An exclusive Facebook group for lovelorn Asians around the world has become the population’s answer to Tinder.
Subtle Asian Dating, where members can “auction off” their single friends to others in the closed group, has taken off since its inception last November and developed a life of its own.
Members have touted meeting beaus by “shooting their shots,” that is messaging strangers after seeing their “auction” profiles, which often read like résumés with a laundry list of achievements—an individual’s education background, life accomplishments, pros, and cons.
The group’s description playfully promises to help people find partners who can “impress your always disappointed parents.” All members, the description reads, have been “vetted through the most rigorous process,” though the group’s size at this point—over 360,000 members—hardly makes it exclusive.
Still, the platform is unique in its cultural specificity. Underlying the premise of Subtle Asian Dating—or SAD as it is humorously known to its members—is the assumption that dating as an Asian comes with its own set of cultural challenges.
Indeed, many of the group’s most popular posts are not necessarily dating profiles, but ruminations on the difficulties of dating while Asian.
There are screenshots of awkward Tinder conversations, fetishizing comments sent to women, complaints from men about being stereotyped as “nice guys” or unattractive, and jokes about earning approval from parents.
Hella Chen, a senior at the University of Washington who started the group, believes people are drawn to it because they’re more likely to find others with a mutual understanding of subtle Asian traits, and because the group’s posts and comments are public to its members, adding some measure of social accountability.
But does the group live up to its promise? Just as dating apps have their own proponents, some SAD members will swear by its method.
A SAD success story
In early December, Danny Eng and Kevin Yang, former roommates at the University of Waterloo in Canada, were reconnecting after falling out of touch since graduation.
The last time Eng had seen his old roommate, Yang was recovering from a bad breakup. Hoping to ease the heartbreak, Eng spontaneously wrote a profile for Yang on SAD.
Eng gave his friend advance notice, but even then, Yang recalled waking up to the notifications as “chaotic” and “humbling.” He received dozens of messages from women—each beginning with, “I don’t normally do this, but I’m here to shoot my shot...”
There’s a certain level of anxiety that comes with making the first move, and that might be why the group has resonated with so many people. The idea of having a friend sell you—which has been compared to the so-called “marriage markets” of China, where parents act as matchmakers for their kids—feels much more palatable than selling yourself.
“It could easily be seen as narcissistic,” says Forest Kong, who was auctioned off by friends on SAD in early February.
Kong himself always saw the group as a space for jokes about dating and didn’t expect any serious requests for a relationship.
So when he started receiving hundreds of private messages in response to his friend’s post, he didn’t really follow up. Kong had already told his friends that he didn’t have time for a relationship, but he says it offered some self-affirmation.
“Especially as an Asian male in a Western society, I don’t necessarily see myself as attractive all the time,” says Kong, who lives in Canada. The notes of “hey, cutie” and other compliments offered some reassurance.
As for Yang, he replied back to someone who lived nearby, Melvina Lu. In her message, she suggested that even if nothing came out of their conversation, perhaps they could at least be friends.
One date led to another, and about a month later in January, the couple made it official.
For Eng’s part, Yang thinks his friend should continue writing profiles.
“I was selling Kevin like I would advertise my own son.”
“I guess Danny was like a really hip dad,” Yang says, referring to the marriage markets. “But it was different because he knew everything that was relevant to people our age and what people our age care about.”
It was apparently enough to satisfy Lu, who showed Yang’s SAD profile to her father before she messaged him. For that, Yang was flattered—and relieved.
“Her dad said, ‘Go for it,’” Yang recalls. “I know the kind of dad she has, and the fact that he approves of me is a big compliment.”
The ultimate irony of SAD is that many people, in an effort to create their own space, have ended up adopting many of their parents’ traits.
“I was in, like, grade three, when my dad told me that if you like a girl, think about it as though you were her father,” Eng says, “or if she were your daughter. Would you approve of the guy that you are?
“I was selling Kevin like I would advertise my own son,” Eng says, laughing.