It’s tough to find love in a city like Hong Kong, where the fast-paced grind endemic to any global metropolis is coupled with the culturally specific demands of parents pushing early marriage and a relatively conservative dating culture.
The frustrations of finding the perfect partner—and the pressure from parents to find one quick—have led many to seek speed dating and matchmaking services, where one session can cost up to $300.
For some people, the expense is worth it.
Wendy So, 23, spent hundreds of dollars on speed dating events in search of a serious relationship.
She found one two years ago, and this year will be celebrating Valentine’s Day with her boyfriend.
Mary, 31, a serial speed dater, has had less luck, despite spending five years on the market.
Speaking on the condition that she use a pseudonym, Mary says she feels less than optimistic about finding Mr. Right, especially since women outnumber men in the city and soaring home prices are discouraging many from jumping into marriage.
In Hong Kong, the gender ratio has become increasingly skewed, according to government data, with 921 males for every 1,000 females, compared to 971 to 1,000 a decade ago. (Ten years before that, there were more men than women in the city.)
“I’ve never known what it’s really like to be in a serious relationship,” Mary says. “I grew up learning about dating by watching dramas and movies, but I do not know what it is really like.”
Despite the prevalence of free dating apps, traditional matchmakers in Hong Kong are still thriving. One event organizer says meetings for Valentine’s Day this year were all overbooked by 20 percent weeks in advance.
Desperately seeking marriage
Mary’s situation is emblematic of what many in Hong Kong call “leftover women.” When she turned 30 last year—a watershed in her eyes—she began worrying about her marriage prospects.
“I’m starting to worry that by the time I find the right guy, I might be too old to give birth and raise children.”
“It has come to the point where my girl friends are all married,” she says. “Some of them even have kids. I am still alone. I’m starting to worry that by the time I find the right guy, I might be too old to give birth and raise children.”
Perhaps no one is more anxious than Mary’s parents.
She recalls a time when they set her up on a casual date with the son of a family friend.
The two families went out for dim sum, and the parents eagerly engaged in conversation on behalf of their children, who obviously did not click.
“Apparently, the guy was forced to go, too.”
“It was too weird,” Mary says. “I agreed just to please my parents. Apparently, the guy was forced to go, too.”
Not outgoing by nature and unable to find suitable men at work, Mary has sought to expand her social circle by taking classes after work and attending speed dating events. She has also tried dating apps and sites.
Like many lonely hearts in the city, her search is ongoing.
One country, two partners
As a former British colony, Hong Kong has a distinct political culture and some degree of autonomy from the rest of China, an arrangement dubbed “one country, two systems.” Going between the mainland and Hong Kong is still considered a border crossing of sorts.
But the time-consuming search for someone special has become so exhausting for some in Hong Kong that they do cross the border to tie the knot, despite the political and cultural differences.
In 2016, over 7,600 Hong Kong women married mainland Chinese men, up from 1,400 in 1991.
Annie Chan, an associate professor of sociology at Lingnan University, says this is due in part to more economic activity between Hong Kong and the mainland.
“In the past, Hong Kong women might have been less inclined to marry mainland Chinese men,” Chan says, “but in recent years, the cultural and socioeconomic gap has narrowed.”
Still, others choose to postpone marriage or not marry at all.
According to data from the latest census report, men usually marry for the first time at the age of 31, while they used to do so at 29 in 1991. Women have seen the age of marriage pushed to 29 from 26 over the same 25-year period.
As a result, the city has seen a decline in fertility rates over the past 33 years. In 2014, only 62,305 babies were born in Hong Kong, compared to 86,751 births in 1981.
As fertility rates fell, the size of the average domestic household shrank from 3.0 in 2006 to 2.8 last year.
The concern for many demographers is what will happen to single people and childless couples when they age.
Because responsibility for senior citizens’ care has traditionally fallen on their children, Chan says the government will have to bear a huge social cost if that family element is lost.
“What will happen when singles and childless couples age?,” says Chan. “What will be their social support network? This is something that we need to think about.”
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.