The author in her airplane outfit.
Ryan Gosling Asian Girlfriend
A NEON FLORAL DRESS AT THE INTERSECTION OF RYAN GOSLING, MOVING HOME, AND BEING THE ASIAN GIRLFRIEND.
By Coco MCcracken
In the summer of 2007 I was a pool girl. My waking days were spent getting sunburnt and hauling flats of salt in a pickup truck with my boss Roy, the owner of the pool cleaning service. While we raked the salt water into the infinity pools of wealthy British Columbians, I’d turn to Roy and imagine him 10 (ok 20) years younger. I blurred my eyes around his stained, wrinkled cargo shorts, ironing them into linen pants.
It helped being high, and his offer of a quick “hoot” in each driveway seemed fair; cleaning anything a little stoned meant no tiny dead bug was left afloat. It also was the only way to take the edge off suctioning out globs of hair and broken condoms from the depths of hot tub pipes. By the end of the day, I was so pruned from the water, sun, and salt that my own 20-year-old skin started to resemble his. That summer, I transformed thousands of gallons of murky water into a sparkling, turquoise bliss I was never allowed to immerse myself in.
By night, with no energy to spare, my roommate Lauren and I watched the box set of Sex and the City, seasons five and six being our favorites. As young twenty-somethings, watching early-thirty-somethings flail around the Big Apple with cushy careers was as addicting as it was terrifying. SATC was part warning bell, part doctrine for young women like us. After Friends fooled me once, I understood that Carrie couldn’t afford her NYC lifestyle on a freelance writer’s earnings. Still, the fantasy of it all hooked me and I turned to the show when I felt especially confused about my own dating life. In the last season, Carrie’s relationship takes her to Paris, where fashion, men, and all things luxe blend in a crescendo of epic proportions.
What does a woman do when teased with a lifestyle like this? How should we know where to find it? How should we behave when we find ourselves immersed in it? There is a brief moment during Carrie’s last dinner with the girls when she refuses a final cocktail before her red eye to Europe. She says that she needs to “arrive stunning, and impossibly fresh-looking.” That’s it. There’s no dramatic scene following her comment, no airplane bathroom montage of her freshening up. The show just cuts to her in Paris with one hand on her beret, twirling and squealing at the sky.
By the spring of 2007, my junior-year exchange in San Diego was coming to a close. I had traded the waist-deep snowstorms of Quebec for the perpetual sunscreen smell of Southern California. I hadn’t realized how far San Diego was from Los Angeles, so the celebrities I had hoped to bump into at bars never appeared. (I also completely misjudged how severe the penalty was for underage drinking, so bars were also out of the picture. Being a 20-year-old Canadian made me a seasoned, disappointed barfly.)
Part of me was thankful. Once adulthood started to clear the fog of my teenage dearth of self-esteem, I realized that if I ever did meet Elijah Wood, opening with, “Did you get those letters I sent you?” would maybe not be the best way to kickstart a romance.
Celebrity obsession aside, my time in San Diego broke open plenty of other dormant fantasies. It proved that a career in photography was possible. It made me realize that I didn’t want a boyfriend who called me “his geisha” anymore. It introduced me to a real-life boy from Paris who loved the ocean as much as I did. Still, I was only 20 and pervious to all that “girl-power wisdom” of Carrie Bradshaw.
With a ticket from San Diego back to Vancouver, I scoured my closet for my best airplane outfit. I found the only cocktail dress I owned, slipped it on, and hitched a ride to the airport with said Parisian. We parted ways with a tearful goodbye and never saw each other again. I told myself that I wore the dress for my French friend, but really, it was extra padding for whatever love I hoped was just around the corner. When you have your first romantic encounters in your early twenties, many bestow upon you the title of “late bloomer.” You’re associated with labels like steadfast, nerdish, and smart. However, like kids who wait to have their first drink at 21, the binging comes on faster, the learning curve is steeper, and some degree of damage is inevitable. Even as I kissed the Parisian goodbye, I was ready to carry on the search for “my next heartthrob.”
This cocktail dress was not casual in any way, shape, or form. I could have worn it on the plane with sneakers and a hoodie, but its faux silk skirt would still cascade off my hips, demanding that it deserved better than sitting in coach for five hours. So, I went all-out, completing my look with the only fancy shoes I owned: five-inch espadrille wedges.
As I tried to find my seat, I towered over kids and frazzled moms in sweats. My palm-sized gold hoops clacked against my giant black-and-gold sunglasses, which I refused to take off until I sat down. If I never got to meet a celebrity in California, I could at least pretend to be one. Sure, the only women I’d been compared to in Hollywood were Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh, and even though we are from different parts of Asia and almost 20 years apart, it was better to have two options instead of none.
I stumbled past comfortably dressed families playing peek-a-boo with their toddlers and found my seat next to a pretty brunette in athleisure and a wool hoodie. I was so hot from the polyester fabric of the dress; I didn’t bother to cover up the plunge neck, which suddenly felt wildly inappropriate in seat 28E. Thank god the hot-pink floral prints covered up the sweat stains that bloomed in those horrible minutes between boarding and departure, where we all inhale shared air until the world’s smallest jet of lukewarm AC comes on. The only sound more satisfying than the “ding” telling you it’s safe to remove your seatbelt is the swoosh of hundreds of hands shooting to the ceiling to twist their way out from under a panic attack.
Once in the air, my dress’s neon paisley print started to morph in my lap. I felt nauseous. I tried to steady my gaze out the window, but my vision only made it just past the girl next to me. She had a Neutrogena face and Herbal Essences hair. She probably saved her cocktail dresses for cocktail parties. Conveniently ignoring Carrie’s advice not to order a drink, I opted for two mini bottles of white wine and hoped that sleep would ease the awkwardness of my cramped seat.
Waking up with drool on my chin, I was greeted by the North Shore Mountain ranges of Vancouver. I decided to keep up my film-star persona and put my sunglasses back on, even though it was dark in Arrivals. At baggage claim, looking like I had just completed the longest international walk of shame ever, I begged for my one suitcase (containing all the clothes I owned) to come quickly. My cocktail dress had taken on some sort of magic power at that point. It knew deep in its technicolor soul that it was likely not going to get another chance to shine. The dress clung to my body for as long as possible, somehow willing the airline to lose my suitcase entirely.
An hour later, verging on the worst kind of hangover that comes from a boozy, mid-afternoon flight, I was still waiting for my luggage. Afraid to admit the luggage might never come, I felt happy that I was at least alone. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Excuse me?” a man’s voice asked.
I turned sharply. My bare shoulders felt intruded upon, and I prepared myself for leering, unwanted attention.
Ryan Gosling was standing at a forearm’s distance from my stale wine breath and swirling psychotropic silk.
The Notebook had come out ages ago, but Gosling’s famous beard was still on his face. Why hadn't he shaved it when the film wrapped? I pondered staring into nowhere, assuming I was still passed out on the plane, dreaming.
I spent the better part of my childhood writing to celebrity crushes, and the lesser part lamenting in my diary that if just one of them got to know me, they’d fall in love. I just needed the chance to prove myself. I needed an “in,” where I could peel off my headgear and take a bat to my back brace. I needed all the beauty tricks where I could fix my makeup just right so I looked less Asian and more anything else. I was on my way—I no longer got hives from drinking alcohol. I could easily drink a six-pack or a bottle of wine before going to a bar. Still, I couldn’t change the tolerance when it came to my face. I was who I was.
“It looks like you lost your luggage, and I think they lost mine.”
Gosling was still talking to me, gesturing with his hands and scratching his head. I’d lost track of what he’d already said. Instead of responding with an expected social norm, like nodding or saying anything, I stayed silent and unmoving. Gosling continued to fill the silence with more words.
“We could probably go to the help desk over there. Did you come from LAX too?”
“No,” finally, words fell out of my mouth. “I’m coming from San Diego. Different help desk.”
Without thinking I slowly turned my head away from him, signaling I was done with this interaction.
“Oh.” His eyebrows raised, and that look assured me, in case there was any doubt, that I was face-to-face with Ryan Gosling. He opened his mouth to speak again, but I cut him off.
“Good luck.” My Canadian tendency to inflect the end of the words made me sound more rude than I intended, but it was too late. I begged to wake up back on the plane.
He nodded and walked to the help desk. When I was certain he wasn’t looking back at me, I stared at his white t-shirt and unwrinkled chinos. His hair was tousled, but not matted. Impossibly fresh-looking. The help desk attendant grabbed the wrist of her colleague as he approached them. I wondered what path might have unfolded if only I had walked with him to the help desk.
Would he find his luggage first and then offer a sweater to cover my shivering shoulders? Would he drive me to my friend’s house after finding out we were both headed to the same neighborhood? As Canadians living in the U.S., would we joke about how to spell “neighbo(u)rhood?” Would he read a diary entry and say, “Now this is a script!”
He would probably stay for a beer to be nice, then three because we’re having so much fun, and then stay the night because DUIs aren’t his thing. I would break the barrier of being one of the first Asian-Canadian-American trophy girlfriends that was appropriately aged. I would finally get my writing career off to a blistering start. My face could be the next Neutrogena face, my hair the next Herbal Essences hair. I could start wearing sweatpants and wool hoodies on planes.
There was a commotion, flashes from cameras. More people had filtered into Arrivals, and Gosling’s cover was blown. But in his hands was the handle of a suitcase. He was walking fast, away from the mob. He walked towards me, but he didn't stop this time. Maybe he finally noticed the dress.
“Found my luggage, sucker!” he shouted, waving a final goodbye as the sliding doors scooped him up and away into the Vancouver streets.
A few girls stared at me in disbelief. “How does she know him?” They asked with their prying eyes. They did a once-over of my outfit. Blazing, bright, silk flowers on a … uh ... Hawaiian girl! Or maybe Vietnamese? Perhaps First Nations? When they got home, they might have tried to Google “Ryan Gosling Asian Girlfriend.” I know I did, for weeks, for months, for almost a year. Until the litany of crude Asian porn ads broke both my laptop and the spell I was under.
Years later, I met Ian. When we first started dating, he told me that when he showed a photo of me to a colleague, the man replied with “Oh! She’s Asian!” It wasn’t just once either—“I didn’t expect her to be Chinese,” was another response from another acquaintance. We talked and laughed about how deeply fucked up their responses were. I repeated the words, “That doesn’t bother me,” to console him and myself.
But, just like my failed meet-cute with Ryan Gosling, I dwell on all of this, even 15 years later. I obsess over those four words. Without realizing it, my hands fill up a search bar with: “Ryan Gosling Asian Girlfriend.”
Safe at a friend’s house in Vancouver, the fog of my disillusion dissipated. “He’s just another guy—a human,” I told astonished friends over a beer, leaving out most of my internal dialogue from my new favorite anecdote. I waited for my luggage for another three days before it was found. My suitcase finally arrived at my friend’s doorstep broken and smudged with tar. The contents were disheveled, but my clothes were all there. I wish they never found it; nothing fit the way it used to. The airline sent me a $300 voucher as an apology, and for a moment, I considered moving back to California again.
Then I remembered how many pools it would take to earn a living there. I waited for the feeling of “not enough” to fade, but it didn’t. The only thing I could throw away for good was the cocktail dress, so along with the voucher, I did.