His American Dream didn't include an Asian woman. Reality dictated a change of plans.

by Eric Byun*


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t was Friday evening. I had knocked back a quick Chivas with a buddy suffering through a bad stretch in his marriage. In that half hour I had learned more than I had ever wanted to know about the sordid details of his misery. I was damned glad to be out of the bar, and as I drove home a tidal wave of gratitude crashed over my consciousness.

     I could have been the guy sitting in the bar looking for a sympathetic ear while drinking himself senseless! As a matter of fact, couple of years ago I had been that guy. Like him I had been married to a blonde beauty with a dazzling saphire smile and the kind of figure that inspires grown men to salivate uncontrollably.

     I met Babs* while she was a secretary at the firm. The senior associate she was working for grumbled that she was lackadaisical in her work. My own secretary whispered that her path was littered with broken men. Who cared? Babs seemed to have taken an interest in me. The fact that I was Asian didn't seem to matter. She giggled at my one-liners, shone her smile on me every chance she got. But hey, I was a level-headed guy who had dated my fair share of good-looking girls. I resolutely withheld judgment until our first date.

     Some women are born for seduction. I didn't have a chance, as I look back on that date. Her dress, hair, makeup, life story -- everything was calculated to make me see her as a purebred beauty raised to make a wonderful wife for some lucky guy good enough to deserve her. By dessert I was convinced that the woman who sat gazing into my eyes was my one and only chance at happiness. What's more, she was the babe I used to fantasize about as a zit-faced teen with a hidden stash of Playboys.

     "You're so different from other guys I've dated," Babs told me. I had a high enough opinion of myself to believe that was a good thing. I also believed that race didn't matter. Or better yet, that she preferred me because of my race. What could be better? My fantasy blonde with a special thing for Asian men. On our next date would I let her cook for me. That clinched it for me. Call it a powerful appeal to my latent sexist tendencies. A dream girl who could cook!

     We were married six months later. By then Babs was already two-months pregnant and had quit her job as required by the firm's fraternization rules. I was the toast of my buddies, especially the Asian American guys who delighted vicariously in my score in that sexual rivalry between white and Asian men. We all had white friends who had scored a trophy Asian wife. I was helping to even the score, a hero for the brotherhood's cause.
     To this day I can't put my finger on the precise origins of the downward spiral of our marriage. Maybe it was the nights she didn't have dinner ready, pleading a headache or some pressing engagement. Maybe it was the way she always booked us into the most luxe hotels available. Maybe it was my alarm at the rate at which our lifestyle had depleted my savings. Or maybe it was a nagging sense that some spiritual dimension was missing from our relationship.

     Let me just say that it wasn't the sex. That was one of the best parts of our marriage. Babs was always a willing and energetic partner and was great at the frills that made our sessions memorable. As far as I can tell, she was never unfaithful, though who can say for sure? She was a good conversationalist and was superb at making guests feel welcome and cherished. Even my parents liked her, despite their well-founded suspicion that we were living beyond the means of a young lawyer in his early thirties and that Babs had something to do with that. Somewhat reassuring to all was the fact that she was a loving mother to our daughter. And yes, there was the undeniable ego gratification of attending functions with her on my arm. It helped to make up for a lot of the crap this society imposes on the Asian brotherhood. So, as horrible as it may sound to some, yes, I saw a part of the rationale for our marriage as striking a blow for the cause.

     It took less than two years for me to conclude that the marriage was over. The momentum toward that decision probably began building within a few months of the wedding, but I can fix the precise date and time I told her, "I'm moving out." It was the day I learned that we had a negative balance in our checking account, about three hundred in our savings account, then came home to a Dominoes pepperoni dinner for the second time that week. That was topped off by learning that on that very day Babs had booked us three months in advance for a week in Aspen, at one of its poshest lodges. Oh yeah -- and there were no vegetables in the house, not even a sprouting potato.


     I'm not sure that Babs wasn't doing some of those things to force the issue, maybe even on some unconscious level. She may have suspected that I had been cheating on her. If she had, her suspicions were well founded. About two months earlier, at a key witness deposition on a major piece of multi-party litigation in a neighboring city, I had had a heated exchange with one of several opposing counsel. She happened to be Asian American. She happened to be attractive. We happened to end up at the same crowded little sandwich joint during lunch break. We ended up sharing a table, professional courtesy, you know. Maggie* pulled a bottle of Tabasco from her purse and doused her BLT with it. Without breaking a smile she asked if I wanted to borrow it. I can't say why, exactly, but that little act made me drop my defenses. As I doused my sandwich we exchanged a quick smile.

     We didn't have to say anything. Eloquently unspoken was our shared distaste for bland road meals, our shared experience of being Asians in yet another city that seemed to see us as oddities, the mindless tedium of depositions in multi-party litigations, of being Asian lawyers in a mostly white legal system. Maybe out of a sense of duty to our professions or maybe loyalty to our respective spouses, we spoke little during lunch. But the day after I got home I called Maggie for a dinner date. It was an act of infidelity, no question, but somehow it didn't feel wrong. Maggie accepted. We both knew the other was married, but offered no excuses or explanations to each other. In fact, we didn't discuss our mates at all for the next couple of months. Being unhappily married to white spouses was just one more thing we shared.

     Our dinner was entirely innocent, if that word can be used under those circumstances. We said nothing that could be construed as a romantic or sexual come-on. We talked about what might be considered neutral topics, as though we were trying to justify the dinner as the meeting of some very small and exclusive but nevertheles noble-minded professional organization. We didn't kiss or even touch hands, but as we parted that evening we knew we each faced a separate decision that was long overdue.

     It was Maggie who finally called me about a week later. She asked me to play tennis during lunch. Later she told me she had just wanted to see me without a tie before making any kind of decision about our prospects. For my part, I liked what I saw. Her cute little tennis dress revealed her as being well-proportioned and elegantly feminine, with flawless skin and shapely legs. Her movements were supple, graceful. Hard-fought-and-won points produced surprisingly savage yells as she raised her racket in triumph. By the time we were done, I was ready to move on to a different kind of physicality. That same afternoon we entered into that tawdry but thrilling out-of-the-way motel phase of the extra-marital game.

     For me being with an Asian woman was an exotic thrill, strange yet familiar. The passion was intense, probably illegal. We were both ravenous for each other. She was the exact opposite of the passive little creature that we are led to imagine Asian women as being. Yes, I had been a virgin as far as Asian woman were concerned and Maggie wasn't gentle with my quasi virginity.

     It's been eight months since Maggie and I moved in together. We will marry as soon as our divorces become final, maybe in another year. We feel zero need to travel to exotic places and stay in fancy hotels. That would just detract from the simple joy of just being with each other, sharing the day's events, watching TV, reading aloud to each other or even buying groceries together. We are like kids who have just become each other's new best friend. The immense relief of being loved by a like-minded human being. What we have is a selfish thing that we are doing purely for ourselves, not for parents or the Asian brotherhood or sisterhood.

     I can hardly wait to get home.

* Names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the not-so-innocent.

“ She was the babe I used to fantasize about as a zit-faced teen with a hidden stash of Playboys. ”