June 1, 2015

#27 The Fever

by Reply All

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This week, producer Stephanie Foo tells a story about dating online that is unlike any we've ever heard before. 

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ALEX GOLDMAN: From Gimlet, this is Reply All, a show about the Internet. I’m Alex Goldman.

PJ VOGT: And I’m PJ Vogt. And one of the things about doing a show about the internet is that people are often suggesting that you do stories about online dating, and we often choose not to, and then a few weeks ago our friend Stephanie Foo who's normally a producer at This American Life that was unlike any online dating story that either of us had ever heard. Stephanie will take it from here.

STEPHANIE FOO: So a couple years ago, I interviewed this girl. Her name is Suzanne. She lives in San Francisco and she’d met this really cute guy on OkCupid. And everyone knows that when it comes to online dating people can be really non-committal, unwilling to settle down. But this guy she met, let’s call him John, right from the beginning, John was really warm.

SUZANNE: He just had a way of taking really ordinary little situations and just making them fun and playful and was very thoughtful with like making me breakfast, would hide my favorite snacks in my purse and was just a really sweet, really sweet, loyal person and he was actually one of the best boyfriends I've ever had.

STEPHANIE: John was Scandinavian, muscular, attractive. He seemed unreal. Like a dream boyfriend. He offered her the keys to his apartment really early on in their relationship, which surprised her. And he gave her a little shelf for her stuff in his apartment. And when she told him she had to go to the DMV, not only did he offer to come, he made a date out of it. He made it fun. Took her to lunch. He even included her in a bunch of his domestic decision-making.

SUZANNE: John was renovating his apartment so we went to CB2 and he was looking for the perfect couch and at one point we had to spoon on various couches to see if they were wide enough for us to spoon on hence they would be appropriate for his apartment. The salesgirl was kind of laughing at us and I was kind of thinking in my mind, does she hate us right now, but at the same time I was having so much fun I didn't really care.

STEPHANIE: So. One day, she and John are at the park, and he leaves to go climbing for a couple hours. Then she gets a text from him saying that he hurt himself at the gym and had to go to the hospital but it’s not that bad, and she should just go to his apartment and wait for him. Suzanne lets herself in and to kill time, she goes on his computer, starts working on a resume she’d been touching up and she sees this folder labeled Elizabeth hat’s just been updated. And at first she feels bad, like, oh, I shouldn’t snoop on my amazing boyfriend, but her curiosity gets the best of her. So she clicks on the folder. Inside there are a bunch of pictures.

SUZANNE: And I see him with this woman. And at first I'm just telling myself you know, don't freak out, he's allowed to have female friends who are, who are attractive. It's not a big deal. Going through the album, I see photos of them kissing, and I'm just completely gobsmacked.

STEPHANIE: Suzanne is furious, but more than anything, she feels like she just needs to know more. She doesn’t have to wait long. Minutes later, she sees his gchat flashing. She sees that right now, at this moment, he’s logged in somewhere else and he’s chatting up another girl, let’s call her Serena. It looks like they’ve never met, but he’s making plans with her to meet that week. And then:

SUZANNE: Another box pops up with a girl named Tracey. Another box pops up with a girl, Elizabeth. And I’m wondering is this the same Elizabeth from the photos? I see he says the kind of things to her that he says to me, like very sweet boyfriendy kind of things. I'm just, if you met John you would just think he was one of the sweetest guys. And then to just suddenly very quickly all of a sudden find out that they’re cheating on you, in real time, that was a lot to take in.

STEPHANIE: Suzanne texts John to get the hell back to his apartment, STAT. But when he showed up, she thought, wait, I don’t know anything about who this guy really is. What if he’s a serial killer? What if he has a knife? So while he’s standing outside the door, she makes him take off all of his clothes and strip naked, to prove that he doesn’t have a weapon. Finally she lets him in, and they have a huge fight. He tells her that she’s the only one he truly loves, that nobody else meant anything to him. She tells him she needs to know the whole truth. This goes on for hours.

SUZANNE: And then the doorbell rang. So I opened the door and am greeted by a pretty Korean woman. And I say, who are you? And she looks very angry and she says, who are you? And I say, I am Suzanne. I have been dating John for the past 6 months, and she says her name is Tara and she has been dating John for the past two years.

STEPHANIE: At this point, all she knew was that the guy she’d been seeing had been cheating on her with at least four other people. And now he was fighting with one of them outside of his apartment.
She watched them from the window and actually took a picture of the two of them fighting just to prove that this all was really happening. She sent me the picture. Tara’s looking up at him, hurt, her hands on her hips. You can’t see John’s face. Suzanne is exhausted. She leaves. She goes home. She decides she wants to warn other women John knows, in case he’s secretly dating them too. But when she tries to go to his Facebook page, she finds out he’s blocked her. But she remembers the names of a bunch of women she’d seen on his friends list, and she sends a mass-message to all of them saying, watch out. If he’s dating all of these women at the same time, you may be a victim of John’s too.

PHOEBE: And I got the email, so I emailed them back and say, Hey it's not just you guys. If you want to talk to me, give me a call.

STEPHANIE: This is Phoebe. Which is not her real name. Phoebe had dated John too, years before. They met online. This is Phoebe’s story. She was at his apartment, he wasn’t there, she sent him a text, Hey honey, where are you. And he says…

PHOEBE: “Oh I'm just watching tv, sitting in our house doing nothing, I have to do homework.” That's the text message I get while I was sitting on his couch.


PHOEBE: So I wait until he comes back and...

STEPHANIE: And, of course, he’s got a girl with him.

PHOEBE: And we three of us get in a huge fight and argument about it. That happened about three different occasions.



STEPHANIE: Phoebe loved John, but after watching him betray her over and over again, she broke up with him. In their time together though, she’d actually seen John accumulate two cycles of women. In each cycle, he dated up to ten women at once, three to four serious girlfriends, and several casual relationships on the side. Each time, one woman would find out, warn the whole group, and the harem would implode. It’s kind of like when a spider meticulously creates its web. After a storm blows it away, the spider, unfazed, simply begins again. The email Suzanne sent Phoebe was actually the third “Hey everyone, our boyfriend John’s a cheater” email that Phoebe had gotten.

PHOEBE: There's three generations obviously and so-

STEPHANIE: Three generations?! Oh my god. I like how you describe it as generations, it's so sick.

PHOEBE: Yeah, I've seen it all and-

STEPHANIE: So what race were all these girls?

PHOEBE: All Asian. Every single one of them. They were all Asian girls.

STEPHANIE: And how did that make you feel?

PHOEBE: It was gross. It was very gross. And it was quite shocking and they don’t have to be intelligent, they don’t have to be pretty, they don’t have to be skinny, they don’t have to be anything. It’s just, oh, you’re an Asian girl. Please bleep this out later: they will fuck anything yellow with three holes.

ALEX: Coming up after the break how to solve a problem like John.


ALEX: So in the first half of the show ,producer Stephanie Foo was telling the story of a wildly prolific cheater who exclusively targeted Asian women. Stephanie picks the story up from here.

STEPHANIE: One of the things that struck me reporting this story is that the women that John tricked, they're all really smart, really successful. And in general, most Asian women already go into online dating with their guard up. We refer to men who only date Asian women as having “yellow fever.” But nobody had been prepared for John’s version, the scale of it. And so the women started talking to each other. Suzanne, Elizabeth, and Phoebe got together over some wine and they realized that they really liked each other. Here’s Elizabeth, the woman who was in the photos on John’s computer.

ELIZABETH: I think we were able to bond over a shared experience a really poor experience. They were able to help me heal a lot better than a lot of my friends because they knew exactly what I was going through.

SUZANNE: We spent a lot of time comparing text messages, timelines...

ELIZABETH: We compared notes, we compared photos...

PHOEBE: I was telling them yep, that's what he did with other girls with me. How about this? Yep he did that to us too.

SUZANNE: We noticed that he had copied and pasted some of the same emails to us.

STEPHANIE: And remember that adorable couch date at CB2? John took multiple girls to that store, made them all spoon on all the same couches. And when the generations of girls blew up, he told each girl that she was the only one he really loved.The more they learned about the depth of his deceptions, the more pissed off they got. And they wanted to warn people. Keep other girls from falling into his trap. So they made a fake OkCupid profile with his picture and a slight variation on his username, but the whole profile was filled out with warnings: I’m a cheater! If you see me on here, don’t date me! A couple of girls actually emailed them saying “Hey, thanks - I was actually about to date this guy.” But OKCupid took down their fake profile. They said it was a violation of their policies.

ALEX: So do you know what happened to John? Like what became of this guy?

STEPHANIE: No. He disappeared into the ether actually.


STEPHANIE: I called John a bunch of times over the past couple of years actually.

VOICEMAIL: [BLEEP] is not available.

STEPHANIE: He never returned any of my calls or emails. But he has a website with his name and the only thing on the website is a quote that says: “It’s better to be hated for who you are than to be loved for who you’re not.


PJ: He’s like the joker. He’s like an actual villain.

ALEX: He also speaks in dumb superhero platitudes too.

PJ: Yes!

STEPHANIE: Yeah, he’s like Ice King. Locking up Asian girls in his Ice Palace.

STEPHANIE: A while ago, I also looked up John’s OKCupid account. He was still on there. His profile said he was interested in a relationship.

PJ: That is a crazy story. Like that person is beyond evil.

STEPHANIE: And it freaked me out, it terrified me as an Asian woman. And if I hadn’t don’t know, if I hadn’t known, if I hadn’t talked to these girls, it could have been me. I mean, I was in a relationship when I first met Suzanne, so like the threat was still kind of theoretical. But last year, I actually became single for the first time in a long time and I went on dating sites. And I realized that sites like OkCupid and Match.com make it super easy for men with yellow fever to target their prey because all you have to do is click on the Asian box in the search engine and then bam, there it is. Asian Girl Theme Park.

PJ: Okay. I get that. But also like, just to play devil’s advocate here, a lot of people tend to date people of one race, like most people have a type.

STEPHANIE: Right, right. And people are always telling me like, what's the problem, what if I have a preference for Jewish girls? And I'm like, okay, Google image search Jewish girl and Google image search Asian girl. Do it.

ALEX: Jewish girls: there's a lot of pictures of Anne Frank, Julia Louis Dreyfuss...

PJ: There's like Orthodox Jewish women, it's a total diversity of options of people.

ALEX: Fran Drescher. When you go to Asian women it's mostly women standing in fields.

PJ: Yeah they're almost all standing in fields.

ALEX: Bikinis.

PJ: Like if you had never met an Asian woman in your life and you were an alien and you had to learn about them from Google image search, it would be like: sometimes they are toddlers but they quickly mature into innocent sexy women in fields and that’s how they spend their lives.

STEPHANIE: That’s how I spent my morning. I was in a bikini in a field this morning but like-

PJ: Do you have a preferred field that you like?

STEPHANIE: Ummm. Fields with dandelions. Big fan of those. I like to traipse. The internet doesn't help Asian women very much. Like look all these girls are really seen as really submissive and just sort of just solely there for your sexual gratification, so like this physical expectation is coupled with this really problematic cultural expectation.

PJ: That helps me understand and in your case you’re like, “I like girls I can prey on because they’re so easy to prey on." It’s the associations with it.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, precisely. I mean, I get that not every guy who’s dated an Asian girl is a jerk, right. Not every guy is dating a flock of us at a time. But take for example my OkCupid inbox. Like a huge portion of my messages are from guys going on about my race and my exotic looks and my almond eyes. And then on top of that there are actually all these strangers messaging me, trying to warn me about other guys with yellow fever. Just like Suzanne and those other girls did. A few months ago, a woman I didn’t know saw an innocuous interaction I had with a guy on Twitter. She wrote to me to tell me to watch out, that the guy had yellow fever and would try to hit on me. And he did. And really soon after, I matched with another dude on a dating website, who messaged me that he had to warn me about something and told me to call him. So I did. He asked me to modify his voice for this story.

CALLER: Hey what's going on?


CALLER: Hi, Hello?

STEPHANIE: Yeah. Hi, Hello?

CALLER: Yeah, hey what's going on?

STEPHANIE: I don't know. You tell me.

CALLER: You are a super curious person, aren't you?


CALLER: Yeah, no the reason I ask is exactly like I stated, it's just a sort of like a little bit of self-preservation and also a little bit of doing random good deeds.

STEPHANIE: What's the self-preservation aspect of it?

CALLER: You know it’s better for me the less girls walking around the city spreading genital herpes, I've avoided it thus far so I'd like to continue that trend.

STEPHANIE: So this caller tells me this elaborate story of a guy, let’s call him Adam, who apparently dated only Asian women. Many Asian women at the same time. He manipulated them, abused them, gave them herpes. And this other guy was calling to warn me. But I didn’t know whether to be grateful or terrified. It was scary enough if he was telling the truth.But what if he was one of those guys? What if he was making up a story so he could take advantage of my fears about yellow fever and try to be a hero so he could hit on me too? What am I supposed to believe?

ALEX: That sounds pretty awful. I mean, online dating in general is terrible. It sounds like online dating as an Asian woman is pretty hazardous. How do you deal? How do you decide who to trust?

STEPHANIE: Well, when I asked Phoebe that question, she said this thing that surprised me. She said that if you’re an Asian woman, it’s your responsibility to already know that this is going to happen to you and just be educated about this stuff.

PHOEBE: Yellow fever, serial dater, cheaters, manipulators. They are everywhere you go. And stopping one guy is just the tip of iceberg. It’s way too many of them to catch them, to the point where it's like, well, you got to figure it out.

STEPHANIE: Like we don't need to warn you. Like you should already know.

PHOEBE: You should already know how to figure this out, pretty much. We just have to learn how to spot these guys. It's sad to say that it takes a couple practices to do it.

STEPHANIE: How do you figure it out now? How do you approach dating now to prevent being, getting involved with a guy who preys on Asian women?

PHOEBE: The first thing we asked the list of ex girlfriends, if last five all girlfriends are all Asian then we start asking more questions.

STEPHANIE: I totally use the same method Phoebe does, because in my experience in confronting guys with yellow fever, I don’t want to date guys who’ve dated more than two Asian girls before me.

PJ: Okay so this is a little bit weird but so my girlfriend is Chinese. I feel like I have to also say that she is the first Asian woman who I’ve dated. But relatively early in our relationship, she asked me this question where she was like, what do the women you normally date look like? I was like, well uh, I don't know, they can be short or tall. They can have dark hair or whatever. I had no idea, and I think that is is what that question was.

STEPHANIE: Oh. Yeah, duh.

ALEX: So like how do you date knowing all this? Do you still go on dates?


ALEX: You don’t date? Or you don’t go on online dating sites?

STEPHANIE: Well, I don’t go on online dating sites. And because of the way the world works now, I generally don't go on dates. I haven’t been on a date since I deleted all my dating apps.

ALEX: And how long ago is that?

STEPHANIE: Couple months. It just seems too dangerous, too full of skeezeballs, and it seems, it's too easy for people who would use me to find me. So when I told Phoebe about not going on any dates she said, that's not a solution.

PHOEBE: You know, here’s the thing though, I know it’s scary. That’s why we have to be careful but you’re letting them control your future and I refuse to do it.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I know. It’s hard to be bigger than my fear. It’s hard.

PHOEBE: It is and I think it’s okay. I mean, it’s the same thing with any kind of heartbreak. You get hurt. You can’t stop looking for the person. You can’t stop loving someone because of that one person who hurt you.

STEPHANIE: It’s been a couple months since I deleted all my dating apps and the fear has subsided since then. On the internet, it was so easy for men to look at my picture and see a doe in a field of dandelions. But I choose to meet men in real life now. Where they will have to come out from behind their screens.They’ll actually have to look into my eyes and hold out their hands. And that’s when they’ll find out that I have teeth. And they are sharp.

ALEX: Stephanie Foo is a producer for This American Life.

ALEX: Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt and me, Alex Goldman. We were produced this week by Tim Howard, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin and edited by Alex Blumberg. Production assistance by Sylvie Douglis. Matt Lieber is the free garlic knots with your pizza. Our show was mixed by Rick Kwan. Our language advisory is by Matt Farley and his record company Motern Media is celebrating World Motern Day with an 8-hour, 300 song playlist at its website moternmedia.com. Special thanks this week to Emma Jacobs and Ashleyanne Krigbaum. Our theme music is by The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is by Build Buildings. You can find more episodes itunes.com/replyall. And the DVD extras for this episode are available at Digg.com. Our website is replyall.limo, which was designed in partnership with Athletics. Also, check out this week’s episode of StartUp. They are also covering race and dating, but from an entirely different perspective. It’s a really wonderful episode. Thanks for listening. We’re actually taking next week off to work on a few stories, but we will see you in a couple weeks.