Alan Montecillo logged on to OkCupid and started filling out his profile. He wrote down his height (6 feet), listed his interests (podcasts, basketball, reading) and included photos of himself outdoors. But when Montecillo reached the section that asked for his ethnicity, he hesitated.
Montecillo, whose parents are Filipino, was born in New York and spent 13 years living in Hong Kong. When he signed up for OkCupid in 2013, he was in Singapore but began using it more frequently when he moved to Portland, Ore., the following year.
It was around then that he saw OkCupid’s data on race and attraction. Compared with black, white and Latino men, Asian men receive fewer matches and messages from women on the dating site.
That’s not to say online dating can’t work for Asian men. It just means they often find themselves making an effort to improve their chances.
Montecillo ended up including his ethnicity on his profile, but he removed it after an exhausting period where he received a response about once in every eight or nine messages. He asked himself: “Would people notice [me] if I was a large bearded white guy who likes hiking? I don’t know. It’s just one of those things where … you can’t help but wonder sometimes.”
After nearly three years on OkCupid, Montecillo met his current girlfriend, who is Caucasian. His approach was to emphasize his interests (he and his girlfriend are both big fans of Radiotopia podcasts); and keep his profile short but interesting. He needed online dating only to “work once,” he says, and it did.
In the process, Montecillo, 25, also learned to not judge himself based on others people’s standards.
“I feel like I’ve grown into being more socially outgoing and talkative, but I wasn’t always that way,” he said. “I think there was a long time where I felt ashamed, ashamed or self-conscious, or attributing me being single to the fact that I don’t have these qualities and I need to have these qualities in order to attract people. Even though intellectually I knew it wasn’t true, but emotionally [I was] blaming myself for not meeting a seemingly objective standard of what is attractive.”
MC Maltempo, a 36-year-old Korean American who grew up in Golden, Colo., also met his significant other online. He first joined Match.com in 2006, but only started using it seriously in 2013. A little over a year later, Maltempo married a woman he met on the site.
But dating — online or off — was hardly a smooth experience. Maltempo says women occasionally made assumptions about him based on his race.
“When [I was] dating non-Asians, sometimes they were interested in exotic factors that I’m not a white guy,” he said. “Maybe they’d talk about how they’re really into anime, manga or ‘Have you seen that scary Japanese or Korean movie?’ The media interests rather than culture interests made it kind of shallow.”
The bias Asian men encounter in dating bleeds into other parts of their lives as well. Tao Liu, a doctorate student in counseling psychology at Indiana University, has measured how Asian American men experience gendered racism.
In a recent online survey of 900 Asian American men, Liu found that Asian men frequently feel stereotyped as lacking masculinity; they also said they’re perceived as undesirable and as too passive. Part of the problem, she says, is that the white American man has become the standard for what is attractive.
It’s an image the media often reinforces. There are few Asian American male leads in Hollywood, and only recently have more Asian characters been cast as love interests. The TV shows “Master of None” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” for example, stand out for pairing Asian men with white women.
“I know sometimes Asian men are not considered attractive, just because we don’t have many examples of Asian men in the media to be considered attractive,” Maltempo said. “Even if you give them a little bit of room in terms of looks, that still leaves a really high bar for Asian men to be considered attractive at all.”
To improve his success rate on Match.com, Maltempo created a rule for himself. Rather than cast a wide net, he would message just one woman per week. This alleviated the feeling of being overwhelmed and helped him get to know the person he was interested in.
Maltempo compared this approach to meeting people at a mixer, where you can gauge your chemistry with only one person at a time. “It makes it seem like there’s a dialogue going on from the very beginning,” he said. “Dialogue rather than just messaging.”
At first, Maltempo’s wife, Xue Jiang, was unimpressed by his messages. Compared with other men she met on Match.com, Maltempo was far less flirtatious and more direct.
But after a friend urged Jiang, a 27-year-old native of China, to give Maltempo a chance, she realized that unlike some other people she was talking to, there was substance behind Maltempo’s messages.
He was “looking for a person who he wanted to spend a lifetime together with,” Jiang said, “instead of playing around.”