I am a person who wants to find my person.
At the not so young age of 34 (at least in Asian years), I find myself looking around at friends’ engagements popping up like brightly colored Teletubbies but far less terrifying. A feeling of happiness runs through my chest as I perform the due diligence of offering my congratulations and genuinely telling them how happy I am for them. However, selfishly, I take a moment or twenty and think about how thrilling it could be to reach such a monumental peak such as engagement, let alone be in a relationship.
What a relief it would be to wake up and be magically transformed into that stage in a relationship where each other are familial, natural and lovingly annoying. I don’t remember what it feels like to have that automatic partner to do fun things with; a museum partner, a movie partner, a trying a new restaurant partner, even a grocery store partner.
Starting in my late 20s, I contemplated if I even wanted a partner. Did I need to replicate and foster love I’ve felt before in past relationships? Did I want to tell another person where I was most of the time? Was I ready to wander down the path of letting someone hear me fart and be ok with it? After reflection and more dating, the answer was, sure.
In 2017, the year I would turn 30, I moved back home to Honolulu from San Francisco. I was not prepared for how different the dating scene was from “the mainland”. I found myself upon a gaggle of Asian baby boyz, neon-shirted construction workers, military folks, tourists looking for a thrill, run of the mill transplants and some artsy fartsy folks speckled in. If you aren’t from Oahu, you may need some specifics of the groups aforementioned.
- Asian baby boyz – Usually private school alumni or at the very least, an East side public high school or one of the nicer central high schools. Normally rolling with a crew that looks exactly alike (fades, slim build, tattoos with their culture’s characters, tight t-shirts and pants, Jordans, Supreme). Conversations include their BMWs, EDM music, the newest Japanese restaurant and alcohol.
- Neon-shirted construction workers – From the west side or central Oahu. Toyota Tacoma is lyfe (more often than not lifted), Jawaiian music blasting out the driver side window (rolled down of course), sporting the latest local fashion (shoutout HI’s Finest), Red, yellow and green everywhere. Conversations include meeting a famous local celebrity, their ex-girlfriends and wild times while drunk or high.
- Military folks – People that are stationed on Oahu. Don’t know much outside of the base, thinks Waikiki is where it’s at, Vehicle of choice is a Jeep. Conversations include Trump, asking you for recs, hiking Diamond Head, proposing that you hike Diamond Head together.
- Tourists looking for a thrill – Literally what it sounds like; people that are vacationing and looking to hook up or discover activities that are “locals only”. Smells like sunscreen, only stays in Waikiki but desperate to explore other areas, donning a carefully picked out selection of island wear. Conversations include how many times they’ve visited Hawaii before, how it must be nice to live here, where they should eat and how fun vacation romance is.
- Run of the mill transplants – Tourists who turned into transplants. Visited Hawaii once and “fell in love” with the island lifestyle. Usually tone deaf about Hawaii’s relationship to the mainland, rocks Reyn Spooner 24/7, has a pineapple tattoo, thinks Waikiki sucks, usually found in Chinatown or Kaka’ako (trendy aka gentrified districts). Conversations include how much Waikiki sucks, Leonard’s Bakery, how too many people are moving to the islands.
- Artsy fartsy folks – People that love Hawaii but also wish they were in the mainland. Open-minded folks, usually found in Chinatown, hanging out at a friend’s shop or art gallery, and splattered in mind-blowing thrift store threads. Conversations include loving Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, their affinity for Talking Heads and Joy Division, their social connections and artists you probably don’t know.
By Hawaii standards, my pool was big, there were a lot of experiences to be had with characters I wasn’t used to encountering. However, based on the above descriptions, I wasn’t wholly insistent on a connection happening. Don’t get me wrong, the mainland has its own set of social groups but there is something distinct about people in Hawaii that protrudes itself in the dating scene which allows for such staunch characteristics to arise. As knowledgeable as I was about social groups here, actually spending time with these representational figures was an experiment I never knew I wanted.
There are 3 distinct dates I went on when I moved back that cemented my perception about people that live in Hawaii.
The first was with a cop. Yes, a cop. Full disclosure he only said he “worked for the government”. He was a pretty regular guy. Polo shirt, jeans, Vans low tops. He had a very intense gaze as if he was looking down at me yet looking up at the same time (I am taller than most people in Hawaii), it was a cop stare through and through, attempting to find guilt or secrets in my eyes. After much small talk, I brought up police brutality (yah girl is bold). He took a pause, contemplating his response. What came next disgusted me in a way I have never been disgusted before. He firmly stated that stereotypes about Black and Brown people being thugs, resistant and violent are usually true and that is why they are profiled and killed. I stared at him for what felt like days, stood up, and walked out. That’s when I realized that most people in Hawaii don’t take the time to learn about Black, Brown and Polynesian communities or anything that isn’t present in their daily lives because they don’t have to. When you live the island life, a lot of these things don’t apply, the “aloha” mentality often clouds differences and uniqueness and does not allow individuality and struggle to break through and be considered.
The second was with an Australian transplant. His story was every other story I’ve heard about why people move to Hawaii, they came here once and fell in love. He looked like a shorter version of Matisyahu with an Australian accent and was obsessed with having people guess where he was from based on said accent which is a very boring game in case you were wondering. He was very flirty, smooth and transparent. Because I just moved back, he, a self-proclaimed expert on culture in Honolulu, spent most of our time together teaching me about the coolest areas to hang, the latest fusion restaurants on the scene and overall life in Honolulu. He basically explained my hometown to me. What I know now is most transplants are full of shit. They see the SALT Kaka’akos, the Aloha Beer Companys, the Whole Foodses, and the ukumillion condos, and treat Honolulu as another flourishing city. The danger in that is the erasure of thousands of years of colonization, and deeply rich history which continue to manifest itself into today’s culture.
The third was with a Videographer. Although it didn’t go anywhere after a first date, this was one of the best dates I’ve ever had. He was born and raised in Hawaii, a good-looking dude that was ridiculously kind, open-minded and thoughtful. We talked about growing up, shared interests, and our hopes for the future as we had dinner and then continued to bar hop; it felt like the night would go on forever. We both knew it wouldn’t go anywhere, he was too pretty for me, and I was way too alternative for him but it was refreshing to connect with someone on such a natural level while embracing all the unique attributes Hawaii has to offer.
This third encounter taught me something very important, being from Hawaii is like speaking a secret language. Nuances make up the cultural language of Hawaii and to be fluent is to be engrained in and receptive of every single enlightening and annoying trait that is threaded into the blanket that warms the islands. It is no wonder that love in Hawaii among locals is so flourishing, prominent and familiar; every social group has their perfect match, equally fluent in the lingua franca of our home. For every teri beef, there is a mac salad, for every aurite, there is a chee hoo, and for every lei, there is a maile, ready to be loved.