The cold hard facts about Internet dating

By Debbie Mason (China Daily)
2010-03-10 10:18
Large Medium Small

For anyone banging his or her head against the wall in the world of dating, it seems the answer could lie in your calculator.

I recently spoke to Shanghai millionaire Dr Li Song, the CEO and co-founder of the world's largest matchmaking website for Chinese speakers, www.zhenai.com.

The cold hard facts about Internet dating

It boasts 23 million registered users - and new ones are signing up at a rate of 30,000 a day.

The key to Dr Li's company's matchmaking success? Some amazing intuition into how lovers feel, into how their hearts beat, what makes their tears flow?

Not at all. In fact, it all comes down to quantifiable statistics and probability.

The size of Dr Li's database enables his team of 400 call-center matchmakers to input the data for each new seeker of love, and out pops the most likely suitor for his or her profile.

Details such as length and style of hair, clothes, manner of speaking, are all collected.

The matchmakers advise those who sign up that 70 percent of women with long, straight hair get second dates.

Just 5 percent of those with short, curly hair do.

His team advises women to wear above-the-knee skirts, high heels, and definitely black, transparent pantyhose. "Not too low-cut for the tops. If you wear something too low-cut you lead a man to think of you in the wrong way. In other words you want to be sexy, but not sexual," he stresses.

"We don't worry about being politically correct. We merely tell our clients what we have observed."

His observations, statistics and enormous database have produced some rather surprising findings.

"Despite the feminist argument in recent years, we find that women still care far more about profession, social status and income than looks," he says.

"Men are better off dressing as close to a business style as possible, but it's not the most important thing at all."

For the men - salary is barely important, but the women should be 27, either teachers or nurses, and 1.62m tall.

"There are two approaches to matchmaking," says Dr Li.

The cold hard facts about Internet dating

"One is that you come up with a psychological theory and predict the results based on your theory, but because my background is more mathematically inclined, I don't have a theory to begin with.

"What I do is based on statistical results, reverse engineering, and is a learning process.

"We operate on two matrices: how many of our callers get at least one date (we aim at 93 per cent) and the time it takes between establishing contact and the actual date. This should be within two and a half weeks."

So much for the language of poets: better speak equations, qualitative finance and probability are more important if you want success in the romance department.

A former finance PhD student at Cornell, the bespectacled, mid-40s Li does look just like a mathematician.

There are no roses or chocolates in his very ordinary double room at the Beijing International Hotel, and he wears a slightly marked, pale orange sweatshirt with baggy grayish slacks.

But despite his own shortcomings style wise, he knows the dress code for success.

He tells me I would be all wrong in my trousers, though the high heels are a good idea. And he admits that when he met his wife, she was wearing black pantyhose.