Mixed Love: My Best Friends Taught Me How to Date Like a ‘Normal’ Person

It took a diverse group of opinionated friends (and years debunking romance myths) to coach writer Chin Lu into joining the "special club for happily partnered people"

Words by Chin Lu

Mixed Love: A JoySauce column about interracial/intercultural relationships within the Asian diaspora experience, and how these unique love stories make our lives fuller, funnier, and more interesting.

Do you have a love story—with a partner, a coworker, a neighbor, your favorite barista—to share? Send us an email!

Although I dislike the term, I admit that for a large chunk of my life, I was “boy-crazy” in a bad way. 

More than two decades ago, my parents separated during my formative years, and they’ve not served as a shining example of a healthy long-term romantic relationship. When I recognized this around age 10, I turned to fiction for solace and inspiration. 

As a preteen in Taipei, I devoured romance novels that I was maybe too young to read: local contemporary stories, translated Western classics like Jane Eyre and Pride & Prejudice, and harem dramas set in ancient Chinese dynasty times that may or may not have included a few softcore sex scenes. And when I wasn’t reading, I was watching romance TV shows. One of my favorites was Hana Yori Dango AKA Boys Over Flowers, a Japanese shoujo classic. I read the manga, watched the anime, cried along with the Taiwanese live action TV adaptation Meteor Garden before also consuming the Japanese TV rendition. Quick summary for the uninitiated: the plucky heroine Tsukushi starts out as the bullying target of the week for Domyoji, the wealthiest, most spoiled student of her elite high school, then catches his attention with her indomitable spirit. I was enthralled each time they went through the Nth “will they, won’t they” moment, even though the love interest character is so aggressive that he commits a few small acts of violence and transgression throughout the story. I didn’t understand these red flags until much later. 

At the time, I was obsessed, and I had no wise older sister to caution me against buying into these fantasies wholesale. Granted, the romance genre has evolved so much by now, but looking back, these outdated fantasies full of grand gestures, dramatic twists and turns, and emotionally volatile push and pull filled my young impressionable mind with very unrealistic expectations, which I brought with me when I started to explore dating in real life. 

Despite my lack of family assistance in the romance department, I have not been staggering through my love life alone. During freshman year of college, I met my three dearest friends, all nurturing Cancers to my bleeding heart Pisces, who became my chosen sisters for life. In the years that followed, they each met their life partners long before I did, and while they were out of the game, they remained completely invested in my dating hijinks, always ready to help me workshop a break-up text message, or deconstruct a confusing date. For a decade, I stumbled from one disastrous relationship to another—not to mention what felt like a hundred first dates that went nowhere. My best friends have always risen to the occasion as my dating coaches whenever I was once again mired in boy trouble, which was often. It also really helps that their backgrounds and experiences are so different from my own and each other’s, so their advice rounds out my perspective, yet we all share an understanding of the specific nuances of dating as women of color. 

One horrible strategy I picked up from my favorite romance stories was that red flags can be ignored if the guy is hot, because you can always fix him once you have him, duh! This approach resulted in very unhealthy relationships that all ended poorly for me, including one particularly ego-bruising breakup (after a year of dating, he suddenly told me I was “not fun enough” so he couldn’t see me in his future). I kept having nightmares about that ex, imagining him reaching out and promising to provide closure, but never showing up after I waited anxiously all night. I jotted these down in a makeshift dream journal and made my friend Veera* read them. Veera is a mixed race Latina filmmaker who shares my penchant for the magical and whimsical. But even so, when I reread these rambling dream journal entries years later, I was so touched by her immense patience and empathy for me. She responded to each one with thoughtful and detailed comments interpreting the hidden meanings, like decoding how my dream of our terrible marriage meant the relationship was unsalvageable, and how the eventual mellowing of my dream narratives meant I was finding closure. There was plenty she could have made fun of if she chose to, but she always opted to be supportive and help me through my most vulnerable moments without judgment.

I dated so many ill-advised men that my other best friend Pavani* had to intervene. Even though she’s a busy high-level finance executive, Pavani sizes up every suitable single man in her professional network to set me up on dates. Unfortunately the longest streak for these matches was three dates, but that never discouraged Pavani from trying. Sometimes Pavani would just send pictures, other times she’d enter full immigrant Asian mom mode and accompany the photos with a thorough assessment of their qualifications and potential based on their LinkedIn profiles. So committed was she as my matchmaker that when Pavani got into a minor accident, the first text I received led with how cute her doctor was. Not missing a beat, she charmingly asked him if he was single and slipped him my phone number, all while he assessed her injuries. That’s when it dawned on me how much of a trainwreck I was with dating: even at the hospital, my best friend was more focused on finding me a match than mending her foot that got run over by an electric scooter.

Another romance myth I eventually unlearned was that if you are willing to put in a ton of effort into a relationship, nothing is unsalvageable. I was six months into dating an avid recreational drug user when I received a multi-paragraph email from my best pal Alex*, one of the most focused people I’ve ever met. At the time, she was working hard at med school, but still found time to stage an intervention. Ever the diplomat, raised by her hospitable and exceedingly thoughtful Iranian immigrant parents, Alex sent me a letter that politely listed her numerous concerns about said boyfriend’s influence on me, and ended with this: “I just want to see you happy and in a healthy relationship, but I also realized that I wish someone I knew said something during my bad ones. That said, you are an incredible human being with the capacity to make good decisions. I trust your decisions.” I wish I had heeded her warning, because another half a year later, I was sobbing in Alex’s arms after this man dumped me ruthlessly after all I’ve done to make our relationship work. Never once did she say anything along the lines of I told you so or I knew it, but I knew she saw this coming, and I had learned my lesson. 

Good coaches tell you what to do, but great coaches help you figure out how to excel on your own. When I finally felt ready to take the training wheels off, it felt right. 

After Trump was elected, I promptly updated my OKCupid profile to add that I explicitly prefer men of color, a departure from my previous equal opportunity stance. My three best friends all gave me their enthusiastic support in this decision. I’m now going four years strong with my last online date, someone each of my besties approved almost instantaneously upon meeting. 

“Finally, you’re dating a normal, nice person,” I remember Alex saying in a teasing way. It felt like I was finally part of the special club for happily partnered people that my best friends had been members of for so long. My text messages to them about dating have changed from “I cannot believe he did this. What does that even mean?” to “you would not believe what a sweet thing he did for me today.” We now regularly exchange tips on how to be good long-term partners, and the nurturing bond of our sisterhood is stronger than ever.

I hope my best friends don’t miss my wild rollercoaster stories from my single days, because I certainly don’t. No matter what life throws our way, I just know that we will be there to help one another get through it.

*Names have been changed to protect individuals’ privacy.

Published on July 1, 2022

Words by Chin Lu

Chin Lu is a social media strategist turned writer, a 1.5th generation Taiwanese American in California, and a pop culture junkie with a Media Studies degree from UC Berkeley. When she's not working, she's cooking elaborate meals or writing her romance novel and YA fiction. Find her on Twitter @ChinHuaLu for more.

Art by Robinick Fernandez

Robinick Fernandez is a prolific and visionary creative director whose work blends the worlds of art, architecture, design, and fashion. For two decades Robinick Fernandez connected art with design for global brands, and his work has left an impact having navigated across many countries and cultures including Europe, Asia, the United States and beyond. For his next venture, he celebrates his Filipino American roots as Creative Director for JoySauce, being committed to cultural storytelling, sustainability, forward-thinking design, and conscious content .