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Lonely hearts forced to date on Valentine's Day

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-02-15 00:13

TAIYUAN - Valentine's Day is a particularly embarrassing time for men and women who are looking for love in China, where it's considered shameful to remain single after 30.

This year, the Western holiday falls on the fifth day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, in the middle of family gatherings and feasts that often focus on gossip, including who is getting married and who is going to have a baby.

Lonely hearts are then forced to the center of the stage. Well-meaning aunts and uncles work to arrange dates that promise to ruin the rest of the holiday.

"I am either on a date or on my way to the next date" -- some have described their holiday life as such on their microblogs.

"I was forced to go on two dates during the first four days of the holiday," said Cheng Xiaonian, a female office worker in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi Province. "I was not in the mood to meet anyone, but my mom called me a weirdo, saying I was immature, unsociable and too picky."

Cheng, the only child in her family, is 29, a borderline "old maid" as far as her mother is concerned.

"I know how people will look at me and my family if I remain single, and I know precisely how my mom feels," she said. "But I'm still a green hand at my current job and I'm under heavy pressure. I don't have the time or energy for dating."

Like most of her peers, Cheng said she believes her "Mr. Right" is waiting for her somewhere. "I will meet the right person at the right time. These forced dates will not work," she said.

Despite their reluctance, it's always difficult to turn down a warm-hearted aunt's invitation to a "private chat" at a restaurant or coffee shop, only to find a complete stranger of the opposite sex, often equally uneasy, sitting there and struggling to strike up a conversation.

"My parents worry that their only son might end up to be a bachelor for life and relatives simply enjoy nosing into others' private lives," wrote one male netizen. "As a result, I live like a zoo animal, being watched and commented on by different people every day."

Wang Zheli, 36, gained overnight fame this week after his dating experience was covered by a metropolitan newspaper in east China's Zhejiang province.

Wang, who runs a Chinese restaurant in Italy and remains single, had arranged to meet 18 girls in 20 days.

His dates included teachers, nurses, government employees and private businessowners like himself, while their date locations ranged from cafes, restaurants and theaters to temple fairs, or crowded Spring Festival gatherings that feature acrobatic shows, song and dance performance and stalls selling snacks and souvenirs.

Though not every lonely heart is as busy as Wang, they all feel the pressure. An online poll conducted by Baihe.com, China's largest matchmaking service, found that more than 80 percent of respondents under the age of 33 felt pressure regarding love and marriage, saying they felt guilty for being unable to find love.

As the pressure mounts, some even rent a boyfriend or girlfriend to accompany them home in order to make their parents happy. Such "rent-a-date" services have been popular on Taobao.com, China's largest online shopping website, for at least the last two years.

Two weeks into her homecoming holiday in east China's Jiangsu province, Wang Hui, a white-collar worker at a foreign-invested firm in Beijing, has found herself at the center of every conversation in her extended family of at least 40 people.

"Fortunately, my parents didn't arrange any dates for me. But it's still uncomfortable when everyone asks the same question, 'Are you getting married yet?'"

Like many grown women, Wang said she is eager to get married and have a child. "Last year, my friends and colleagues arranged many dates for me, but none of them lasted long."

This was discouraging for the otherwise confident and outgoing woman. "Even my younger brother is getting married this year. Unless I can find my match, I'm not sure if I will still dare to come home next year."

Most singles around the age of 30 are well-educated, independent and have plans for their careers, said Zhou Xiaopeng, a specialist on love and family issues from Baihe.com.

"They represent a new trend in urban life," he said. "In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, at least 1 million people are unmarried after 30. Family members and society should be more tolerant of their lifestyle and respect their choices."

"Leave them alone, relax and they will ultimately find their valentine," said Zhou.

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