Speed-dating seniors

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/14 18:43:39

Single Chinese elderly in Shanghai seeking same


Statistics showed that over 30 percent of residents in Shanghai reached at least 60 years in age as of December 31, 2015. The figures also suggested that over 80 percent of senior citizens in Shanghai have only one child, yet a number of them live alone, widowed and/or apart from their adult children. It was a recent clammy winter day in Shanghai when 68-year-old Gu Yuehong arrived at a Pudong shopping mall and headed up to a private activity room on the fifth floor, where he saw several senior couples dancing in the dim neon light, thepaper.cn reported.

What Gu witnessed was a blind dating salon for local senior citizens. Gu reluctantly joined the club on the third anniversary of his wife's death. As a member, Gu attends this salon nearly every weekend, like other elderly folks there - 10,000 female members and 3,000 males - to look for a suitable companion to spend his winter years with.

"In 38 years of marriage, I never once washed a bowl or cooked a dish by myself. But since my wife suddenly died in 2013, I've had to deal with everything in my life alone," Gu told the reporter of thepaper.cn while preparing his own lunch.

He added that, in the first six months following his wife's death, he couldn't help crying whenever he was alone at home. To comfort himself, he would take walks to a nearby park to watch other people playing chess or singing. Staying away from home as much as possible seemed to help with his depression.

Some relatives worried about him and began to introduce single senior women who he could spend time with. Though at first Gu was resistant, he gradually willed himself to be more outgoing. He also read information in newspapers about blind date and matchmaking agencies, which prompted him to reconsider widowhood.

"In traditional Chinese culture, once your spouse passes away, you need to wait at least three years before looking for a new partner. But this is unfair to the one still living," Gu said.

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Single seniors participate in various blind dating events across Shanghai. Photos: IC and CFP

"For seniors, we only have a decade or two left in our lifetime. It takes time to find the right partner, so if you spend three years waiting and another three years dating, you'll be even closer to the end by the time you find someone."

Gu has thus far met around 30 women on various blind dates, but he didn't feel that many of them were the right woman. He told thepaper.cn that, based on his observations of the dating salon, males above 70 and women above 60 in age have it especially hard. "The main problem is the degradation of our appearance and body," he explained.

Each weekly salon usually starts with a dance, where senior males and females can mix and exchange information - usually the basics such as details about their adult children, their former profession and, of course, their financial stability.

Once the dance session ends, a host introduces new members. Once again, the introduction tends to focus primarily on that member's financial status. "Mr Gu owns property in Songjiang district and has a car in his name," is how a host introduced him when he first attended the salon.

Gu said that, right after his introduction, a dozen senior women swarmed him. He believes it strictly had to do with his perceived material wealth. "It is extremely hard for a senior man to find a new partner if he has no property," he added.

Unfortunately for any golden girl gold diggers, Gu confided that he intends to leave all his property and possessions only to his only child. "Otherwise they might quarrel with each other and fight about the heritage issue," he said.

Property is, sadly, one of the major reasons why many adult children in China refuse to let their widowed elderly parents remarry. Having their new stepmother or stepfather swindle their birthright from them is a major fear unless a will makes it clear who the legal beneficiary is.

"In our salon, 50 percent of members have adult children who have fought them over their newfound relationships," Gu said. "For example, one senior woman had originally promised the adult children of her new dating partner that she wouldn't take their property after their father passed away. But the children still strongly opposed the relationship."

When asked what his daughter thinks about his new status as a swinging single, Gu said he was unsure. "In fact, I haven't talked about this issue with her. I feel that she could accept that I date women, but she is very likely to get unhappy if I remarry," he said, adding that it is understandable that an adult child won't accept a new mother or father.

On the other hand, Gu pointed out that adult children should also try to understand how lonely their single parent is. "One of my friends, who lost her husband, now lives with her daughter and son-in-law. But at night when they go back to their room, she has no one to speak to," he said. "As parents, we also need a partner to chat with and confide in."

After three years of blind dating, Gu recently found a woman he trusts and admires. But he said that, currently, he plans only to live with her, not marry. "Unmarried cohabitation used to be unacceptable when I was a young man. But times have changed," he said.

He also believes that cohabitation is a better way for two strangers to really get to know each other before tying the knot.

"During the dating stage, people tend to pretend and only show off their advantages. But when they live together, they will gradually expose their true personality and bad sides," Gu said. "Only when that happens will you know whether you can truly live happily and harmoniously with the other person."

Apart from romance, platonic friendship is also what many seniors are seeking. "Our children always have to work, so if we get sick it's unlikely that they can stay with us and take care of us round the clock. It is important to have that kind of peer support in our daily life," Gu said.

From the way Gu describes it, being a senior mimics many of the same lifestyle choices of modern-day young adults. "I've made friends my age at this salon. So maybe, if none of us get remarried, we will all rent out a spacious apartment together and collectively hire professional caretakers to look after us."

Translated by the Global Times based on an article on thepaper.cn

Posted in: METRO SHANGHAI,CITY PANORAMA

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