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Single moms unlucky in love
By Wang Jie

Single mothers in general have a tough time all over the world and that's especially true in China. They have to be strong and for many of them, love is a luxury.

Whether divorced or widowed, they have a child to rear, studies to supervise and higher education to plan. And they often work to support themselves, though Chinese parents frequently help financially and take care of children.

They encounter various sorts of discrimination, often in employment where employers may not consider them reliable. Or they may be considered fair game for harassment. In the past many divorcees were looked down upon and often blamed for the breakup of their marriage.

But with more divorcees today, that kind of discrimination fades. Then there's pity, which can be hard to take. It also is very difficult for them to socialize, especially in a world full of couples, dating or married, where marriage seems to be everyone's goal, and in a society where the children of single mothers may also feel that they are treated differently from other children.

The number of single mothers is increasing since divorce rates keep rising each year. About 2.87 million Chinese couples broke up in 2011, a 7.3-percent increase from the year before, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

There are also quite a few young widows with children.

Many divorced men and widowers don't have problems remarrying, especially if they have assets and a good job. Few take custody of the children of their previous marriage, so they are "unencumbered."

It's very different for single mothers, and sometimes their own mothers urge them not to take custody of their child in a divorce, because a child in tow could kill romance and marriage prospects.

For many divorced and widowed Chinese women, romantic love seems like a distant prospect, and they are much more pragmatic.

"When my son was only two years old, my husband had an affair with his secretary, and I divorced him," says Caroline Qiu, an HR manager at an international company. "Now I have no plan to step into marriage. Maybe I am more practical now. It is almost impossible to find someone who could accept my son, and I really hate to see men who think that my little son is my burden."

It is difficult for a Chinese man to fully accept a child who is not "his" biologically, because in China, blood ties are very important, if not all-important.

"I wouldn't consider marrying a single mother," says Hu Bing, 37, a so-called "diamond bachelor."

"I cannot treat the child as my heir, it's the trace of her first marriage, the trace of another man. I don't see any need for me to dive into such a complicated relationship. No way!" he adds.

There's a common, somewhat humorous saying in China these days, "The most unprivileged group in society are the divorced women in their 30s or 40s, plus a mischievous son."

Young women are prized as marriage partners and those who are 30 or older are commonly described as "leftover" women, even moldy tofu.

Sons are especially undesirable, because boys are considered more difficult to handle than girls. Further, the expenses for a son's education and marriage can be daunting.

Among many matchmaking advertisements by men in Shanghai, "no child" is frequently a requirement in the case of a woman who is divorced or widowed.

"For a single mother, to find love is much harder than you could expect," says Yang Cheng, a 41-year-old business consultant. "There are too many things that have to be balanced. For me, finding the right stepfather for my son is more important than finding the right husband for me. Maybe Chinese mothers are like this. If my boyfriend could take my son out for football, tennis or swimming on the weekend, I would be happier than if he took me out for a candlelight dinner."

Yang says it's sad that every year she lowers her standards for a future partner. "Now, his income, his apartment and his profession are not on my list. Instead, his character and open-mindedness matter most."

Considering what kind of father and stepfather a man will be far outweighs many other considerations among most single mothers.

The outlook is not encouraging. Unmarried, older "leftover" women are typically preferred to divorced or widowed women, with or without a child.

"I am now dating a man who is nearly perfect in every respect, but I am rather afraid of telling him that I have a little daughter who is cared for by my parents," says Wen Lan, a 36-year-old senior accountant.

"I love him dearly, even more than my ex. I know it's cheating, but if I told him on our first date that I have a child, then everything would be over," she says. "I'm gambling that the stronger our relationship becomes, the greater is the possibility that he could accept the truth. Each time we meet, I want to tell him, but I don't dare. I struggle with myself every day."

Whether it works out or not, Wen says she is fortunate to have met a man she truly loves.

Some of Wen's friends suggest she and her son emigrate to Canada to find a foreign partner. "It seems Westerners are more open to accept children who do not have their blood," she says.

As they get older, most of these single mothers accept the fact that they are no longer starry-eyed girls looking for love. Passion for love has become determination to find security and peace in a marriage, if there ever is to be a second marriage.

"I'm fully occupied in my daily work and when I get back home I have to help my daughter with her homework. On weekends, I'm the one to take her to different training classes," complains Wu Ying, who has an 11-year-old daughter. Her husband died of cancer five years ago.

She finds being both a mother and father beyond her capacity, physically and spiritually. "I'm so exhausted! Sometimes I just want a shoulder to cry on, that's my own emotional yearning."

However, where there's life, there's hope, so the saying goes.

"I was the one who proposed divorce to my husband," says Rita Wei, a manager at an international advertising company. "I earned much more than he did; I felt he contributed so little to the family. We were not on the same level."

She says she is "happier" and her parents happily take care of her son.

"I don't think that the life of a single mother should be miserable. You deserve the kind of life you want. Now I have a boyfriend and he also has a son, so we communicate about how to educate children and how to run our family in the future."

Wei is not alone in her optimism. Song Si is a freelancing scriptwriter and a single mother in her 30s.

"I don't see myself as a loser," Song says. "It might not be easy for a single mother to find true love, but even without a man I can still lead a happy life with my son."

The two often go on weekend outings to the outskirts with another family. "At my age, a man is not that important. Luckily, I have my son and my mood is calm and accepting of whatever life will give me. If a Mr Right comes long, perfect. If not, that's okay too. Life is filled with joy and hope."

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