It’s no surprise that Shanghai is home to so many singles

By John Harold Armstrong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/3 18:53:39

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Another Chinese Valentine's Day has come and gone. Thousands of drivers booked and thousands of candlelit dinners consumed. Coinciding with this romantic holiday ("Qixi" in Putonghua), a torrent of predictable articles bemoaning the state of affairs for singles in Shanghai hit the wires.

Each year a chorus of Chinese pundits and scribes let loose on the tendencies of the younger generation to remain single and retreat into an enveloping cocoon of electronics and social media. Lurid stories resurface every year about this trend, recounting the rise of the "rent-a-boyfriend/girlfriend" business that has evolved to pacify elder relatives.

For a reasonable fee, one can hire a member of the opposite sex to pretend to be their significant other for important family occasions. One wonders how far into depression these customers have fallen to encourage them to take such a drastic step. For those of us who have actually had to undertake such family obligations in real life the question remains: how much money could possibly be worth traveling to the countryside for a family farce?

Dipping a toe into the world of online dating and relationship profiles does begin to reveal the extent of the problem. Although my own dating days are long past, my younger colleagues and acquaintances in Shanghai are quick to strip me of my illusions concerning the ease and convenience of China's online dating world. "Dating apps such as Tantan and Momo generate a horrendous and stressful environment," confirms a female colleague who is comfortably within the most desirable age and professional bracket for white-collar dating.

A habitue of the previously popular "speed-dating" scene, she views such matchmaking apps as time-wasters. With absolutely no inclination to get married any time soon, she sees online dating as casual entertainment and rarely meets anyone in real life. Other foreign acquaintances confirm this viewpoint, telling me hair-raising tales of dating apps populated by foreign "sexpats" or serial hookup artists who are rarely honest about their intentions. Stories from the front lines of China's dating wars had me feeling a twinge of sympathy until I recalled, from my distant youth, the common Western method of meeting potential dating partners.

A large group of teenagers would be randomly selected through the arbitrary institutions of school, religious group or community center. These spotty, awkward youths would then be unceremoniously dumped into a large black box unrecognizable as their former place of physical-education punishment. By unspoken decree all teenagers would immediately segregate by sex into opposite and distant sides of the available room.

Uncomfortable and egregiously ugly clothing was the norm. The evening culminated in the worst event of all: dancing. Youths barely able to coordinate one foot in front of the other were herded en-masse, with no training or instruction, and encouraged to gyrate in order to attract each other's attention. Permanent blows to one's self-esteem were common.

The risks were great and the rewards few. It was a precursor to being publicly shot down on social media, except live in front of all your friends. Somehow, "swipe left" doesn't carry the same risks of social disaster as school dances did. It's worth keeping in mind that entire generations of older Chinese view this quandary with a great deal of bemusement.

For them, dating and matchmaking were rendered moot, largely determined by where and when one performed one's military service or civil duties during periods of tumultuous relocation. It should be utterly unsurprising that, in a developed city like Shanghai, each successive wave of young adults arriving for school or work have less and less desire to settle down and get married.

In every equivalent city in the world, youth are responding to these same challenges by delaying marriage, choosing to stay single and instead focusing on personal or career development before they are ready to meet Mr or Mrs Right. Let's just keep in mind that whatever the added technical difficulties, the pressures of cross-cultural dating in a modern city like Shanghai have yet to stop anyone from falling in love.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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