The Thai Concept of Love

Elora Herberick, 127 TCCS

“I miss you” and “I love you” are two phrases in American culture that have intense meaning behind them. When someone tells you they love or miss you, it can be life altering, emotionally rewarding, and a very serious expression of commitment. Your first love is someone you always remember. The first time your partner said those three little words and your heart lept with joy, yeah you know the feeling. The countless romantic comedies that taught us about love: how to get it, how to keep it, and how to lose it (thanks Kate Hudson)…they all taught us that those words are emotionally charged and captivating.

I will say this before I go on.

I am no expert on love, or Thai culture. Although I have used those words on more than one occasion in my youth. So, that totally makes my feelings seem more legitimate, but I’m pretty sure I still have no idea what the concept of love or the linguistics of it mean. Also, although I have lived in Thailand for over two years now- I am in no way an expert on the culture either. However, I have had some experiences that lead me to believe that the Thai concept of love, or at least our American perception of the term- is skewed. 

It is not uncommon to pass by a Thai man or woman who downloadshouts, “I love you!” in your general direction before giggling with their buddies. I have met several people, both male and female who have said that they love me within the first hour of meeting. Now, I attest this phenomenon to my award-winning smile, outgoing personality and impeccable style, but that is besides the point. For a culture that tends to desensitise themselves when it comes to emotions and intimate connections (as is the Buddhist way) they sure know how to make a lady feel good for a minute. 

Let’s get personal. I tried dating a Thai guy once. It was a Tinder match, which for me, (I mean you do you boo boo) was the first mistake. Everything seemed great, he was sweet and called me pretty- which was a nice contrast to the, “You got fatter!” and “Look at all your pimples!” that I was accustomed to.  But when we started to get “serious” in his eyes, meaning like making out and doing things together, his first thought was marriage.


I had told him several times that I wasn’t looking for a relationship and that we could be “hook-up buddies”. This seemed totally logical to me, especially since he lives in Bangkok and I live, oh I don’t know, eight hours away in a rice field. Let’s just say, the boy was NOT about that. He told me he loved me, that I could move in with him, and that we would get married, after three weeks. Wait, what? Yeah, I said it, THREE WEEKS. SMH. Now, in my semi-reasonable Americanized mind, I straight up called him crazy (Disclaimer: Pretty sure he is crazy, and I hope that my experience is uncommon). Regardless, it got me thinking about the huge difference in the meaning of words related to relationships and how relationships are actually attained, grown, and maintained in Thai culture.

innercowheroI’ve come to realize that there really isn’t a normalized “dating” culture here. In America, some of us are taught the phrase, “Try the milk before you buy the cow”. Actually I’m pretty sure the real phrase is, “Why buy the cow, if the milk is free?”. But, let us use the former for arguments sake. We are taught to date around in our late teens and twenties before marrying someone. We must be sure of our feelings, sure of ourselves, and sure of our personal direction in life. We try the milk, and for some of us- from multiple cows, cause YOLO.

In Thailand, on the other hand- well at least in the rural context, it is quite the opposite. It is taught that you must marry young, and once you are with someone- you are with them for life, whether you are devoted to only one person or not. I’ve had several conversations with my Thai friends about my dating life compared to theirs and they are always shocked. Saying, “Farang chop len gap fen utt” or in layman’s terms, “Foreigners like to have many boy/girlfriends”. We all love, but just in vastly different ways.

I’ve met several foreigners who got themselves sucked into similar situations as my Tinder one. Except, they got roped in even further (CAUSE I RAN OUTA THERE MAN). Meeting their families 6ceddbe8eeab0636dd8afd6879acd66cand being told that they had to marry their fresh new lover. Which reminds me of another funny story. A story of great love, despair and the five stages of grief. It all started at an English Teacher Training in Isaan. One evening, a few of us decided to attend
the great Tawandang club in town. When we arrived, I was greeted by a drunken Thai man who I thought was named “Nurse”. Apparently, that was his occupation- but anyways. Throughout the night, we got close. We had some drinks and fun discussion. Then, like a bolt of lightning- came the words. “I love you Elola!!” Oh jeez. Welp that was fast. Soon, the love turned to jealousy when he saw me talking to another boy. By the end of the evening, I had met his mother, been asked to marry him, turned him down, then had to remove myself from the situation because he was very grumpy about my decision. Nurse was a total weirdo. Who goes to the club with their mom? Don’t answer that.

Want to discuss a touchy subject? Yeah, me too. I’m super edgy.

Old, white men. Never, in my short twenty-seven years have I experienced such a uniform happening. You know what I’m talking about, and if you don’t have at least one of those relationship marvels in your community- your situation is unique.article-0-1a133a16000005dc-374_634x395 Can I just say, what is up with that? I mean in America, we have seen our fair share of old, rich, white men marrying young, beautiful women (See: Hugh Hefner, Anna Nicole Smith, Larry King…lots of famous people). These relationships are not a singularly Thai occurrence. However, here I find it to be much more prevalent and almost sought after. I’m normally not one to judge. But I can’t lie, when I see these men- my head goes to the worst place and my facial expression displays that feeling pretty obviously. I automatically assume that they have families in their country of origin, that they come to Thailand for month long intervals and then send money the rest of the year unbeknownst to their other wives. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that is mostly what I have encountered.

I would love to conduct some sort of Anthropological study to determine the likelihood of this relationship type and also the happiness levels of both parties. In some cases, young Thai woman are taught to seek out farang men to marry. It is unknown to me whether the primary aim is monetary, pursuing a better life in general, or a different type of relationship than that is provided by traditionally minded Thai men. Unquestionably, every person, relationship, and love story is total different and beautiful in their own way. There is someone for everyone in this sea of 7 billion. The vast differences in human emotion leaves me awestruck. Although each of us have unique views of a proper love story, the important part is that we have one.

Happy Valentines Day.


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