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Subtle Asian Dating

By Calla Carter, AsAmNews Staff Writer

Social media has allowed Asians around the world to bond over the subtleties of living in Western societies. The megaviral Facebook group Subtle Asian Traits has attracted more than a million members and serves as an image board for memes and forum for rants and jokes about the subtle tics many in the group share.

Last October, a University of Washington student who goes by “Hella Chen” joined Subtle Asian Traits. She told AsAmNews that after reading a number of posts about dating, she and some friends founded Subtle Asian Dating, more colloquially known by its acronym SAD, to “create a group where more discussions around dating could exist.”

SAD goes further than Subtle Asian Traits. Members don’t just talk about dating. They look for real people to date. Members can “auction” off themselves or their friends by posting dating profiles which often consist of basic physical and education statistics, a list of pros and cons, reel of photos, and no shortage of sarcasm.

“Texas bois only pls,” one reads. The poster’s friend “stands at a mere 4’11 and will make any man feel as tall as he wishes he was.” The pros include facts like “will pay for you (get your bbq and boba fix)” and “low-key a freak.” But in the cons, the poster acknowledges that she “naps a LOT (~5 hours)” and “kind of a big mess.” Another poster announces that her friend “can speak mandarin so you can bring him home to your parents.”

“I think SAD adds to Asian culture by making it a more relatable space for members of the Western Asian Diaspora with references to K-Pop, anime, and the usual creepy yellow fever message,” Chen said. “It allows members of the Asian culture to be in a space with people who understand the more subtle nuances, especially because the personal is political, and dating is a part of someone’s identity.”

SAD boasts over 360,000 members, but it doesn’t stop there. Several spin-off regional subgroups and websites have emerged, including Boba Meets Bagel, a dating app “inspired by subtle asian dating” whose name is a play on the popular dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel. Chen says that the SAD team is currently working on an official app, sadsingles.com, so they can “better provide tools to support the community.”

The community SAD has created extends far beyond the confines of the virtual world. At a SAD meetup in Seattle, Chen got to see the community she facilitated come together, face-to-face.

The meetup was “the first time I met someone [in person] through SAD! Or more like 30 other people through SAD,” she says. “But it was so much fun getting to meet with people in real life and to share content from the group as a bonding factor!”

Walter and Cara at the SAD Meetup in Tokyo

Her favorite SAD success story started at one of those in-person meetups. Cara, an Asian Australian living in Japan participating in the JET program, hosted a meetup that attracted Walter, a New Yorker visiting Tokyo.

Walter Ma was traveling alone in Japan over the winter holiday. He planned to move on to Kyoto after spending a few days in Tokyo. He was a passive member of SAD, primarily in it “for the memes.” After learning about the SAD Tokyo meetup from someone he met on Reddit, he thought, “Why not?”

It was Christmas Day. Ma arrived at the HUB Gotanda Nishiguchi bar a few minutes late. When he sat next to Cara, they “clicked pretty well” and “wound up talking in Cantonese for a little bit” which he thinks made them more comfortable around each other. Though the meetup guests rotated so they could talk to other meetup attendees, he eventually found himself beside Cara once again. After the SAD meetup’s reserved time at the bar ended, the two followed the group to an Izakaya, where they found themselves holding hands, and then to a karaoke bar, where the group spent the rest of the night.

Ma never made it to Kyoto. After meeting Cara, he forfeited his $500 Kyoto accommodations and changed his travel plans to join her in Niigata.

Now that Ma has returned to New York, the two have embraced the struggles of a long distance relationship.

“I usually FaceTime her on my way to work in the morning, and at 11 to midnight,” which is “her night time and work lunch break.” Ma acknowledges that “it sucks that I can’t see her in person, but I’ll have to settle for FaceTime for now.”

However, they are both looking forward to this April, when Cara will visit him in New York.

Chen loves that their connection at the SAD meetup in Japan “resulted in both of them hitting it off enough to pursue a long distance relationship. I think I love it because of how it all came to be, but also amazed at the logistics – like timing, travel, and distance – and how SAD really allowed them an opportunity to meet.”

From an idea to a group of friends to a global community that has facilitated real relationships, Chen says, “SAD has been such a wild ride. I’m excited to see where this goes.”

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