law.
It’s not uncommon for a man to date a woman from a lower class. Men are viewed by society as the provider so as long as he seems to be able to provide, all is well. However, due to the very same reason, dating a woman from a higher class can prove to be difficult and is generally less accepted.
Dynamics of the relationship:
The lead role:
In the bygone era, men are in charge of relationships. Nowadays, this practice is less common and the partnership is on a more equal footing. You should never assume you will be given the driver’s seat, but the odds are in your favour for that to happen. Also, Asian women are generally less argumentative than our sisters in the West, meaning you are likely to get your way about most things if you are assertive enough.
Mutual respect is appreciated. Any scolding or arguing should be done in private. The key here is respect. Never make a scene and chastise your girlfriend in public no matter how submissive she seems to be. This type of thing translates to being aggressive and controlling and having anger management issues. None of which is appreciated.
When you get to meet the parents varies from family to family. My parents like to meet who I am going to date before the date actually takes place, because they want to make sure that I will be safe with him. At this stage, my parents would only acknowledge that he is a friend though so don’t freak if you get interviewed by your date’s parents before the first date. (And yes some digging will be done beforehand so don’t lie.) Some parents only want to meet the ones their children are serious about though so don’t be surprised either if your girlfriend doesn’t introduce you to her family right away.
The girl’s parents will be watching you like a hawk in these encounters so be on your best behaviour. Be polite. Be a gentleman and treat the girls with respect. A wai and some knowledge of Thailand and Thai language is going to be appreciated, but it’s not a must. Make the best impression you can, because parents approval is crucial for the relationship to survive.
This can be a deal breaker. Family is very important to Thais. Having a boyfriend whom my parents don’t approve of is going to put me in a tight spot, which had better be avoided by breaking up with the guy altogether. However if you date a girl who is independent enough to not let her parents interfere with her relationship, you would do fine even without their approval.
If the parents approve of your relationship, they will not only support the relationship, but they will also support you; because approving means that they accept you as an integral part of their family. Also, if you are better off, so is their daughter.
Family comes first:
This is one of the things I have been taught as a child: Siblings are like limbs; spouses are like clothing; parents are like head and heart; children are like flesh and blood and friends are like jewelries. (It makes more sense in Thai so for those of you who can read Thai, here is how it goes: พี่น้องเหมือนแขนขา ภรรยาสามีเหมือนเสื้อผ้า พ่อแม่เหมือนศีรษะและหัวใจ ลูกหลานเหมือนเลือดเนื้อในร่างกาย เพื่อนฝูงเหมือนเครื่องประดับ)
This quote reveals the importance of spouses in comparison to parents and siblings.
– Parents: Without our heads and hearts, we die. My parents are the most important people in my life. Parental love is the greatest love and no one will ever love me as much as my parents do; smart people choose the ones who love them over the ones whom they love, meaning if I have to choose, I would always choose my parents.
– Siblings: Siblings are like limbs, spouses are like clothing. Clothing can be changed, limbs can’t. You can change spouses, but not siblings.
The family unit is very strong in Thailand and Thai men accept that if they love a girl, they have to love her family too. In the ideal world, Thais love and respect our in laws as much as we do our own family.
The gentleman pays:
Thailand is changing and as a result, opinions vary on this one. I normally offer to split the bill, but it’s nicer for the man to insist on paying on the first date and I’ll pay on the second. The only situation I would insist on splitting the bill is when I’ve decided that there won’t be a second date so I don’t want the guy to pay for what I ate. To be safe, men shouldn’t suggest splitting the bill, but if the girl offers to pay, it’s okay to accept her offer on the second date.
Supporting your girlfriend:
Money shouldn’t change hands if you are not married. The problem is that many women believe that they are eligible to a guy’s money after they have sex, because sex makes a woman a man’s de facto wife (not recognised by law.) If you look closely enough, you will see that in Thai society, we call a legally wed wife “mia” (it’s not exactly a polite word) and we also call a girlfriend who has sex and/or cohabit with her boyfriend his “mia,” meaning she is her boyfriend’s de facto wife. If and when you have sex with your girlfriend, make it clear what stage of relationship you are in and you will be fine.
If she is not a bargirl and isn’t asking you for money, but you can see that she is struggling financially, you can offer to help, but do it tactfully e.g. ask her to teach you Thai and pay her for it. Thais are sensitive about money and giving your girlfriend money for no reason can be viewed as an insult (that she is going out with you for money). If she is already a prostitute, that shouldn’t matter.
Money after marriage:
This is going to be bad news for many of you. There are 2 styles of household money management that I believe are popular in the Thai society.
1. The wife controls the money. My parents abide by this style. Mom is in charge of the accounting and bookkeeping in our family business. The business and every property is in her name. It doesn’t mean that dad doesn’t have a say in how the money is spent. In fact, he has equal say to her. This gives my mom security and she likes the knowledge that if anything happens, the money would go to her child and not anyone else.
2. The wife gets to keep her income all to herself. The husband’s properties are in his name. His business is in his name, but he pays for all their children’s expenses, everything they spend together and he usually gives a portion of his earnings to his wife to spend on whatever she wants.
Traditional Thais believe that a man should make at least enough money to cover his wife and children’s cost of living in addition to his own. Women are getting more education and higher salaries so it’s more relaxed nowadays, but the husband should still make more money than the wife. There are rare cases where the wife makes more money and gives some to her husband, but that’s weird to many people.
Don’t freak though, guys. You are a foreigner and Thais understand that westerners do things differently so talk it through with your girlfriend before you get married.
Supporting the family:
Marriage is between 2 families, which means that we help out when our partner’s family is in any kind of trouble, financial trouble included. This is one of the reasons cross-class marriage isn’t encouraged. Families from the lower echelons of society usually need a lot of financial help and not helping out would mean you’re selfish. I mean they are the ones who raised your better half to be the person he/she is today. It’s a no-win situation for the party with greater financial power. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good advice on this other than that you should talk about it with your girlfriend and make sure she understands how far you are willing to go to support her family.
Body language/ Social cues
The Thai smile: A Thai smile can mean a zillion of different things. As a child, I was taught that showing emotions is equal to showing my vulnerability so the best way to cover that up and appear level-headed is to smile. Thais smile when we are frustrated. We smile when we are angry. We smile when we are reprimanded. I was smiling when I asked to break up with my boyfriend so don’t think for a second that your girlfriend is happy just because she is smiling.
Sulking and pouting: Don’t take your girlfriend’s sulk seriously. It’s just a fun hobby for me half the time. However, you should make up with her as soon as possible, because if you don’t, it can and will escalate. Just smile, make a joke, hug her, ask her what’s wrong and make yourself look a bit guilty and you’re usually out of the dog house.
Sex & Physical contact
Physical contact: Most Thais are not open to physical contact as a method of flirtation. There are 2 ways to get around this. My personal favourite is that guys shouldn’t assume and should actually ask for permission before touching girls anywhere. There are situations where touching is alright, but I doubt if foreigners with limited Thai dating experience would be able to read Thai social cues correctly. Plus, you are going to win points for being a gentleman. Another method my Thai friends employ is to start casually e.g. brushing or holding hands. If she pulls back, you know she is not on with it. If she doesn’t, it’s permission to proceed further.
The pace: Don’t assume that sex is to be had at any point in time. While there are plenty of more westernised Thai girls who will let you make it to first base on the first date and third base in the third date, they are not the majority. In Thai relationships, it usually takes months if not years to get to have sexual intercourse. Also, girls don’t normally initiate so it is up to you know that it is time and take the lead. And similarly to how it is in the west, girls who have sex with you on the first date aren’t usually the best choice.
No sex before marriage: The notion of a virgin bride is still prevalent among middle class Thais up, especially in Thai-Chinese families. Any form sexual act is usually frowned upon in these families, meaning even a French kiss might be out of the question. Also, it is usually a my way or the highway thing so choose your words carefully when trying to reach a compromise.
Westerners who believe cheating is not a serious offence in Thai relationships are dead wrong. Men usually get away with it, because their girlfriends don’t know. When we do know, it usually becomes a hell of a fight, which more often than not ends in a break up. (I wouldn’t even spend time fighting with guys like these.) The exception is when you’re already married and there are children involved. If it’s tolerable, some very dedicated ladies would stay so their children can grow up in a complete family. After being cheated on once or twice, most women would file for divorce and request full custody. My suggestion: don’t try. If she’s not the one for you any more, ask for a divorce.
Thai women are similar to women from all over the world. We seek love, companionship, security (yep, financial security included) and faithfulness, so feel free to trust your common sense and proceed like you would when dating any other girl, but take note of the cultural nuances. Our cultural difference is great, but any successful relationship needs work so if you think your special someone is worth it, go for it.
The “normal” or “traditional” dating in Thailand is a painfully slow process and chances are the girls you end up with will also have flaws, different flaws from our sisters in the West, but flaws that can lead to divorce all the same. In my opinion, the probability of having a happily ever after marriage with a Thai lady is no different than that with a western lady; maybe even less so when cultural and language barriers are factored in. My last piece of advice: if you came to Thailand for the specific purpose of dating or marrying a “good girl” who can be your equal, go home. You have better chances of that in the west.
Huge thanks to a reader and a friend for taking a look, commenting and making suggestions on this article. Like most Thais, I lack self-confidence so a ‘go ahead’ from him really means a lot to me.
Many thanks to Mr. Stickman for the advice from last time and the space to write and post my article. Your site is interesting and I like it a lot.
As always, thank you for taking your time to read my article until the end. If you have any questions, I am happy to clarify what I wrote and I would love to hear from the readers what they think of this article too.
An Average Thai girl