It happens all the time, and not just in the bargirl scene in Southeast Asia. A young girl (woman) falls madly in love for the first time, and then something goes wrong. The boyfriend cheats on her, or gets her pregnant and then cheats on her; or they get together in a relationship, and perhaps even get married, and then the love dissipates or dies. Again, he cheats on his mate, he physically and emotionally beats her or becomes an alcoholic or won’t work, or all of these. It’s a story as old as stories go, and the small variations on this kind of story will play out, one can be certain, until the proverbial end of time.
A particular variation on this story, and one that is commonplace and has a thousand different subthemes, is where the Thai or Filipina girl falls out of love or gets badly burned by her local boyfriend, live-in partner or husband, and then finds herself in the world of bargirls. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that she is living in a different universe, and even though dealing with a loss of dignity by virtue of flatbacking and sucking alien dick for money, she is ready to fall in love again, this time with a foreigner. The foreigner is invariably one of her customers. He’s “kind” and he’s got a “big heart” and he’s got money, and it all happens quickly, within a matter of a month or two if not weeks after becoming a bargirl.
Thoroughly smitten she more or less convinces herself that the foreigner is “different.” It isn’t just that he’s of a different color and with a bigger body and a large and lovable nose and from a strange culture and often significantly older and with a great deal of money in his pocket; it’s all of these, and the simple fact that he is not Thai or Filipino. She doesn’t hate the kind of men with whom she grew up with and with whom she speaks a common cultural language—protestations to the contrary; it’s just that the memory of the bad first “burn” won’t go away, and now there is a shining new and very different kind of love beckoning on the near horizon.
But this love connection is fraught with real and potential problems right from the get-go, and not least, and perhaps foremost, because of where the bargirl and the foreigner met, in a whoring venue in which the bargirl sees and sleeps with a number of different men—because this is her job, and the monger sees and sleeps with a number of different bargirls—because he can afford to do so and can’t pass on the seemingly unique opportunity to find himself naked and sexually hungry with a very young and attractive Thai or Filipina woman. He falls in love. She cannot help but fall in love. The love connection seems perfect, or nearly so. At least for the first couple of weeks, even months. Then, slowly, it begins to unravel, may even come to a sudden end when the monger embraces an epiphanous moment about what he’s gotten himself into.
The monger in love tires of what in a short period of time has become predictable sex, and if still around the whoring venues where he met and fell in love with the young hot hooker, it becomes tempting to do what had, in the not very distant past, become a habit of sorts—going from one woman to another. And then there are other matters that begin to come into focus.
One is the need, nay the demand by the young girl to meet not only her financial needs but also those of the child or two that she invariably brings to the relationship. And not just the child but the poor or sick parents, and all the siblings, and perhaps other relatives that include aunts and uncles and cousins. These great extended families—especially in the Philippines--are often tight social and genetic webs. They are quite unlike what western men are used to dealing with. For some men, in their eagerness to marry a non-western woman and a much younger one than they can ever imagine getting in their home countries, this additional financial burden, and perhaps a lifelong commitment to it, is easy to accept—in the name of love. For others, upon reflection, it is an unwelcome burden and a future source of conflict; love is love, but even love has limits, and those limits are very often about money.
Then, in a sobering moment, the man in love may also begins to reflect on the considerable age difference, and the fact that he is taking on a wife who is really a child, in good part because of the education she lacks, in good part simply because she is so much younger and of a different generation. Each generation has its own music, its endearing and commanding behavioral clichés, its unique take on the world around it. This sobering moment may include quite realistic thoughts on living with a very young woman who is constantly, almost obsessively, texting friends and family. It doesn’t take much reflection to understand that the little pink or purple noisy rectangle in her hand is never going to go away; its significance in the girl’s life will only grow with time. He didn’t have anything like this kind of intoxicating gizmo in his youth, and while he has one now it has its place in his life. It is not just his life. What he is now coming to understand as he did not initially is that the wife-in-the-making takes the seriousness of her cell phone and its immediate link to friends and family near and far to a level that requires an unusual amount of tolerance from someone of an older generation.
Not least of the issues that raises its head, and often early on, is jealousy. The bargirl—now girlfriend and future wife--is distrustful. She has grown up in a culture in which cheating by young Thai and Filipino men are endemic, nearly ubiquitous. Now she is working in an environment in which she quickly comes to understand that virtually all the men around her—these foreigners—are butterflies, or butterflies in the making. They confess to having gone with several, perhaps many bargirls. Some confess to also being married, and adding—not always truthfully--that a divorce is in the making. These foreigners, then, have picked up the flatbacking habits of the bargirls. However much the bargirl may distrust Thai and Filipino men, she now, with eyes even half open, has plenty of reason to distrust all the foreigners around her when it comes to being faithful, and to distrust them even in their seemingly most sincere moments—when proclaiming their unwavering love, doing so by showering money and attention on her in ways she cannot recall ever having known.
And so many of these love affairs that began with such dreamlike expectations unravel, slowly at first for some, rapidly for others. Now the bargirl has been burned again, and she feels really burned, and not at fault no matter her demands, especially those revolving around the larger family that must be accepted as a part of her very being, and supported accordingly. Now, deeply wounded a second time, she is likely to be much more cautious about getting into another relationship with a foreigner, and in the only real environment she knows: the world of whores and mongers where men are unconscionable butterflies, and she—she loudly shouts--is not a butterfly because she is “simply doing her job.”
She has her own simple narrative about what went wrong in the love affair with the foreigner, and she has been collecting since her entry into this whoring world similar narratives about bargirl-monger love relationships and how they went south before they resulted in marriage, or shortly thereafter. One result of her sad story and all of those from other bargirls now sandwiching her own story is that she will be doubly cautious about getting into another serious relationship with a foreigner. She will learn the value of declaring her love for a love-struck monger, and indeed will do it many times and at the same time to a parade of foreign customers. But this kind of love isn’t love at all. It’s vacuous, it’s a ploy, it’s all part of being savvy and on the game, reaping as much baht and peso profit as she can from as many gullible men as possible. She gets good, really good, at getting love-struck mongers to really believe that she loves them as she loves no one else, and least of all any Thai or Filipino young man.
If she was a pretty good risk, with all of her failings, in the early weeks or months of entering the bargirl life, now she is a poor risk. And an even poorer one the longer she remains a bargirl. Habits, increasingly bad ones, and salted with sweet cynicism, are reinforced. And yet at some point, she may well come out of her self-defined cell of disappointment long enough to more or less find herself again in love with someone, invariably another foreigner. Will it work this time? Maybe. Maybe this time she has found someone who is older, and whose sex drive is weak, and who only wants a maid and a caretaker who provides occasional sex, and yet who has enough assets to support her extended family, and who is sufficiently indifferent to her childishness and her cell phone behavior and other Thai or Filipino cultural tics. So why not call it love and try to believe that it’s the real thing? Too, she may have reached that point in the bargirl life where she has become tired of the grinding and pounding and largely luckless downhill bargirl life. Not least may be the eye-opening realization that she is no longer a prime pick: there are more and more days between one barfine and the next one. She’s put on some years, and it shows. She’s added a tattoo or two, and some mongers don’t like them. She’s now smoking, and some mongers don’t like this. It’s time to get out. It’s time to now take the best she can hope to get.
What generalities can one pull out of this more or less faithful model about love and young Thai and Filipina women getting into the bargirl life and discovering all the good and the bad and the ugly of foreigners? Largely, those kinds of things that come out in the particulars of this or that bargirl or monger story that at some point was all about love.
The Thai or Filipina girl from the provinces who finds that necessity has pretty much forced her to turn to the bargirl life to support a child where there is no support from a former boyfriend or husband, and none from the state, has a seemingly new and promising start in the arena of love, now with a foreigner. Yet very often it is just as doomed to failure as was that first and unforgettable love that got her pregnant with the local boyfriend. It’s doomed because she is meeting almost exclusively a subset of western men who are middle-aged and old, and with possibly a divorce or two behind them, and needy for female companionship and physical love, and morally indifferent, and promiscuous: a promiscuity that comes out of deprivation in the homeland, a deprivation that in Thailand and the Philippines is quickly attenuated or forgotten because of all the cheap and inviting bargirls, and in an environment where love is easily incubated and nurtured. But these affairs of the heart are, on the whole, invariably doomed, because of considerable cultural differences, differences that are masked in the short-run, when the brain is a scrambled chemical mess because of that drug called love and its bedmate lust. In what might then be called a third round, the bargirl actively exploits men who fall in love with her, as often as not men unable in their irrational love-struck frame of mind to assess the disaster they are courting.
But are these bargirl-monger love affairs gone wrong unusually high as a percentage of all those that get off the ground? I don’t know, and to my knowledge no one has done the careful on-the-ground sampling to find out. I’m not even sure that the percentage of bargirl-monger love affairs gone wrong is any higher than all those in the West that would be classified as “normal” love affairs, those initiated outside anything remotely like a bargirl environment. The divorce rate in the West is a solid fifty percent or more, and the rate does not take account of all those marriages that might be classified as de facto divorces, where people stay together because of the kids, because of the financial cost of divorce, or simply through the inertia of habit reinforcing immovable habit. So while the easy conclusion is that getting seriously involved with a bargirl is a certain recipe for disaster, could not much the same be said about a serious involvement with any woman?