After our third date, Alena and I continued seeing each other once or twice a week for a few months.  She lived in Maryland and I was in DC, so there were times that I stayed over her place, and she stayed over mine.  Alena, living on a teacher’s salary, lived in a dangerous, dicey area in Suitland, Maryland.  I would normally not visit that area late at night but when you’re in love, you take chances and do stuff that you normally don’t do.  We went food shopping together at the Pentagon City Costco in Virginia, and that always took up half the day since it was an exhausting three State shopping trip driving the food back to DC and Maryland.  When it got rainy and then snowy hauling all that food around, it was definitely an early test of our patience with each other. :-)

We went on a lot of different dates in the beginning, and after about the tenth date around the second month, we decided to make it official – like Facebook official.  Some of the most memorable dates we had early on were:
Dates from left to right: Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Washington, DC, Dinner at Gordon Ramsay's Maze in New York City, Attending a taping of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, National Portrait Gallery, Maroon 5 concert, First Trip together at Atlantic City during holiday break

Over the years, we also had a lot of fun, awesome get togethers with our family and friends:
Photos from left to right: Group mustache photo at Ocean City, John's 30th birthday at Banana Café, Dim Sum in NYC with parents, Japanese dinner at Tsunami Sushi, 2014 Halloween Party, masquerade ball, Medieval Times, Puerto Rico vacation, golf at Top Golf

Going from Dating Casually to Being in a Relationship

- Take one date at a time.  In the first few months of dating, it’s tempting to jump right into a relationship, but the best thing you can do is live in the moment and have a great time with the person you’re with.  Sooner or later, you’ll find out more about the person’s day to day lifestyle and what makes them tick.  And you’ll find out more about what you both love and want long term.  It’ll become clear to you both whether you should continue on being exclusive or call it quits. 

- It’s best to go on different dates and see that person in different contexts.  Anyone can seem attractive and interesting when you first meet them.  Most people don’t want to look bad in front of a stranger and is on their best behavior.  The important thing is to see how they react in all contexts – at home, at the grocery store, on a trip, when their exhausted or stressed, etc.  For me, there was no single epiphany that made me realize that Alena was someone I should commit to.  It was a series of hints and signs from our different dates that all gradually formed a picture that was clear – she had everything I was looking for, and nothing that was a real dealbreaker.

See if your date gets along with your close friends.  After several dates, when the time is right, have a group hangout with your date and close friends.  See if your date gets along with them.  Your trusted friends will tell you the truth on whether you two are good together.  And if you're invited to hang out with his or her friends, see if you get along with them.  It's not a perfect litmus test, but friends don't let friends date douchebags.

- Let’s talk about sex.  Every couple is different with sex.  Some couples have sex more often in the beginning and then it levels off to a regular amount.  Some couples decide to wait for months or if they’re really conservative, until marriage.  Some couples have sex frequently and keep that going.  My take on sex is that it can enhance a relationship or make it more complicated.  If a couple is finding out with each date that they have a lot in common, and are a match for each other, the sex only makes the relationship better.  If the couple finds out gradually that they are not a match, but are hooking up a lot, that makes it a bit more complicated to break up.  That’s why I’ve advocated in earlier blogs to not hook up too soon.  If things are going well, it’s good to flirt and make out in the first few dates and keep it romantic, but it’s best that both people have a good idea that there’s potential for something real before going all the way.  Also, for the ladies, if you wait a little bit it’s a way to test the guy’s patience to see if he’s really in it for you or for the sex.  Of course, none of this matters if both people are just looking for a fling.   
If you’ve reached the third date, that’s a great sign, because most people cut bait between date one and three.  The third date should feel more relaxed than the previous two dates.  Whereas in date one and two, there is a bit of pressure going into it and concerns about making a mistake, date three is more about getting to know each other better without the need for a fancy night out.  I think date three is a good time to invite that person over, or to go over their place. 
This was the first dinner that Alena made for me.

For our third date, we spent it at my place enjoying dinner and a movie.  Alena knew the way to my heart was through my stomach, and she brought over a delicious dinner of sautéed shrimp, salad, a mix of sweet and regular baked potatoes, and some tomatoes with mozzarella cheese.  That was the first time someone that I dated cooked me dinner, and it was a sign to me that she was a keeper, because she was putting in the effort too.  The same night, she looked at my fridge, saw that I had healthy food in there, and told me months later that it got me some points, since I was walking the walk about eating healthy, not just talking the talk like other guys did.

Before the Third Date

- Keep your options open.  Before the third date, I think it is fair game to keep your options open and date other people casually if you haven’t committed to dating anyone exclusive.  It’s not about being a player – it’s about dating efficiently.  It's about giving yourself as many options as possible in case something doesn’t work out, and not making the mistake of going too fast with anyone too soon.  The first or second date can be unpredictable.  The person you’re dating may be dating someone else casually, and may be gone tomorrow.  It’s good to be dating someone else casually if possible so you don’t put all your eggs in one basket too soon, and you don’t get too head over heels for someone, which can scare them away. 

But I caution about keeping the options open too far into the distance – after three or more dates, you should have a better sense of who is a better fit, and you should respectfully narrow the dates down.

- Rejection is likely to happen.  You’ll find as you go on more dates, most of them end before date three.  It’s normal and happens to everyone, and although it can sting after a while of going through it over and over again, just move on and take whatever lessons you can draw from them.  Write the experience down in a dating journal.  Rejection sucks, but I can assure you that it’ll pass, and when you meet the right person, you’ll look back and may even feel like you dodged a bullet!

Self Awareness + Self Improvement + Time + Opportunity + Luck = Dating Success

In our first blog of this two part series, we talked about the 5 key factors for dating success and the importance of preparation.  In this blog, we’re going to discuss the remaining 3 factors: time, opportunity, and luck.

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”  - Bruce Lee, Martial Arts Legend

In one of my favorite books, Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell said that you need about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve something major, and I think it’s true for dating.  If you’re just starting to date, understand that it can take some time, perhaps years, before meeting the right person.  You need all the time you can get.  And that means:

- Making dating a priority.  When I decided that I was ready to settle down and find a relationship, I decided that I was not going to pursue a management position at work for a few years, knowing the extra time commitment working after hours would eat up my time dating.  I have the rest of my life to work, but I only had a certain window of time to date and get this right.  After I married Alena, I pursued and landed a management position. 
- Dating efficiently.  In other words, don’t waste time dating the wrong people, and increase as much time as you can dating people who match you and what you’re looking for.  It’s not just about the quantity of dates, it’s about getting a high quantity of quality dates.  In my last year of being single and by the time I met Alena, my dating efficiency was high.  I knew what I wanted and didn’t want, and was able to turn down girls who were incompatible from the first conversation or first date, even attractive one’s, and focus my energy towards girls who had similar interests and goals in life.


After years of dating, I learned that one's success is influenced heavily by 5 key factors:

Self Awareness + Self Improvement + Time + Opportunity + Luck = Dating Success

The more you:

- are aware of who you are, and what you want and don’t want in a relationship (self awareness), 
- improve your life (self improvement),
- increase the amount of time you spend dating quality people (time), and
- increase the pool of eligible singles in your life (opportunity).

…the more ‘luck’ that will appear to come your way in dating.

“Every Battle is Won Before It is Fought”

The great Chinese General Sun Tzu said in his influential work, the Art of War, “every battle is won before it is fought” to emphasize the importance of preparation.  In dating, if you’re prepared, you’ve already won half the battle before you even meet anyone.  And being prepared means growing in self awareness and self improvement.

Self Awareness

Know who you are, and what you want and don’t want in a relationship.  Some questions to ponder:
• What kind of lifestyle makes you happy?  Are you more of a homebody or a social butterfly?
• Do you want to have children someday?  If so, when?
• How often do you exercise, eat healthy, and drink?
• How do you spend and save money?     
• Are you just interested in playing the field, hooking up, or looking for a relationship?
• How religious are you, and is that something you need in a partner?
• What are the things that you ‘must have’ in a person?  It’s good to have standards, but be realistic too.
• What are your dealbreakers?

Note: You don’t have to put yourself in house arrest and forgo dating until you figured out everything about your life.  If you do, you’ll be in your 90s!  Go out, meet people, have fun, and you’ll figure yourself out and what you want and don’t want with each person you date. 

Keep a Dating Journal

If it helps to ask a trusted friend or relative what they think, do it.  If it helps to write it all down somewhere, do it.  I kept a dating journal in my last year of dating, and it helped me to see that I was falling into a pattern of dating people who were just interested in playing the field while I was playing for keeps.  When I met Alena, she said she was looking for a relationship in our first conversation, and I knew I was looking for the same and asked her out confidently.  She told me years later that it really impressed her that I was bold and it made me stand out.  The more you know who you are and what you clearly want and don’t want in a partner, the easier and quicker it will be to recognize if someone is a match, and also quickly filter out someone who isn’t a fit.

Self Improvement
A month before meeting my wife, Alena.

It’s the most romantic time of the year, and for many couples, it means spending their whole paycheck on an expensive dinner, a fancy bouquet of flowers, and gourmet chocolates.  While all these things are nice, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money to have a memorable and romantic Valentine’s day.   

In the end, your significant other just wants to be loved and cared for.  Below are 8 of my favorite affordable, romantic Valentine’s day ideas:

1.  Cook dinner at home.   Make a dinner that your loved one would like.  This is how Alena and I spent our first Valentine’s Day together, and she loved it.  I made Alena a baked salmon dinner, and we also enjoyed some wine and a small box of chocolates, with candles and our favorite music in the background.  For young couples with kids, get the kids involved in making or decorating a dish or dessert, and remember to save time for the next idea or two after they go to bed, or get a babysitter for the evening.

2.  Massage each other.  Get some scented, massage oil, and give each other a relaxing, sensual massage.

3.  Movie night.  Cuddle up to one of the 50 Greatest Date Movies of All Time.

4.  Take a spontaneous trip to a nearby park or beach.  With the low cost of gas these days, hop in the car with your loved one, and with your favorite music playing, drive to the nearest park or beach to watch the sunset.  Or wake up early and drive to a nearby park to watch the sunrise.  Depending on the weather and your location, go for a walk and take pictures together. 

5.  Do an act of service.  Surprise your loved one by doing a chore exactly how they would do it, before they can get to it.  It'll be much appreciated.   

6.  Write a love letter.  Write a letter to your loved one telling them 10 things that you love about them and read it to them after dinner.

7.  Exercise together.  Go running, kayaking, hiking, or biking, do yoga, etc.  It’ll bring out those feel good endorphins and help put you both in the mood.

8.  Dance.  As a former professional dancer and dance teacher, I can’t have a list without this one.  Put on your favorite dance music and dance at home, or go for latin or ballroom dance lessons.

Saving Money and the Environment While on Your Valentines Date

Lastly, if you want to go a step further and save money and the environment (which may turn on someone who is into combating climate change), check out this quirky blog I wrote few years ago while working at the Energy Department to Save Money by Saving Energy during Valentine's Day.

To the Singles

Last but not least, to the singles out there, Valentines day may feel like a bummer, especially if you're single, looking, and haven't met that person yet.  I know - I've been there time and time again.  But I also believe that this blog will help you meet the right person (I have you in mind in writing it), and when you do, all those solo Valentine's days will fade into the background.  For now, love your life, your friends, and your family, work hard and achieve your goals, follow this blog, be brave and put yourself out there, and enjoy the best things about being single.
With all the websites and blogs out there that give dating and relationship advice, why would I spend hours upon hours creating yet another one?  Well, I have five reasons:

1.  I want everyone to benefit from my dating mistakes and discoveries.  Even though the name of the blog sounds more ethnic or interracial relationship focused, the information here is universal for all singles and couples, and will be relevant today and tomorrow.  It was a long, difficult journey for me to find the right person.  I made my mistakes and had my a-ha moments, and I want to take everything I know and pour it into one guide.  If there is even one person who benefits from an idea in this blog, then that’s a win.

2.  I want to help the good fellas and ladies out there in the love department.  There are some dating blogs out there for guys who want to be pick up artists, and some that chronicle all the wild adventures of a girl dating in the city.  I have nothing against those blogs, but this one is for the good guys and girls out there who are looking to play for keeps.  

This blog is for: the guy who was rejected when they were in high school because they didn’t have the fancy car or was not the jock.  The girl who has tried for years to look for a good guy, but ends up meeting jerks.  The guy who worked hard in school, got good grades and a decent job but didn’t have much time to date or doesn’t have a ton of experience.  The single mom who is struggling to meet the right guy who will be there for her and her daughter.  This is the blog I would have liked to read when I was single.

3.  I want to inspire the underdogs out there.  All our lives, we hear and see in pop culture that the masculine ideal is ‘tall, dark, and handsome.’  That’s what we see in Hollywood.  That’s what sexy cologne advertisements in magazines show us.  That’s what Taylor Swift sings in ‘Wildest Dreams.’  And being 5 foot 2 and single, that sucks.  There was nothing I could do in the tall department.  I was the last person you would notice in a crowded room.  When I was doing online dating, there were many girls that said they wouldn’t date anyone under 5 foot 10 and filtered me out.  There is a dating bias against guys who are short – just google ‘height and dating’ and you’ll get a ton of articles about this.  In addition, I didn't come from money or privilege.  When I was dating, I was rejected hundreds of times, and suffered through heartbreak after heartbreak.  I wasn’t able to date anyone past 3 months until I met my wife, Alena.  But that’s what makes this blog unique – it’s not written by a guy who was destined to succeed.  If anything, the odds were against me to end up with anyone, yet alone someone as amazing as Alena.

But every time I fell, I got back up and went back to the drawing board, worked to up my game, and with a bit of fate, I eventually found the right person who didn’t care about something superficial like height.  And if I can do this, so can you.  In the famous words of Marianne Williamson, “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.  I want to inspire the underdogs out there.  And in talking about underdogs in love...

4.  I want this blog to help break stereotypes and change the image of Asian American men.    Google ‘Asian American men’ and all the articles that pop up either talk about the difficulties of Asian guys in dating or try to dispels myths about them.  Research shows that Asian American men have a tougher time getting a date on OkCupid.  And it’s not due to the lack of their education, income, or attractiveness.  I think it partly has to do with their game (and this blog should help), and partly how they're seen in society or the lack of their visibility in romantic roles. 

In Hollywood, you can likely name 10 white male romantic leads.  Can you name even two Asian ones?  What we do see instead are Asian guys who are nerdy or who can do kung fu.  And that’s not reality.  And if I can’t be John Cho, Daniel Dae Kim, or Steven Yuen, I’m going to change that image online in the way I know how – through writing and speaking out.   

My goal is to give hope to those Asian men or anyone feeling stereotyped out there that it is possible to succeed in dating, neutralize the BS that’s out there that Asian guys lack in the love department, and normalize the uncommon interracial relationship between Asian males and White females.   This is part of the reason why we named this blog Bao Meets Bagel. 

Do I think that this one blog will change the world?  Not at all.  But my hope that it will empower one Asian American guy to succeed and inspire him to do his own blog, and then another and another, until the stereotypes and images become out of date.  We can’t wait for media and Hollywood to change stereotypes – we have to make our own images and channel our inner Gandhi to be the change we wish to see.  I want my future son, Liam, to have better odds in dating than I had.   

5.  If nothing else – if just my wife reads this – it’s a nice memento to capture a special time in our lives.  I want to capture these thoughts while I'm still young and when it's still fresh in my mind instead of waiting too long and being the middle aged dad giving dating advice by starting with "when I was your age...." J
If you made it past the first date and have a second date coming up - congrats! J  The second date should feel a bit more relaxed than the first.  Here are my top 5 tips for a successful date number two:

1.  Do something that you chatted about in date one.  If the first date went well, you should know a little bit more now about your date’s interests.  Is there a food that you both like?  Is there an activity you both enjoy?  If you plan something you both said you liked, it will be appreciated that you took the extra mile to make it more personal.  We talked about Asian food in our first date, so for our second date, I took Alena to Hunan Dynasty and impressed her by ordering the dishes in Cantonese.  I also found out in date one that Alena used to have a quaker parrot, and loves birds.  At the time, there happened to be a Birds of Paradise exhibit going on at the National Geographic Museum, so we took that as a sign of fate and made a museum trip our second date.
2.  Do something fun, public, and interactive.  If your first date was a quick cup of coffee or a drink at happy hour, make this date a bit more of an activity.  Check out a concert together.  Shoot billiards.  Go dancing.  Whatever you do, just have fun.  But hold off on Netflix and chilling until at least the third date, if you’re playing for keeps.  
3.  Have it on a weekend.  I suggested a weekday for the first date, but I suggest a weekend afternoon or evening for the second.  Test your date out and see how they respond.  If they’re up for a weekend, then that’s a good sign they’re into you.  On the other hand, if you find in the next date or two that they’re only available in the weekdays, they may be seeing someone else or not that interested.

4.  Keep the romance going before, during, and after date two.  If (and only if) the second date is going well, be affectionate, hold hands, flirt, make out.  Keep the texts and talk sexy, but also balanced with talk about each other’s interests and quirks, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, etc.
"Your only goal is to make the next date a fun, comfortable experience and get to know each other a little better.  And then repeat until you’ve lost count of the dates you’ve had."
5. Take one date at a time.  Your only goal is to make the next date a fun, comfortable experience and get to know each other a little better.  And then repeat until you’ve lost count of the dates you’ve had. Don’t bring up any grand plans for the future, or talk about wedding ideas or rings – even if you want to.  If you’re both having a great time, and discovering that you both are looking for the same things, it will happen naturally.  
The ideal first date should be fun, memorable, and just long enough to leave that person wanting more. 

For my first date with Alena, on October 25, 2012, I took her to do wine tasting at an Italian restaurant, Lavagna, at Barracks Row in DC.  We connected on our experiences with teaching, our travels abroad, and our food and fitness interests.  Alena made it clear to me upfront that she didn't like mayonnaise and mustard (which I don't care for anyway), and I told her about my allergy to soybeans and cats (which probably disappointed Alena a little bit, but thankfully wasn't a dealbreaker). 
After that, I took her to one of my favorite spots, Banana Café, where I was planning for us to enjoy live music at their Piano Bar in the upper floor.  By the end of the date, I sensed good vibes, made my move to sit next to her, and eventually went in for an amazing first kiss.  It turns out that the music playing in the background during our kiss was Justin Bieber's Baby, which wasn't my top pick for 'First Kiss Song to Remember for Life,' but we had a good laugh about it.

Tips for a Successful First Date

1.  Leave a really good impression on the first date.  If the person you’re with is a catch, they may also have another date later in the week, so you want yours to be memorable.  Ask lighthearted and easy questions, listen actively, and talk about things that you both have in common.  Remember to smile.  Laugh if he or she says something funny.  You want that person to leave thinking, “Wow, we have a lot in common, and I can’t wait to find out what else there is.”

2.  Have the first date on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evening.  Friday and Saturday are big date nights for date two or beyond. Many people dread going back to work or have chores to do on Sunday.  Many people are tired on Monday evenings after going back to work.  I picked a weeknight, and kept the date to around 2 hours.  

3.  Two things that a person likes to hear on a first date are: “Like you, I also…” or “One of the things I really like about you is….”  People like to be validated.  People like to be liked.  I would pick a couple of things (don’t go overboard) that are really great about or that you have in common with that person and be sure to let them know.

Five Things for the Fellas:

1.  Wear a nice shirt (button down or polo), with pants/jeans and shoes that match.  You only get one shot at making a solid first impression, and you will be judged by your clothes.  Dress in clothes that make you feel confident.  Don’t wear something ridiculous that will distract your date or make them question your taste. 

2.  Take your date to a place that you know well.  Have some idea of what dishes are good so you don’t spend awkward moments being indecisive.  Pick a place that's not too noisy. For many people, the first date inherently comes with some pressure and anxiety, and you want to minimize as many distractions and unknowns as possible.

3.  Be a gentleman.  Hold the door for her, look at her face when she’s talking, nod when she’s making a good point, and please, pick up the check.   

4.  Ask questions and listen more than talk in the first date.  You want to leave that person curious about you.

5.  If the date is going well, you need to make a move.  If you just establish common interests with no romance, you’ll be in the friend zone (trust me guys, this has happened to me before).  I recommend finding a first date spot where you can both sit side by side, so you can flirt with each other and lean in for a kiss if the vibes are right.  
By: John Chu

On October 20, 2012, I met my wife Alena for the first time at a Michael Jackson Thriller dance class at Ultrabar in Washington, DC.  I taught the class and Alena was one of my students.

We Almost Never Met

When my friend J.T. (who organized the class as part of his 20s and 30s Going Out Meetup group) approached me about teaching Thriller, I initially declined.  I was taking a break from teaching dance, and was focusing instead on my work, finding a good relationship, and training as a runner.  But after some thought, I said yes as J.T. is a good friend, and decided to professionally film the class, since I didn’t do so with my previous lessons and thought it was my last class at the time.  The cool thing is that because of the filming, Alena and I have pictures from the first time we talked, and a video from the night we met:
The video of our Thriller dance flash mob at Ultrabar in DC; Alena appears at 0:45 to 0:47, and 1:24-1:26.  Courtesy of Brandon Bentley, B2 Pictures
First Impressions

John: “Wow, she’s hot and has a nice sense of style.  I wonder whether she’s with that guy.”
Alena: “He’s good looking, friendly, and confident.”
A Bold, First Conversation

After class, I asked my friend Tomasz whether he thought the guy that Alena came in with was her boyfriend.  He said, “I don’t think so.  It looks like she’s been avoiding him all night.”  If Tomasz had just said, “probably,” I probably would not have done the next thing…   

I approached Alena when she was by herself, made a little small talk, and asked her if the guy she came to the lesson with was her boyfriend.  She said, “No, we’re just friends.  He’s not looking for a relationship.”  I then said without hesitation, “I’m looking for a relationship.  Do you want to get a drink or coffee next week and talk some more?”  And she said, “Yes.”  I then got her number.  It was a quick, one minute conversation.

- The best way to meet someone is to get involved in an activity that is enjoyable and enriching for you, and where you can meet potential attractive singles.  That way it is a win for you even if you don’t meet anyone.  And if you do, even better.  That night, I was going to have fun at that class even if I didn’t meet anyone, but I happened to meet Alena there.

- Be brave and just talk to someone you’re interested in – just go for it.  I approached Alena after class to chat even though she arrived with a guy.  After talking for a little bit, I politely asked her if she was with that guy.  The worst thing that could have happened was that she could have said, “Yes, he’s my boyfriend.”  And I would just move on and talk to someone else.  There is never any harm to say hello, introduce yourself, ask questions, listen, and see if they are interested in talking more, so just be brave and go for it.

- A little note about rejections – shake them off.  I can tell you that as a guy who’s been through the rejections and now has found the right person, you don’t remember the rejections.  I frankly don’t even remember the name, face, or conversation that I had with the girls who immediately brushed me off.  And I don’t remember the girls I turned down.  A rejection is temporary and forgettable in the grand scheme of things, so channel your Taylor Swift and shake it off.

- Have a wingman or wingwoman with you.  The best wingman or wingwoman brings out the best in you, and gives you a vote of confidence to make the first move, like Tomasz did for me.  And a good wingman is willing to take the lesser attractive of the two girls if you both go on a double date.  I’ve been a wingman for my guy friends, and I’ve had awesome wingmen.