The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

An expat looks for love in her adopted country — only to be told she’s “exotic,” the Other (2/2)

We welcome back Zeynep Kilic to the Displaced Nation for Part 2 of her story about searching for love in the United States. Turkish born and bred, she’d endured two failed marriages to Turkish men before determining to hunt for an American mate. By then she’d taken out American citizenship and had an American Ph.D. In Part 1 of this post, she described her first bout of Internet dating in Arizona. She’d become increasingly frustrated by being told she looked “exotic” as compared to American women. Let’s see how she fares in Alaska, the aptly-named Last Frontier…

— ML AWANOHARA

I move away to Alaska in 2008, slightly tired of the recurring comments from American men about my exoticism as well as my record of failure on Arizona’s online dating scene. I know nobody means any harm by labeling me exotic. I know it is a compliment. I have been told that many times.

Still, it doesn’t sit well in my heart.

But the fact is, I am still shaking my metaphorical ass in this literal mating dance, which must mean one of two things at this point:

  1. I must have some hope left that gentlemen don’t prefer blondes; or
  2. I am desperate to make it work with an American before going back to choosy Turkish mothers and their sons.

Lots of space — and lots of men?

Before my move, everybody jokes that there are so many men per woman in Alaska that I should find a man soon enough. Like a good academic, I research the validity of this legend — only to find that it’s true only if you can stand to live in the Bush — the remote, rural parts of the state. In such places, sexual abuse and rape are also rampant, particularly against Alaska Native women.

I will not be going anywhere near.

In fact, I am moving to the largest city in Alaska — which is literally the smallest town I would have ever lived in as an adult. And in this city, the male-to-female ratio is about the same as elsewhere in America.

I am not holding my breath.

As I search through profiles I realize that my chances in fact might be lower in this part of the world. I see just two kinds of men:

  1. The über-athlete who can’t go to bed in peace unless he skis a super hard-core mountain every weekend, backpacks all summer, and camps in -30 degree weather because — gasp! — it is “fun”; or
  2. The I-kill-a-bear-for-my-woman-with-my-bare-hands kind of guy, who lives for his gas-guzzling vehicle, be it a dirt bike, snow machine, or huge truck that hauls thousands of pounds of manly stuff in the back.

I decide I have no chance in this town. These are not my people.

It’s all relative!

To my surprise, my profile attracts greater interest in the frozen north. Who knew I had to drive across the continent to become a relative hottie!

I am almost forty and still overweight. I’ll take it.

Though I am still surprised no one thinks I am an American.

Let’s be honest, the name is not helping — but seriously? How could I have been blind for so long? Why did I fancy myself as Americanized?

My friend Eun tells me I need to acquire racial consciousness: I am not a white woman; I am a woman of color. I consider it. It will take three years but I will eventually acknowledge the debt I owe to the American men I met in a romantic context — who, unbeknownst to me, upon seeing my picture online, established my exotic quotient right away.

Who would have guessed I would learn a lesson about my racialized self because of these men who objectified me — not because of my education on the topic? This moment of reckoning does not make me feel good about my academic self, by the way, though my non-academic self is sheepishly feeling, well, sexified.

Happily ever after…

But let’s get on with my story. Am I with an American now? Yep. Is he close to his mother? Nope! Am I feeling bad about myself for wishing for a hands-off mother-in-law? You betcha!

He (his name is Wayne) is blond and has blue eyes. I take Wayne to Turkey, and all my friends and family tell me what lovely blue eyes he has. “Oh, no,” I cut them off, “stop focusing on his blue American eyes! That does not make him a better guy compared to my earlier Turkish mates who had beautiful non-blue eyes.”

They all laugh. They think I am so uptight (must be the sociologist in me).

“Relax,” they say. “He is a cute American, and we like his tattoo.”

Did I mention that Wayne has a manly tattoo sprawling across his very muscular — non-Turkish — arms?

Wayne is truly enjoying the objectifying comments from the ladies — my mom of all people, who whispers about how strong he looks and covers her smile with her hand like a schoolgirl.

He states with a grin that Turkish men look kind of puny. “Yeah, they haven’t been eating hormone-injected beef on a daily basis,” I say sarcastically.

Enough of this Orientalism

What is wrong with him? What is wrong with everyone? Has no one read Edward Said?!!!

One day when Wayne and I are lying in bed, he tells me how exotic my skin is, how much he loves my olive complexion.

I stop him with a sigh:

Do I look green or black to you, because that is all the olives I know?

I see him with a deer-in-the-headlight look on his face, wondering if he has messed up. He is probably thinking: “She is a PhD and holds all kinds of theories in her head. Not wonder she gets bent out of shape unexpectedly. But, wait, her skin is definitely darker than mine, it’s exotic — what do I do, what do I do?” So he apologizes.

I tell him that, incidentally, I am considered to have very fair skin in Turkey. He says he is sorry; he just meant I am hot, that’s all.

He is a nice guy. He means well and he absolutely thinks I am exotic and sees nothing wrong with this.

I tell him that wheat makes more sense than olive. He agrees.

From now on, every time he eats his cherished Turkish olives, he smiles and says he can never look at a zeytin (olive) the same way anymore.

Neither can I.

* * *

Readers, now that you know how Zeynep’s story ends, do you have any comments or further observations about the perils, and potential joys, of seeking love abroad? Please leave them in the comments. We’d love to hear them…

Zeynep Kilic lives in Anchorage with her blue-eyed American husband, complains about the dark or cold on a regular basis, and fails miserably at skiing. She is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she is navigating the treacherous waters of tenure. You can find her on Google+ and on Twitter: @zeynepk

STAY TUNED for another episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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Images: The photo of Zeynep Kilic and her husband, Wayne, is her own; photos of olives, wheat, Arizona cactus and Alaska are from Morguefiles.

4 responses to “An expat looks for love in her adopted country — only to be told she’s “exotic,” the Other (2/2)

  1. Joan Hunt November 24, 2012 at 6:17 am

    Wonderful writing, but forgive me if I think your difficulty finding the right kind of man has less to do with exoticism and more to do with your obvious strength of character and intelligence. Look at the photo above. You look like you could wrestle a bear with one hand, and your man’s lovely blue eyes look both amused and unusually tolerant. He has a handful and he can cope with it–that is a hard man to find anywhere in the world. Good on you for finding one!

    Joan Hunt, U.K.

  2. zkilic November 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks Joan, you are too kind. Well, what do you know, I avoid bears at all costs but like a good academic, I took courses on bear safety, which probably don’t mean much when you are up close to an actual bear, but hey, I am theoretically prepared🙂

    • ML Awanohara November 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      @ Zeynep
      Well, I know what Joan means. Just as you were shaking your metaphorical ass on the Internet, she can imagine you wrestling a metaphorical bear to the ground. But I also take your point — let’s hope that bear remains metaphorical! Whether brown, black, or polar, bears become a lot less cute the more real they get. And I assume you don’t identify with Sarah Palin’s Mama Grizzlies, who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot the poor animal… You’re not that Alasakafied yet???

  3. zkilic November 29, 2012 at 12:41 am

    @ML, I doubt I’ll ever be Alaskan enough to shoot an animal, though I am more curious about guns now that I am surrounded by them (such as, a few exist in my garage apparently!!!). But I am told, it is only common sense if you want to go camping in Alaska, that you must have guns. Then of course there is the subsistence hunting which justifies guns. All of this is still theoretical knowledge for me though. I’ll let you know if anything changes…

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