In China, it is considered unlucky and offensive to give someone a clock on their birthday. The word for clock in Mandarin is similar to the word for death. It also symbolizes time ticking away  – bringing us closer to that unmentionable state.

I just celebrated my birthday in China, where I’ve been living for over two months now, stationary as a bolted down chair. It’s been pleasant to slow down, celebrate my arrival to the earth in a calm, orderly way – go out with friends, eat food that melted in my mouth, consume liquor, dance like I was 20 again and pass out. It was painstakingly normal, a footnote of a birthday, yet oddly enough this one came with questions.

I ran into a colleague a week ago, engaging in the usual banter, when my birthday came up as a subject and led to that delicate arena of dating and relationships.

“Now that you’re settled for a while, are you going to start looking for a boyfriend?” He gave me the sly nudge and wink – to indicate cheekily that maybe it’s time. He has no inkling of my age and if he did – I imagine he’d audibly gasp.

Time to readjust my usual mode of travel trysts and think about something serious. The facts of my life are going to unfold only one way in the next few years – abroad. I probably won’t be going back to Canada for quite a while. If ever. Maybe to collect the mail or drop in on old friends.

Not to live.  Not to exist. My colleague’s innocent joke churned the wheels in my brain towards options. What is truly out there in the expatriate world for women of my age?

In my limited time here, I’ve witnessed expatriate men actively welcoming or fighting off younger Chinese women. Sometimes they are the same age, but rarely.

I’ve met many expatriate men who are currently married to Chinese women.

Some expatriate men are younger than me, but quite a few are my age, and there are those slightly older than me.

In my explorations around our fair globe – scads of older males with younger females have consistently clogged my field of view.

That ever reliable source, the Urban Dictionary, would decry such men as ‘sexpats’.

“One who participates in tourism with the express intention of having sex.”

Perhaps it is difficult to come to terms with, pulling away the curtain to find out that blowjobs are freely offered in the washroom, as Diana Edelman discovered in Chiang Mai. Or probing the dark thoughts of a sexpat who wholeheartedly believes that sex is not restrictive in the Philippines, but a utopia of openness and fairness that he just happens to buy in pesos.

Could it be conceivable that some foreign men embody another characteristic that the Urban Dictionary posits:

“The single greatest reason for the existence of the sexpat phenomenon is that sexpats find securing carnal relations with someone in their own country difficult to impossible to achieve.”

I’m not going to lay down my opinion on whether sexpats are disgusting individuals. I’ll leave you to form your own.

In all this sexpat business and Chinese women throwing themselves at foreigners in the bars, where does that leave me?

I once wrote to a friend back home, caustically saying that Asia is the land of bad lovers and frustrated western women.

The bad lovers inference is obvious (see above), but western women? I think it comes down to choices. Especially in Asia, it seems western women are shut out. Their stock of men is disparagingly low, very much distracted by easier conquests with local women and to top if off – if the woman is past age 30, if you recall, that sends her to ‘ultimate leftover‘ territory.

Heterosexual women in particular. Kate Bolick’s interview with the Guardian hits upon that pulse. Bolick herself is 40, wrote a wildly popular piece in the Atlantic that bluntly stated women in her age group will likely not marry – find the One. She even pokes at the supremacy of marriage itself, that singular model of man, woman, mortgage, house.

The backlash to the Atlantic piece was immense. In the Guardian interview, she hits upon a staggeringly accurate conclusion, that in the current climate of things – the heterosexual world is rigid, a conservative set of constructs to live up to.

That if women haven’t mined and captured true love, we are failures. That age is solely against us.  Time is our rabid enemy.

When you live abroad, these issues don’t fade into the background. In many ways, they are magnified, unavoidable to deal with. I have met a few expatriate women who are weary, distant –  even angry. And I can’t blame them. Because the choices and rules are unequal – not even remotely similar to what men are allowed.

This is the choice.

As men age they can branch out, go younger. Visit a milieu of countries where poverty, perception and desperation help them. And there are some that don’t have to exploit those factors, because they are physically attractive, can hold a conversation and please women sexually. Even though the man may be 45, it doesn’t matter, he can acquire that young tail. She doesn’t care, is only fascinated with the dynamics of exoticism between them.

Aging women are supposed to shrivel up and die. Be bitter. Or be celibate. And silent. Worst still – sexual desires or even being sexy should have reached it’s peak by your twenties or early thirties. Which feeds into the young tail phenom. Men go backwards as they age.

I have two choices before me:

Be a bitter, sexless, depressive who wonders why she can’t meet the One or continues to size up her failed attempts at relationships. And think there’s something wrong with her, because she’s 40 and shouldn’t she have met someone by now? Who eats until she gains weight. Grows more isolated, even further invisible and loses vitality, passion, lust and spark. Finally, stalking any man who gives her attention.

Or…

Be confident, powerful, take lovers, laugh, dance, drink, make men feel special – engage her femininity and her intelligence. Try new things, go to new places, kiss a stranger from every country. Be bold, sexy and shine. Most of all, know she doesn’t have to stalk anybody, cause it’s a fucken waste of time and energy when she is talented and should be doing things that make her happy. Be not invisible, scared or regretful. Do not dull herself down, dumb herself down and degrade herself.

I haven’t made conventional choices, will likely continue to choose unconventional paths and flip the middle finger to being boxed in, categorized and filed away.

So, which am I?

Again, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Photo: Rhino Neal