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Pressure at matchmaking events acts against success
By Doug Young

WITH the Singles Day shopping binge now in the past, many of Shanghai’s singles are moving their sights to Chinese New Year, when they’ll have to face a barrage of questions about their love lives from friends and relatives.

Sensing an opportunity to play on the coming anxiety, our city is preparing to hold the latest edition of its semi-annual matchmaking event next month, which will give singles something to talk about in response to their grillings at home.

The aptly named Shanghai Matchmaking Association wasted no time turning on its publicity machine after Singles Day (November 11), issuing a boatload of data on outcomes for people who have attended its five events dating to 2011. The only problem is that the number doesn’t look all that impressive, probably because many people attend these events out of desperation rather than any real desire to find love.

The matchmaking industry is undergoing constant changes in China, and there really doesn’t seem to be any easy answer for finding love in this current age of rapid change. I could facetiously suggest a return to the time-tested forced “introduction” system, which worked well for the last few centuries in China and yielded very high success rates.

But such systems are rapidly breaking down in an era when singles can easily stay financially independent for their entire lives, removing one of the major pressures for finding a long-term partner and starting a family.

Shanghai could probably do a far better matchmaking job by setting up more Western-style activity-oriented clubs aimed at bringing people with similar interests together in group situations. Such settings allow people to get to know each other without the pressures of a one-on-one relationship, and also increase the likelihood of finding someone with common interests.

That kind of approach might help to boost the success rate. In a bid to drum up interest for the 6th Shanghai Love and Marriage Fair, set for December 20-21, the association published data that showed 216 couples went on to get married after meeting at its events.

But then the association also admitted that almost 200,000 singles have attended the five mass gatherings so far. A little math will show that 432 people got married after meeting a partner at the event, translating to a success rate of a little over 0.2 percent.

Additional figures from the association don’t look much better. Only 7 to 10 percent of people who attended the events said they met someone there they planned to see again. But the association was quick to add that real numbers may be higher since some couples don’t like to admit they met through matchmaking services.

The association has also taken some steps over the years to try to boost its success rates. It now charges fees for parents to attend, aiming to remove these anxious elders whose presence often adds to anxiety and lowers chances for relaxed conversation.

The coming event will also feature a first-time specific area for women teachers and nurses, after organizers noticed a large number of women from those professions were still single after 30.

Activity-oriented clubs better

I can remember a time not long ago when success rates for matchmakers were far better than today. Those were the years when matchmakers were mostly elder family members or friends who made “introductions.”

Not realizing the implications, I had the misfortune of becoming “introduced” once during my years in Beijing in the 1980s, and spent the next few months politely finding ways to distance myself from the young musician who was nice enough but not really my cup of tea.

Those kinds of introductions are becoming far less common these days, especially in big cities like Shanghai where singles often find excuses to avoid such meetings. The upcoming marriage fair is an attempt by the city to fill the vacuum, but I honestly think it may be time to cancel this mass event if its success rates are really so low.

At the end of the day, this kind of large-scale gathering really isn’t very conducive to finding partners, as it’s quite impersonal and rushed. Instead, the Western-style approach of bringing people with common interests together in longer-term group situations would probably have a far higher rate of success.

Perhaps the city might consider a change of strategy in 2015, with an eye to bringing back some fun to the courtship process and reducing the pressures and anxieties that many singles now feel when looking for a mate.

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