Finding a fine romance

Updated: 2015-02-11 07:37

By Selena Li(HK Edition)

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More single women in secure, high-paying careers are turning to bespoke service providers to find them a mate. And they are getting more discerning in their choices, as Selena Li found out.

Consider the advantages for today's career woman - she's smart, goal-directed, self-reliant, earns a healthy income.

Take Jessie Lee for example, a 45-year-old architect who heads the design team of the company she's with.

The other day matchmaker Rachael Chan called to inform her that Lee had missed a dinner date with Mr Yip, a 55-year-old property company executive. Like many of her peers, Lee was too tied up with work - finalizing the details of an overseas project in Japan.

She turned off her phone after boarding a flight, and had it quietly buried in her purse for another 12 hours, until the message on WhatsApp popped up to remind her about the date set up for her. This was the third time in a row Chan had to call a client and apologize for Lee's behavior.

Lee didn't miss the date because she found Yip unattractive. It was just that she couldn't afford to meet him at the expense of her work. "Career ladies at the executive level are often too oriented towards professional goals, but it won't help in developing a relationship," Chan added.

"I could tell Lee was really into Yip," Chan recalled. "But we couldn't give her Yip's phone number, for her to apologize personally. Lee asked me to send him a box of chocolates on her behalf."

It was too late. Yip said he'd met someone else - another one of Chan's clients. He really liked her and was already thinking in terms of a "serious relationship".

Growing numbers

Chan says monthly inquiries from women have tripled since she opened Rachael and Smith Matchmakers with a partner, three years ago.

Connie Yung, who founded Date and Match Consultancy seven years ago, told China Daily that nearly a third of her female clients in 2011 were in the middle to high income bracket, i.e. earning above HK$30,000 a month. This year the proportion of mid-to-high income women has shot up to 48 percent.

Career women are reaching out, seeking professional help, to get over their feelings of loneliness, show their parents they really are looking to find a friend, companion, mate or just somebody.

Karen Wong, a 32 year-old Chinese who works in finance and signed up for a service package at Chan's agency says matchmakers are similar to professional headhunters recruiting staff for large corporations.

"I don't have time to attend dating events and even if I go, I cannot guarantee the one I am seeing is as serious as me. It's like finding a needle in a haystack." Wong said. With Chan's assistance, however, she's assured of being introduced to premium users of the service, who are also shelling out good money to find a prospective partner. Conducting online searches is not her thing. Signing up for a bespoke service seemed the only option although it would cost her a fourth of her monthly income.

In May 2014, more than 1,500 people in Hong Kong registered to participate in If You Are the One, a Chinese version of the British matchmaking TV show Take Me Out. The Hong Kong turnout was a record high compared to other cities.

Out of every 1,000 women aged between 25 and 49 in Hong Kong, 103 are unmarried, while the corresponding statistic for men is only 94 out of 1,000. With the media harping on the state of "left-over" women, even younger women tend to feel anxious.

Seven years ago, women under 30 won't sign up for matchmaking services. Now Yung is getting clients in their early 20s. Even they are worried about ending up in the "left-over" tray. "It's a smart move for them to act quickly. Girls of 24 or 25 definitely have an advantage," Yung said.

Kaitlin Kapur, managing director of matchmaking agency Anteros International, agrees that the market is being driven by the frantic lifestyles of people in Hong Kong. People are so busy that hiring matchmakers is an efficient way of managing who to meet, where and when.

Women raise the bar

The service goes beyond searching the database, digging out profiles of a potential match and reserving a table for two. Premium packages include creating photographic portfolios, personal grooming and coaching in how to behave on a date.

"To establish my profile, they asked me about my interests, my short-term and long-term plan of work and life and more importantly, my values. The idea is to rule out fundamental differences so that major conflicts caused by divergent values might be avoided," said 44-year-old accountant Josephine Chan, who has signed up with Date and Match Consultancy.

"For example, people might have different opinions on when to have a kid. That's what you should never bring up the first time you meet a stranger at a bar, or even at an earlier stage of a relationship. But it indicates the kind of expectations one has from a marriage," said Yung, an accredited mediator of Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre.

The expenses depend on how many prospective matches one is going to meet. A three-dates package offered by a certain service provider costs HK$10,000, while a six-month premium membership is priced at HK$60,000. A premium membership at another agency, offering a minimum of eight dates, is for HK$100,000. A passive membership, i.e. open only to be chosen by other, costs HK$10,000.

Rachael Chan thinks professionally-established women are getting more discerning regarding who they choose by the day. "In the past, when women felt these pressures, they compromised and got married in a hurry. Today they have the option to spend their time and money (on finding the right match). Many own properties, which gives them a sense of security."

"I tell them, don't worry, it's (the service package) much cheaper than a Chanel bag you are going to buy."

Personal grooming

Rachael's typical work day involves scanning a variety of "daily reports" on her e-mail and WhatsApp. It's like a school teacher grading papers. These include checking what her clients have on their lunch and dinner plates, how far they have progressed with reading up the recommended relationship and beauty magazines, and a review of episodes of a Taiwanese TV drama, The Fierce Wife.

"A woman below 33 would usually find someone. If older, it really depends on the improvements she has been able to make in terms of personal grooming and the time she is willing to invest to find a match," says Chan.

"If you want to get something that you never got before, such as meeting Mr Right, you have to do things you never did before, maybe go to the gym, get some exercise, so that you're in shape, and look good," Chan said. Her standard advice to her clients is that moderation is the key and it's probably best not to be over-indulge in anything.

"At a certain age, when hormone levels fall, it really calls for more painstaking efforts to stay attractive," Chan added.

Quite a number of her clients are willing to walk that extra mile. Chan gave Karen Wong tips on trimming her straggly eyebrows and suggested a change of wardrobe. Wong followed her advice to a tee. She scoured the shops of Soho, picking up clothes that would highlight her curves rather than make her look plump, grew her hair long and dyed it brown. She also got herself a set of French nails - colored tips and lucent nail enamel at the base. By the time Chan met her again, Wong had lost 10 pounds.

She landed her first date soon after her post-makeover photo was ready to circulate, and now, after six months is in what looks like a steady relationship. Evidently, a little professional guidance has made a significant difference to her life.

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Finding a fine romance

(HK Edition 02/11/2015 page6)