Men: what are they looking for?

It's always easy to confuse love and lust, especially when you're young and hot. Asian men are no exceptions, despite the formal rules that society lays down for them. Then there are the other big questions: are good looks important? Or are men more interested in finding a rich wife? How about women who want their own career? Is it more important to find an intelligent woman, or one who will not mind looking after children?

So what are they after? Is it a series of brief flings before finding the woman of their dreams? Or do such dreams exist these days? We talked to some Asian men to find out exactly what they want from love, sex and life...

Rabindranath (Robbie) Sharma, 32, lives in Cambridge and works as a police constable. Tall, educated at Oxford University and well-travelled, he takes a broad view of modern Asian society:

"I am quite shy with women and I like women who are shy as well. But that doesn't mean I never have girlfriends, I just like to take things slowly. I find that Asian woman are different to European woman in that they appear very naive and quiet on the outside but once they get into bed they go like a rocket! With European women it's the other way around."

Robbie has had three serious relationships since leaving university: "Two were with Asian women and one European. What I really liked about the Asian women was that they made sex feel more special, almost more secret. In fact it had to be more secret because they didn't dare tell their parents about me. Sex is so normal in European society that its value gets diminished, I think."

He's single for the moment, but says he is tempted by the thought of an arranged marriage, via relatives in Bengal. "The idea that you are forced to work at a relationship rather than believing in an unrealistic notion of romantic love is attractive to me," he says. "You realise that marriage is like a business partnership rather than a long summer holiday. Also you have to decide that good looks are maybe less important to you than something like caste, or wealth."

Sadakat Krishnadasan is a lawyer in his mid-30s who has also had several affairs over the past few years, always with Asian women. "I meet more European women than Asians but I can't help myself; it's something about the smell of an Asian woman, her skin, the way she feels in bed. I'm convinced I'll end up marrying an Asian woman, but there's plenty of time for that still."

Sadakat has had to watch a number of his ex-girlfriends end up marrying European men, which annoys him sometimes. "You just see your past relayed in front of you when they walk through the room," he says as he sips his eighth glass of wine at a cocktail party wearing his Pandit Nehru suit. There are, indeed, at least two of his old Asian flames at the party, wearing slinky black dresses and flirting mercilessly with the rich white men on offer.

"What do you want?" I ask him. "I want a woman who can cook, clean, bring up children and read the Koran in the original language," he replies, laughing. Since most of his girlfriends have been high-flying barristers who are more likely to read French and German international legal textbooks, I know he isn't serious. "She definitely has to be good looking," he adds.

But there are serious issues here. Many Asian career women look at Asian men and see the old attitudes of subservience and domination looming towards them; so they pick instead a European man who will not only tolerate their ambitions but actively encourage them. Sadakat believes himself to be equally liberated, but sometimes finds it difficult to prove. "Just because my grandparents behaved in this way, it doesn't mean that I will," he says.

There are, of course, many Asian men who do still behave in this way, and are looking for a woman who is "sidi-sadi" (meaning someone who knows nothing about sex or men). Tony Patel, a 43-year-old who runs an off-licence in Hackney, puts his views:

"I've grown up in England and I see a lot of Asian girls forgetting their culture and traditions. But I'm looking for a woman who respects her husband, who will be a good mother to my children and bring them up in the traditional way. I am not interested in a woman if she has already had any boyfriends."

This attitude is common among Asian men. A recent survey of opinions in the men's magazine Maxim showed that a majority of its readers wouldn't mind if their partner had had several boyfriends. In fact they liked the idea that their women are experienced: it makes for better sex and less disappointment, they reckon. Asian men take another view: "If she has had lots of men then she will probably want more men after me," says Tony. "If she only knows about men through me, then she won't keep comparing with anyone else. These days it's hard to find beautiful Asian women who haven't been around with men."

Tony has found it hard to meet the right kind of women in England and has made a trip back to Gujurat to visit relatives and look for a woman there. "The trouble is that in India the woman are beginning to change their behaviour as well," he says. Society is becoming westernised, which is a backwards step, in his view.

So where is the happy medium? Asian men want a woman with brains, good looks, a full sexual appetite and maybe a career (not essential), and few - if any - boyfriends. Sunil Tagore thinks he has found the answer.

"The best place to find the right partner is at college. Women who have studied hard enough to get there have usually been too busy passing their exams to have boyfriends. They definitely have brains, and most of them are quite good looking. If they want a career, then it's probably open to them. They are now ready to experiment and if you're in the right place at the right time, Bob's your uncle!"

Sunil went to the North London University to study engineering and met exactly the woman he had in mind. She grew up in Bombay but came to England for her A levels and found a place at university to do Business Studies. "She doesn't want to lose the traditional Hindi culture, but she loves being in London; she will take up a career, but she's happy to give it up to have children. I think I'm the luckiest man in England!"