China’s Latest Matchmaking Craze: Blind Dates for Cats
SHANGHAI — It was just another weekend at the “marriage market” in downtown People’s Park. In one corner, large crowds of Chinese parents mingled and paraded information on their unmarried children — like income, education, height and weight, and whether they own an apartment or car.
A short distance away, a group of excited Gen-Zers chatted and displayed “dating” profiles — not of themselves, but of their pet cats.
The information they provided on the cats went beyond age and breed. Some of the résumé posters showed whimsical creativity: “I have salmon every week.” “I’m cheerful, understand other cats, and have no bad habits like tucking into catnip.” “I lost my fertility due to an accident and am looking for Plato’s true love.” “I have been single since birth, and I can’t stand the gossip from my neighbors anymore.”
The event, hosted in August in the park by the social application Soul, was called “A Meow Matchmaking Corner.” It unleashed a wave of interest, largely among young people looking for mates for their pets and even themselves.
Following the event, trending topics on the microblogging platform Weibo exploded with cat-related terms and critiques of blind dates for humans.
The hashtag “young people don’t dislike blind dates; they just dislike setting themselves up on blind dates” garnered over 24.5 million reads and received over 12,000 interactions. Under this topic, many netizens engaged in discussions about cat matchmaking.
“Looking for a cat companion while observing the owners,” read a typical comment. “Instead of approaches that focus on attributes like income and education, this approach results in a much more relaxed matchmaking process,” wrote another Weibo user.
On the Instagram-like platform Xiaohongshu, the topic “blind date” has garnered more than 4.8 billion views. Most of the posts are from young people sharing quirky blind date experiences. Some even asked questions like: “What should I wear to make a blind date turn and walk away?” One such post received over 11,000 comments offering advice on how to fail at blind dates.
The attitude of young people toward their own blind dates doesn’t necessarily extend to their pets on social media. “I can be single, but my pet can’t” is a common sentiment. On Xiaohongshu, the topic “cat blind date” has over 3.5 million views, while “dog blind date” has over 4 million clicks.
Such activities should come as no surprise. Pet ownership has increased in China over the years, with cats becoming more popular. On social media, many young people upload profiles of their pets as a guise to find soulmates for themselves. Many claim they only want to date pet owners.
“If I found someone who owned many cars and houses but didn’t share my love of cats, I wouldn’t consider him,” says Echo Liu, who participated in the cat blind dating event at People’s Park.
The 27-year-old tells Sixth Tone that she included her contact information on the cat poster she took to the park, and two people befriended her right away.
However, Liu said the poster she carried on behalf of her three-year-old cat Dio got lost in the crowd of similar info boards and suffered from the lack of a picture of her pet. Some owners ended up drawing pictures of their cats.
In an online survey by Soul, almost 90% of 857 respondents said they were fond of pets, nearly half said they owned pets, and 25% shared pictures and videos of their pets.
“Birds of a feather flock together. People with common hobbies are more likely to resonate with each other,” Fan Li, head of the Marketing Center at Soul, tells Sixth Tone. “We hope our users can meet friends who also love pets.”
At People’s Park, the young cat owners evoked disdain from parents there to matchmake on behalf of their children.
“The older generation thinks we’re ridiculous and playing games,” Liu says. “They believe girls should marry a local Shanghai man who earns 300,000 yuan ($41,142) a year and owns a house and car, and they should stop doing all these silly things.”
However, some mothers noticed the cat matchmaking posters and said they had no idea there were so many young people who loved cats. “In the future, they said they would add pet ownership to their children’s dating résumés,” says Liu.”
Liu, who is currently single, has gone on blind dates — mostly arranged by her mother. But she also has a few rules of her own. Potential dates, for example, must love small animals.
In addition to the offline event in August, Soul held an online event in June where 88 users won the chance to register an account for their cat, customize the cat’s avatar, and link the cat’s account to their own.
Liu registered an account for Dio, including a bio that describes the cat as “relatively introverted, but I’ll be clingy once I get to know you!” In fact, Dio is spayed, so the matchmaking isn’t about a litter of kittens. It’s about feline friendship. “Platonic love is good,” Liu says. “Just let them fall in love.”
Many cat owners introduced themselves as an “e person” — for “extroverted” — or an “i person” — for “introverted” — at the matchmaking event in People’s Park, or even “an ‘i’ cat looking for an ‘e’ cat.”
“Knowing the personality of a cat also tells you what kind of owners they have,” Liu says, noting that she scrutinizes the homepages of owners to determine whether they truly love cats and how they treat their pets.
Even in the cat realm, there’s a pecking order of status. Liu says Dio is a mixed-breed cat with short legs. Some cat owners claim online that they won’t match their cats with munchkin cats, also known as “sausage cats,” because of their stubby legs. According to Liu’s own observations, orange cats and rescued strays are also considered unsuitable by some cat matchmakers.
But does all this activity lead anywhere?
Currently, Liu says she is hitting it off with a male cat owner online. “We talked about our cats first, and then we talked about other things, such as what games we like to play, or what anime we’ve been watching,” she says.
Juno Ling, 28, also attended the cat dating event in the park, though she doesn’t own a cat. Instead, she wanted to accompany an introverted friend who loves cats.
“I want her to go out and socialize more, and meet other cat lovers,” Ling tells Sixth Tone. “I think the event was more for pet owners to make new friends. Because cats don’t need to be walked like dogs, cat owners rarely have the chance to meet other cat lovers.”
Ling, who is single, is a dog lover herself, though she doesn’t currently have a dog. If she had one, she says she would take her pet to “dating events.” “It’s best if two people like the same kind of pet,” she tells Sixth Tone.
Catering to the canine crowd, Nico Cute Pet Planet, a pet social platform, hosted a “dog-dating” event in the eastern city of Nanjing on May 20, a date phonetically similar to the Chinese expression for “I love you.”
Dogs were paired together to walk along a “romantic suspension bridge” before sharing cake made especially for them. Pet owners posed with their dogs in front of a rose-adorned wall for pictures.
Every month, Nico Cute Pet Planet holds at least one event, which attracts between 30 and 100 dogs. Many participants come from afar with their pets. Because some of the pets have been neutered, the dating events are mainly social in nature.
“These activities provide an opportunity for owners to meet and hang out with one another,” says Nico Cute Pet Planet’s founder, surnamed Wang.
(Header image: A pet owner holds a board reading “E person and E cat join in the fun” at People’s Park, Shanghai, Aug. 11, 2023. Courtesy of Liz Ngan)