Thursday, August 21st, 2014

“Why You No Have Boyfriend?”

44

“Why you no have boyfriend?”

The first time I’m asked this question, I’m on the overnight train from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani, the only foreigner in the car.  I’m taken aback by the older woman’s question and simply smile and giggle.  Thankfully, this is a very Thai answer, and it suffices.

I knew this question would be coming at some point. But during my first seven weeks in Asia, I was traveling with male friends almost the entire time!  Of course nobody asked me.

Now, I’m on my own in remote southern Laos, a region that receives few solo female visitors.

In Tat Lo, a tiny town on Laos’s Bolaven Plateau, three men from China’s Yunnan Province see me eating alone and invite me to have a beer with them.  They’re quiet, shy, and appear to be harmless.  Still, as a solo female traveler, I’m aware of the power dynamics involved: three men are buying a drink – and, it later turns out, a whole meal – for a foreign woman traveling on her own in a small town.

We toast everything under the sun, taking a sip each time.  Then the question arrives:

“You no have boyfriend?” one of the men asks me.

“Yes, I have boyfriend,” I say, reciting the scenario I just invented a few minutes ago.  “He is in Thailand now.”  I open my iPhone and show them a picture of me with one of my male friends.  They ahh in approval and no further questions about my romantic status are asked.

I’ve always sworn that I won’t pretend to be married while traveling.  In my mind, lying about one’s marital status from the get-go, or wearing a fake wedding ring, creates more problems than it solves.  But pretending to have a boyfriend in the background on occasion makes extremely complicated conversations a lot simpler.

I sit down at a restaurant in Pakse, eager for some laap and sticky rice.  A woman comes up to me, smiling widely.  “You have husband?”

“No husband,” I say, smiling back.  “I am alone.  Happy.”

“He is happy you no have husband.”  She points to the man sitting behind her.  He wiggles his fingers at me, smiling a gap-toothed grin.

Ack.

“But I have boyfriend,” I quickly say.  “He is in Thailand now.”  I whip out my iPhone to show the same photo to the woman.

This strategy works until I arrive on Don Det, one of Laos’s Four Thousand Islands (Si Phan Don).  This region is much more popular with backpackers than Pakse and the Bolaven Plateau, though solo women are still rare.

“You are alone?” the young male guesthouse worker asks me.

“Yes, I am,” I say.

“You no have boyfriend?”

“My boyfriend is in Thailand right now.”

“But you no have boyfriend in Laos right now!” he laughs.  “Maybe me?”

Looks like I need to tweak my story.

Have I ever felt in danger?  Absolutely not. Have I felt uncomfortable?  Yes, occasionally.

I find that creating a simple story of a faraway boyfriend defuses the situation, lets locals see me in a socially acceptable light, and allows us to get back to better conversation topics: our lives, our families, and how much I love Lao food.

Comments

44 Responses to ““Why You No Have Boyfriend?””
  1. travelpology says:

    Nice strategy! Creating a faux boyfriend would make me feel more comfortable, too. It’s a good thing you had that pic on your phone!

  2. ayngelina says:

    I know a lot of people who wear fake wedding rings but I don’t and I’ve never really had a problem in Latin America. But they do wonder why I’m not married, why no children and why would I ever travel alone!

  3. Diana Nguyen says:

    Geez. I’m a Vietnamese-American and cringe when Asians here – um, my parents – and overseas do stuff like this. So right now….CRINGE. Glad you have “a boyfriend”, but good luck fighting off the Asian men though. They’re small but very, very persistent (as I’m sure you know!). :D

  4. It’s a GREAT strategy! I did the same when I was on my own in France several years back… I just figured everyone wanted to know because everyone in France loves to be in love :)

  5. Lol, that’s a great strategy. My Indonesian relatives are super nosey and since I’m in Indonesia right now the personal questions just never stop coming… It gets annoying real quick. I’ve gotta come up with a good and simple story like yours for some of the more classic questions that usually revolve around not having kids. Tsk.

  6. That’s something I think every female traveler comes across at her travels. Luckily, we are both wearing a ring, so the question doesn’t come up too often. But when it comes, you basically have no other choice than to lie about it, or the guy will try to get in your pants :-)

  7. Andi says:

    I say only create a faux bf AFTER they’ve bought the drinks and food! You could probably drink and eat for free the rest of your trip!!! ;-)

  8. Nice strategy! I see the fake ring tactic can lead to many complicated questions like if u are married then why your husband allows u to travel alone etc. This boyfriend photo on mobile is genius :) Should try on my solo travel soon. Thanks there!

  9. it sucks when you are such a question especially since the poeple asking have ulterior motives

  10. Teresa says:

    I see no problem with this at all! A little white lie doesn’t hurt. Hell, sometimes I have to do this in NYC haha. I did an article at my old job exposing NYC men and how they hit on women even if they are married/engaged. Wore a killer engagement ring for a week and found more guys hit on me with the ring, than without! Go figure!

  11. Marsha says:

    This is every female solo traveler’s worst nightmare–or greatest dream (depends on who’s asking!). I haven’t done the fake ring thing, but had to do the fake boyfriend thing a couple of years ago, so I know exactly where you’re coming from.

  12. Theodora says:

    This made me laugh. I’m travelling solo with my son, so the automatic assumption in much of S-E Asia is that I have a husband, though in more developed parts, like some Thai islands, the assumption can be that I’m a Western divorcee gagging to get laid by a beach boy. As you say, Ack.

    More seriously, I think, what’s useful to understand in Laos is how young most people marry. Travelling outside the country is unusual. Not being married with kids by, say, 23, is pretty rare. So, I think, inventing a husband is easier, in some countries, than inventing a boyfriend. Invent a guy with a big job and a place where you’re meeting him.

    Although that doesn’t necessarily help… I was with my son and his father in Vietnam and still got hit on rather ickily: http://travelswithanineyearold.com/2010/06/04/single_parent_family_rtw_travel_children_kids/

  13. Rease says:

    It’s so much worse in Argentina! The fake boyfriend story never works because if he isn’t right by your side, you’re up for grabs in their mind.I also don’t like to lie about my marital status so I don’t use the fake boyfriend story much. I usually give them a speech about being happy and single and, if necessary, throw in some biting remarks directed at the guy hitting on me. I definitely know how you feel though, it’s like some people cannot believe single=happy, ever.

  14. Jeremy B says:

    Great post Kate! I’ve traveled on my own (as many guys have) and I didn’t think twice about it. When I was single, I was looking for the women. I never imagined what it would be like to be in the position you were in. I often found women traveling together. Now that I think of that, maybe women I met gave me the same line as you to protect themselves. But I had fun traveling on my own so I didn’t get a line like yours often! :)

  15. Kristie says:

    Hey Kate,
    You are so right that this is annoying if you aren’t looking to get laid by every horny guy you come across. Ring or no ring it still happens to me anywhere except gay (non lesbian) bars. If you are good looking (I am a former fashion model) you are bait wherever you go.
    I was in Bali after that for a month and a half and the CBB (Cute Bali Boys) as my girlfriend and I came to lovingly refer to them as, as well as the cute tourists and expats, were all about getting into your pants. You see a lot of young CBBs with older Western women and to tell you the truth, it was a refreshing revenge on the “GAG ME LONG TIME” creepiness of all the old Western men in Asia with the young Asian hookers I saw constantly when I was living in Macau/ Hong Kong over the past year.

    I am on my way to Thailand right now to try to find my husband of 23 years who is shacking up with a “pute” (French for hooker) who told him…”I may be prostitude or hooker or wahtever. I sell my boby (her type-os not mine; I came across their email exchange), but I no sell my heart”. Gag me a break!

    He recently has a schizophrenic/ bi-polar manic meltdown and lost everything. He told me he was going to find the love of his life and it wasn’t me (after 23 years of marriage). The next night he found her in a bar in Macau and is now living with her in Phuket SWEARING she is not a prostitute. HAHA. He also sworn he was the second coming of Christ, that he was smoking with President Obama, hunted by the CIA and in mortal danger. He hallucinates that an old man named Roger comes to him telling him to train for mortal combat in Thailand which he does…He went from being super conservative financially to spending our life’s savings in three months…In June, he went 6 days and nights in a row without sleeping and then got put in a psychiatric hospital by his (now former) employer.
    He is sick, and I am going to try to extract him from his madness…or try to help him. After a ton of hurt, I am trying to see the real picture and practice unconditional love.
    I wear my wedding ring still and my engagement ring, Thai and ex pat/ tourist boys, here I come…but I have a mission….Wish me luck!

  16. great post kate and having photos on your iphone makes it all the easier to explain. Now if only people would ask me you have no girlfriend??

  17. Rebecca says:

    Nothing wrong with pretending you have a boyfriend – can make life a little simpler when travelling alone. I was just travelling in Sumatra by myself (would have loved to have my boy with me!) and got many whispers as I walked past groups of guys, and several questions about why I was alone!

  18. Hilary says:

    SO glad to read this post, because I get this All. The. Time. Luckily, I finally managed to parlay this to my advantage in Florence in September. When a restaurant owner stately definitively, “I know why you are alone! You have broken with your boyfriend!” I gave a similar, noncommital shrug and smile and he proceeded to give me free gelato and limoncello whenever I stopped in. Maybe the sad-sack act will be my routine from now on :)

  19. Priyank says:

    Hi Kate!
    Your post made me laugh, believe me or not I have had to do that few times myself. This one time, in Russia, a girl wouldn’t let me go and I had to announced loudly (in my broken Russian) that I am married! phew! I cannot imagine how frequent you must be getting this question!
    cheers,
    Priyank

  20. Chichi says:

    I may have to do more than marry an axe murderer once we start our own route through Southeast Asia.

  21. Tash says:

    Sadly, has to be done, all too often.

  22. Kristie says:

    Why not just tell the truth? When are women going to stop being ashamed of being women? A man would never be put in such a situation and acceptance of it just promotes exploitation nd abuse of women.
    When I travel alone and hear this question I say no I’m not married or have a boyfriend because I don’t want one. If I decide I do want one I will find one of my liking and choosing.
    Please stop promoting women as second class citizens of this planet. Our equality or better yet, superiority to men, starts with being who you genuinely are and being proud it worldwide!

    • Kristie, it’s not about GIRL POWER — it’s about 1) projecting an appropriate image in the culture that you’re visiting, and 2) protecting yourself.

      In many places in the world, a Western woman saying that she has no boyfriend is tantamount to inviting any man to jump into her bed. Would you really put yourself at risk for the sake of making what you believe is a point? Not smart, Kristie.

      • Passerby says:

        You know, I understand your point, but you also said that a ring won’t protect you from an attacker. Why would a boyfriend (that is not with you at the moment) be different? If the “jump in her bed” comment was about the men making advances, then I think you’d just have to reject them?

        I don’t mean to offend you! I’m just curious because I have plans for travelling some day.

  23. Kristie says:

    Dear Kate,
    I appreciate your public blog and opinion and this is just my opinion.
    I’ve probably traveled as much or more than you and having the picture of an imaginary boyfriend in another country is not going to keep a man in that or any other country from trying to bed a woman who is alone. I’ve never seen a wedding ring keep them away either. Being safe as a single woman is a concern in the USA and Europe too.
    My opinion is that it is time for men to stop treating woman as their fodder and for women to start putting their feet down and say no to such condescending attitudes.
    As long as women keep placating men and allowing themselves to be placed in the catagory of being second class citizens to men, we will continue to be treated as such.
    You have every right to disagree, but i fight for the empowerment of women worldwide, i live it and i believe it.
    This is just my opinion as a single backpacking woman who has spent the past five years visiting 155 countries. Got a few more to go! Just sick and tired of men abusing and exploiting women worldwide. Any men. All men.
    Hiding abuse behind ‘cultural’ differences label doesn’t help our sisters who still have to live with it long after our visits are over.

    Sincerely and respectfully yours,
    Kristie

  24. Pamilla says:

    Lol…I don’t blame you. I really hate when that questions comes up. Not that I am ashamed of being single but you’re bombarded with all this questions! I even avoid the questionwitj family, there are so many lore things to talk about than why I’m single or not married with a bunch children! Can we just be happy living our happy, single free spirited life! When the boyfriend or husband comes we can talk about then or maybe not…lol! As you said there are just better things to talk about!

  25. Laura says:

    This is a good idea! I was thinking the marriage thing was a bit complicated and didn’t want to travel around wearing a “fake” marriage ring. And the picture adds a good touch! Thanks for the tip! :)

  26. George says:

    My and my friend got asked a lot in Morocco as well as if we were pregnant cheeky!

  27. Jaryd says:

    This is the best tool a solo female traveller could whip out. For a solo male traveller I find people, especially in arab countries completely shocked I am alone, with no partner and no family, they just can’t deal with it. I guess they have never known the liberating feeling of this. Great post for solo female travellers though, I am sure its quite reassuring being able to pull out that card.

  28. Hi Kate,

    Great post! It’s a question I get asked all too often and one that bring such perplexed looks. Recently I had a shocking surge of people ask me….on valentines day no less! I don’t think they appreciated the irony and it inspired a post of mine. Glad to see I’m not the only one!

    http://girlgoneeast.com/2014/02/14/in-search-of-paradise-and-the-lonely-hearts-club/

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