Dating is hard, especially in China, where the gender ratio skews heavily toward men.
For those who find themselves on a date and struggling to come up with the perfect thing to say, Chinese app makers believe they have a solution.
So-called “romantic chat skills” apps—mostly geared toward men talking to women—offer suggested answers to common questions like “how are you” and “how does my outfit look.”
The way it works is simple. You type into the search bar the last thing a woman said to you in a chat. The app will then give you several possible replies that you can copy and paste into your chat.
The apps use big data to supposedly come up with the perfect response, and they’ve quickly caught on in China.
But the apps have some peculiar ideas about what they think women like to hear. Here’s one example:
Woman: How are you?
Man: Missing you. Are you missing me?
If you find this a bit cheesy, it’s not just you. One person on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, quipped that the apps could lead to a rise in the number of single people.
Some of the suggested replies are supposedly created by special “love mentors” and then combined with “big data,” according to app creators cited by local newspaper Beijing Youth Daily. The app Romantic Chat Skills Master claims to offer up to 200,000 possible replies.
But they don’t stop there. Some apps offer opening lines that men can try out. One app I tried, Romantic Chat Skills Search, offers jokes.
It’ll also tell you how to reply if you only receive a smiley emoji and offers customized GIFs to spice up the conversation.
The app even provides advice on matters of love, some useful and some not. One line of questioning involves what to do when your girlfriend is mad but you don't know why. (The answer: “Apologize anyway.”)
Some of the more cringe-inducing tips, though, are co-opted from Western pick-up artists, whose dubious advice on achieving sexual success has traveled all the way to China.
Some of the suggested replies reflect this. For example, if a woman says she’s going to take a shower, one app recommends a playful invitation to take a shower together. Another suggested response: “You’ve managed to arouse my most primitive desires.”
(Read more: Why Chinese millennials don’t want to get married)
We decided to see how creative some of the apps could get. The most obvious test is a woman fishing for compliments. This is what we got when we searched “how do you like my outfit?”
The first answer was, “It’s too good-looking, you’re going to be in the limelight.” Not too shabby. But the second answer was a bit more…eyebrow-raising.
“Oh, not bad. Are you planning to buy that for my mom?”
We also tested the app with the question that makes men so nervous it’s practically become a meme in China: “If your mother and I fell into a river at the same time, who would you save first?”
The question is a tough one because no man wants to admit he wouldn’t save his mother or girlfriend first. Here is how one app solved this conundrum:
Option one: The rhetorical reply. “If your father and I fell into the river at the same time, who would YOU save first?”
Option two: Confuse the enemy. “I will save your future mother because my mother is your future mother, and you are our children's future mother.”
Option three: Melodrama. “You both fell into the water. What's the point of living? I… I would go down, too.” (A crying emoji is optional.)
Many of these apps offer paid features, such as unlocking more possible replies or counseling sessions with “experts.” Some of them even offer live coaching on how to dress and behave to attract women.
But even though the apps have largely been ridiculed and criticized for a lack of sincerity, they still have millions of downloads. So if you’re chatting with a guy who asks if you bought that nice dress for his mom, you’ll know why.
Adapted from an article first published in Abacus.