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A Feminist’s Tinder Nightmare: How I Travelled 5,000 Miles For A Misogynist

Oslo at night

The first night that we spent together, I couldn’t stop crying. Turned over on my side, I felt him stroke my back from the other side of the bed. “No matter what happens, I won’t stop caring about you,” he mumbled in a voice that only made me sob harder.

Later, I thought about that moment a lot. I wanted to go to Norway and hang his picture in the streets — warn all Asian women Tindering in Oslo.

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We had matched seven months earlier, and at a time in my life when I scarcely turned on the lights in my room, I had come all the way from Seoul to meet him. His profile showed him in a smile and white lab coat and indicated that he was 2 kilometers away. He was a neuroscience Ph.D. student from Norway at Seoul National University, he said, and his favorite Korean chocolate milk was Maeil. He was leaving for Oslo at the end of the week but would be back in a few months, so could we continue talking?

Chatting turned into phone call marathons and Skype sessions, lots of teasing and cute nicknames. “Please, come here,” he’d plead over the phone.

Our go-to topic was feminism. He found it amusing that I called myself a feminist. According to him, things like rape and violence towards women are intolerable, but otherwise, equality has come as far along as possible. Scientific research has gathered enough evidence for significant differences in the male and female brains, and these differences account for what makes men better leaders and more apt for the STEM sciences.

I reported this to my friends, saying, “Well, of I wanted to meet a man who truly empathized with the feminist experience, I’ll be single forever.”

I had been having a lot of problems at home and at times, and I really wanted to meet him in real life. When he said his research (and trip back to Seoul) was delayed, I bought a ticket to Oslo via a train trip from Bergen, where I rationalized that I also had friends to visit.

It was an eleven-hour train trip — so beautiful I almost didn’t feel anxious. Oslo was a quietly busy city and the few days we spent together were occupied with visiting grocery stores and kebab stands. In real life, he didn’t hold true to his vow to kiss me as soon as we met. Tall with a touch of goofy, he looked like his pictures plus a few pounds, dressed in clothes that looked like his mother had picked them out. Despite recurring nightmares of him stabbing me in the face and lukewarm chemistry, when he suggested that I move to Oslo, I shook off each morsel of doubt.

Two days after I came back, I got a message from his girlfriend of two years, who had found pictures of us together on Instagram. I remember thinking it was a joke.

“Wait, were you guys doing long distance while he was in Korea then?”

“Huh? He’s never even been to Korea?” she told me, just as confused as I was.

Together, we pieced together that he half-made up a life in Korea based on popular expat blogs (including my own) and half-truths about his childhood and current life. He did study neuroscience, but he had not been to Korea. Those times we texted instead of Skyping were not because he was in the library, but because he was in bed with her. He had gone through hundreds of my blog entries, collecting information about my life. He had a “hobby” of talking to women in Asia — namely, Japan and Korea — and told her he was making pen pals. We looked up a pick-up artist he claimed to be friends with and realized that that friend “specialized in Asian women” and had spent time in Korea. We’re not sure what his plans were if I were to really move to Oslo.

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Oh, and he had a third girlfriend. All of us were East Asian. His M.O. was meeting Asian women going through hard times.

“I genuinely liked you,” he said right after a threat to “get me” if I ever wrote about him. Still stunned, I told him to get help, and I’ve never spoken to him again. When I wasn’t sad, I couldn’t stop being angry: at him for singling me out, and at myself for being so vulnerable. How could I have shrugged off the comments about “Asian women being the most beautiful”? Didn’t a red flag come up when he promised to “rescue me” from my problems? Why hadn’t been more enraged at these conversations?

Two years later, I can’t measure how much I’ve healed. I’ve reflected a lot on how I let myself fall in love with someone who was clearly misogynist. The way I see men, particularly white men here in Asia, has changed. I don’t laugh nervously when men tell me about their yellow fever anymore. I don’t listen to K-Pop songs with teenage women promising to make men’s wishes come true with any amusement at all. The kinds of conversations I engage in with men are much more guarded and for better or for worse, I couldn’t imagine having an intimate hours-long conversation with a stranger now.

I admit there are still fleeting moments I want to hang his pictures in Oslo, but it turns out there’s a lot to do with the lights on.

Top photo: Oslo, via Wikimedia Commons

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Hahna Yoon. Freelancing for Lonely Planet Korea, previously at Time Out Seoul. Twitter: @hahnay. Anecdote collector: awomanfrom.com

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