Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, has spent enough time with customers to become westernized. At least as westernized as possible for a Thai. In our relationship, that’s a bonus. For me. A lot of the misunderstandings that would normally spring from the difference in our two cultures get bypassed in our dealings with each other. Not all, but enough that I’m not constantly wading through a mine field of cultural anonymities, it allows me to avoid tripping over that which could easily result in a bloody emotional mess. Noom cuts me a lot of slack for not being Thai and allows for my farang-ness. I think it’s damn generous of him.

Cultural differences in relationships between Thai and farang are responsible for a lot of problems. Age too plays a role, as in many of those relationships there are several decades between the ages of the two involved. Even more so, expectations tend to play a role in relationship-based problems. Especially when they are expectations not met.

There’s recently been a slew of posts on the gay Thailand message boards about Thais who lie. Many feel they all do. Constantly. Even when there is no need to do so. Specifics are seldom given in those posts and I assume for the most part it is the typical braying of disgruntled farang who expected the moon and only got the craters. Sometimes though, it is not so much about expectations not being met, but rather unrealistic expectations setting the bar so high that disappointment is the only possible outcome.

One of the posts that did provide details was about the infamous friend of a friend; a sure sign that it has got to be the god’s honest truth. Without repeating the unnecessary details, the tale was about a farang who entered into a relationship with a boy; the boy then ‘lied’ to the farang about going out. He claimed he was staying home like the farang expected him to do. Finally, the boy fessed up to having taken a trip to another country with a new ‘friend’. And the farang dumped him. Because he lied and could not be trusted. Cue applause from the rest of the misguided pack.

That tale is a perfect example of unrealistic expectations set by a farang. I don’t care how much money you are foolishly sending to ‘your’ boy every month while you are a few thousand miles away, the expectation that he will just sit in his loom and wait for your return a few months later is ridiculous. How much would it take for you to agree to the same situation? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

There is no question that the boy lied about going out and about the time he spent with others. If for no better reason than what happened when he told the truth. By lying, he kept the money flowing. And kept his farang ‘boyfriend’ happy. That is no small point. It is responsible for much of the lying bar boys do. It is not a lie to them so much as it is telling their customer what he wants to hear. The line between lying and illusion is a thin one. How can you be incensed about a lie when you are the one who bought into the illusion in the first place?

Bar boys lie. Duh. Any prostitute worth his or her weight lies. It’s part of the game, part of what customers have come to expect. No customer wants to hear from their paid sex companion how disgusting he really is to him. Or how fat and repulsive, old and ridiculous, ugly and needy. But then those lies are all bought into. Those lies are not a problem. Because those lies benefit the customer. As much as they do the boy. Those lies feed the illusion. And all is good with the world.

Bar boys who tell you, “I lie you” are always good for a laugh. Their unintentional mispronunciation of ‘like’ serves up a full serving of truth. But then seriously, how far would it get them to instead be honest and say, “Look, you are an old and disgusting farang who is going to demand I perform repulsive sexual acts, so let’s just cut to the chase and you tell me how much you are willing to pay me to put up with your crap.” Probably not the best way to land an off.

So you meet a boy who rocks your world and you agree to start sending him a monthly guarantee and start calling him your boyfriend. He may like you. He may even feel affection toward you. You might even get lucky and he may feel obligated to consider you part of his life. And though there is an illusion involved, you may even have found a boy who does not usually lie. But then you start ‘testing’ him with your unrealistic expectations that he is sitting home alone waiting for your return. You call to check up on him and make sure he is. And of course he is not, you’ve given him enough money that he can afford to go out to the disco with his friends. But he knows you want to hear how much he loves you and how his life revolves around the two weeks you spend in Thailand every few months. So he lies. And tells you what you want to hear. Big surprise.

Customers lie just as much as bar boys do. A bar boy spends a few days with a customer, thinks he may have found someone to love and care for him, and asks if the customer will call him, email him, send him money, come back to Thailand to see him again. How often do the boys hear the truth? How often does the customer tell the truth? Much has been written about the infamous Thai yes that really means no. The English version is as commonplace, there are just as many customers who say yes when they really mean no.

Thais go to great extents to avoid confrontation. If all it takes is a lie to do so, so be it. Their culture may take that to an extreme, but it really isn’t all that different than in the West with a straight man’s answer when his wife or girlfriend asks, “Honey, do these pants make my ass look fat?”

In the west we call it a white lie. In Thailand, it’s just a fact of life. And ya know what? If you fit the typical profile of a gay gogo bar customer in Thailand, your ass does look fat. If you don’t want to hear the lie, don’t ask the question. If you ask, then don’t get pissed that the boy lies and tells you what you want to hear.

Respect and trust goes a long way in lie avoidance. So does avoiding the instances where a lie is called for. I’ve never asked a bar boy what he thinks of me. Because I certainly do not want to hear the truth. And I’m not interested in hearing the lie. When I first met Noom, he lied, telling me that he ‘did everyting,’ one of the most common lies that flows from bar boy’s mouths. I didn’t call him on that lie. Nor did I automatically decide he was a liar and could not be trusted. I also didn’t think, after spending a few days with him, “Oh, I just found a new boyfriend.” Because that whole ‘boyfriend’ thingy is a lie too.

Noom and my relationship has progressed with neither one of us putting the other in a position where he had to lie. Being a bar boy with much experience under his belt, Noom tried, early on, to feed me one of the bar boy standard lies. I laughed at him. And gave him a look that let him know I knew it to be a lie and that those lies were not necessary with me. Nor appreciated. That put a quick end to untruthfulness between us and laid the foundation for trust. Over the years he has slowly, and tentatively, been honest with me about aspects of his life that bar boys usually keep hidden or lie about. I respect him enough to accept him for who he is. He’s come to realize that and to trust me enough that he does not feel the need to lie. Now, he tells me what he thinks. Even when he knows it’s not what I want to hear. That sometimes is more difficult than being lied to. But then the other option is even worse.

I’ve never referred to Noom as my boyfriend. I don’t believe that is an appropriate name for what we share. Boyfriends don’t live thousands of miles away from each other, only spend a quarter of the year together, have a relationship that includes monetary payments, nor allow for both to see others outside of the relationship when they are not together. Noom has never called me his boyfriend when it’s just the two of us either. He does occasionally use that term when introducing me to someone new, but it’s more a lie that satisfies their need to understand who I am than it is about what we mean to each other. It seems to me that if you do not want your boy to lie to you, then you shouldn’t lie to yourself either.

I also do not dip into the world of illusion about what Noom does for a living. As he has come to the realization that I take a realistic view of his world, that too has helped establish trust. And helps to avoid unnecessary lies. I’ve also not lied to him about the parameters of our relationship. I’ve not promised him a monthly guarantee, I’ve not promised to take him to America, I’ve not promised him any of the things that customers typically lie to their boys about. The stuff that bar boys want to hear. If you are in what you consider a relationship, whatever you have decided to call it, it is a two-way street. It seems to me that if you don’t want your boy to lie to you, then you shouldn’t lie to him. Though sometimes that is easier said than done.

“You promise me when I old and fat you lub me,” Noom reminded me not too long ago. If reminded is the right word for something I never promised.

“Oh, shit,” floated through my mind as I spread a wide smile across my face allowing it to give credence to the lie I had not intended on making. It wasn’t the first time one of my ‘promises’ had been rolled out. Nor was it the first time that something I’d said, and meant, became a promise in his mind. What he wants, or needs, to hear sometimes turns a comment into a promise that can easily become a lie. But that is to be expected, he has his expectations about our relationship too.

“You ‘re not that old or fat yet to be worried about what I’ll think about you when you are,” I told him. “ I think now you are giving me a headache.”

The pillow I got in my face for my attempt to end that conversation perfectly summed up his reply. And signalled that the matter was not yet settled. For English being his second language and not being exactly proficient in it, Noom often reminisces quite eloquently about us. It’s a dreamlike, singsong sound, a conversation he starts up and carries on on his own. My participation is limited to an occasional grunt to show I’m listening, or a quick comment to validate one of his claims. In this one, I hadn’t been grunting enough to catch where that comment came from.

“You tell me when I old and fat you lub me,” he repeated. Because evidently both lies and promises become truth when repeated often enough.

“And that makes it a promise?”

“Yes,” Noom confirmed. “Why, you not lub me when I old and fat?”

“Of course I will.”

“Good,” he said satisfied with the outcome. “You promise.”

Huh. I guess I did. I’m not sure how a statement I make, sometimes completely off the cuff, becomes a promise in his mind, but it happens. Too frequently. Years ago when we were in Chiang Mai and made a trip to the Golden Triangle so he could see the Mekong, we made a fake entry into Laos, the homeland of his distant relatives. I mentioned at the time I’d not yet been to Laos and wanted to visit the country at some time. Several years later I made the trip and took Noom with me.

“You don’t seem that excited about being in Laos,” I said on our first night. And he didn’t. I thought he’d be jazzed. And was a bit disappointed he was taking the trip as though it was a routine occurrence.

Noom flashed his ‘are you crazy?’ look at me. “I know we go Lao,” he replied with an affirmative nod. “In Chiang Mai you tell me. You promise me.”

Hell, I hadn’t even promised the trip to myself much less him. But that helped clue me in to the depth of Noom’s expectations of me. As well as how easy it is for a comment I make intended to be nothing more than conversation becoming an avowed intention in his mind. Even the ‘I’ll love you when you’re old and fat’ comment had not been meant as a vow, but rather a statement of fact. It scares me that I could possibly have said something a few years ago that he has held as a solemn promise ever since. Without me being aware of it. It scares me that at some point I may fail to make good on one of those promises. And become just another farang who lied to him.

And I have to wonder how often Thais get together and start complaining about farang and how they all lie. Constantly. Even when there is no need to do so.

Valentine’s Day is next week. Being a day ahead, and more concerned about those kind of things, Noom will send me an email before I think to send him one. It’ll be his standard message: bidness is either good or slow, it’s either raining or not. But he’ll wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day, as he does every year. And he’ll sign off with ‘Love, Noom’, a closing he reserves for special dates. I think maybe it’s time I beat him to the punch and get a Valentine’s Day email off to him early. And I think maybe it’s time I actually tell him how much I love him. I don’t know if he’ll read a promise into that. But know it will be a different type of expectation not met. And that ain’t no lie.

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