Mix and matchmaking

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-29 18:18:01

Young singles hold hands during a group activity at a Christmas party held by buxiangqin.com, a group dating events planner, on December 25. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Each time Yu Xiaojuan drew her bow at an archery event held in late November, she subtlely eyed her target. However, it wasn't the bull's-eye her arrow was aimed for that interested her; it was the handsome young bachelors also attending the event.

Yu, a 23-year-old bank employee who has been single for about a year, is trying to find a boyfriend. Disillusioned by failed blind dates arranged by family and friends, Yu recently began attending events organized to help singles socialize without pressure to find a romantic partner.

The outings are organized by buxiangqin.com, a dating website whose domain name literally means "no blind dating" in Chinese.

"Most have a bachelor's degree or higher level of education. Everybody who attends must provide a profile and they all seem sincere," Yu said of the participants. "It would be great to find my future spouse. But even if I can't, at least I can make some true friends."

For many of Beijing's "leftover" men and women, blind dates can be a hit-and-miss affair. More singles are discovering that a better form of matchmaking is through social activities involving small groups, where pressure isn't on a certain couple to hit it off.

"The goal is for people to have a good time and make new friends. We don't want to make [matchmaking] seem too intentional," said Xia Qing, founder of buxiangqin.com, who met his girlfriend at the recent archery outing.

Board games and picnics are some of the activities dating websites organize to help singles get to know each other.Photos: CFP, IC

Feeling parental pressure 

Yu hasn't been pushed by her parents to settle down and marry on account of her age, but for Shen Jia it is a different story. Shen, 26, receives regular phone calls from her parents, who don't hesitate to ask if she has found a boyfriend.

Shen, a human resources manager originally from Heilongjiang Province, attend a few blind dates set up by family members. Needless to say, none produced any romantic sparks.

"The dates were rigid, foolish and awkward. I'm an introverted person and can't help but feel awkward when meeting strangers," said Shen.

Shen recalled she felt "very nervous" before signing up for her first activity, a lecture given by a psychologist, organized by buxiangqin.com.

"I had never tried to connect with strangers before through such activities," said Shen, a sporty woman who thrived at the archery and badminton outings. "People were nice to me. These activities are very reliable. At least I'll make more friends."

Shen said she has met a man she likes, but the pair isn't officially a couple yet.

Wang Chao, 25, eloped with his girlfriend about a month ago after initially bonding at an October gathering. Wang, who has since become a volunteer organizer of group activities, said most members are aged between 26 and 28.

Since the first group activity organized in June, many activities have been held ranging from board games to basketball. "We came up with this idea [of group activities] because as singles we are tired of blind dates, but still want to have opportunities to meet others of the opposite sex," said Xia. 

Board games and picnics are some of the activities dating websites organize to help singles get to know each other.Photos: CFP, IC

Intimate gatherings

Zhao Haipeng, 27, has participated in a masquerade ball during Qixi Festival, China's traditional equivalent of Valentine's Day, and a lake trip to Miyun county in northeast Beijing.

"Both were super fun," said Zhao, who works in telecommunications. "Feelings usually start to grow when two people talk and connect with each other without being under the guise of matchmaking. Both people are nervous on a blind date, which can feel like a job interview," said Zhao.

Chinese singles aren't the only ones seeking an alternative to the blind dating scene, either.

Alex Edmunds, 26, has attended his fair share of mass matchmaking events since he came to China in 2009 to work in the travel industry.

A former investment banker in the US, Edmunds uploaded his profile to jiayuan.com, one of China's biggest dating websites, and went to one of its events attended by more than 100 singles.

Edmunds said the gathering was divided into groups of 20 members. Getting to know one another was literally a touchy-feely affair, he recalled.

"People stood in circles and were asked to massage each other to break the ice. It was really eye-opening," he said. "Those events are set up for singles to meet as many people as possible, but you only meet people for 10 or 15 seconds. They only tell you where they are from and what their salary is."

Edmunds launched his own dating website, coucou8.com, in mid-2012 under the aim of hosting "Western-style, all-fun offline events" for groups of between eight and 24 singles.

A group of Chinese and expat singles on a November 23 hike. Photo: Courtesy of coucou8.com

Western dating influences

Compared to events organized by online dating giants such as jiayuan.com, baihe.com and zhenai.com, gatherings hosted by coucou8.com encourage people to get to know each other rather than their assets.

"Instead of immediately saying whether or not they have a house, car or Beijing hukou (household registration), people can talk about personal interests," Edmunds said. 

Targeting foreign and Chinese singles interested in Western culture, the website has about 25,000 registered members. Their weekly offline events include bowling, tennis, badminton, mountain climbing, cooking and even afternoon tea parties.

Almost one-third of coucou8.com's members are foreigners, but the website's availability in Chinese only suggests it targets long-term expats well-versed in the country's language and culture.

"Most [foreign members] prefer somebody with an understanding of foreign culture and personal sophistication," said Edmunds. 

The biggest challenge in hosting activities is breaking the ice during the first half hour. Mingling with strangers can be an uncomfortable experience, with Edmunds saying Chinese bachelors don't usually take as much initiative as their foreign counterparts in striking up conversation.

Among the activities to break down barriers between new singles are Guess the Celebrity and a Chinese game involving idioms, whereby the last character of a former idiom recited by player must be the same as the first character of the latter one.

"The divorce rate in China has risen rapidly in recent years. Part of the reason is because many people are pushed by their parents into marriage … with people who fit their parents' criteria," said Edmunds.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, 3 million couples divorced nationwide in 2012, up 8 percent compared to 2011. As of the third quarter of this year, 2 million couples have registered for divorce.

Edmunds predicts that the divorce rate will keep climbing if people continue pairing up based on matchmaking criteria dictated by their parents instead of assessing long-term compatibility.

A group of Chinese and expat singles on a November 23 hike. Photo: Courtesy of coucou8.com

Matchmaking in a material world

Like Edmunds, Wendy Zheng is also a dating services entrepreneur who specializes in hosting Western-style social events that include single expats. Although participants are sometimes required to speak English, their questions are often very Chinese in nature.

"Foreigners aren't used to being asked about their income and other personal details unlike Chinese," noted Zheng, whose matchmaking organization Tangguoguo was launched in August.

Being single isn't the sole prerequisite for members to join Tangguoguo. People must supply information about their hukou, income, profession and whether they own a car and apartment.

"When it comes to marriage, people are still very practical," said Zheng. "A person's hukou and ownership of assets are taken very seriously, along with their age, height, income and parents' financial dependence if retired. When everybody is on the same level, it is easier to succeed [in matchmaking] and time isn't wasted."

It is this "practicality" that makes some singles favor the straightforwardness of blind dating. Duan Ru, a 30-year-old woman who attended a party hosted by buxiangqin.com on Christmas, said she still prefers blind dates.

Despite having been on a dozen or so blind dates that failed to materialize a relationship, she insists it is a "reliable method" of matchmaking.

"Marriage should be between families of equal social status. Spouses should have a similar level of education and wealth," Duan said.

Originally from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Duan has felt growing pressure to marry since turning 30. But even if she does find a suitor who is educated, wealthy and of high social status, there is one more important factor.

"Finding a good mother-in-law is also very important," she said, noting that some blind dates allow singles to test their compatibility with potential parents-in-law.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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