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    ‘I Go on 100 Blind Dates a Year. How Am I Still Single?’

    After hundreds of blind dates, high school teacher Li Yufei has devised a standard operating procedure to sift the studs from the duds. Yet, her search for “the one” continues.

    Li Yufei, an English teacher at a suburban high school in Beijing, began her search for a husband in 2017. Since then, she’s gone on about 100 blind dates a year, yet none have led to marriage.

    In China’s matchmaking market, Li would typically be seen as a catch. Now 32 years old, she’s been living in Beijing for 14 years, is good looking, has a stable job, and holds a coveted Beijing household registration. She arrived in the capital as a student in 2010, completed her master’s degree, and worked at a major internet company before transitioning to teaching two years ago.

    What perhaps makes Li stand out is that she has approached her search with academic precision. Over the years, she has used a spreadsheet to record the basic information of every man she’s met, such as where he lived, whether he owned a house or a car, where they met, and who paid for the first date.

    She says her experiences have allowed her to develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) for blind dates to instantly filter out the duds.

    After matching with a man on a dating app, Li will send an invitation to meet up at Starbucks. “It’s OK for the woman to take the lead at first,” she says, but after that, the ball is in his court. “The logic is simple: If he doesn’t take any initiative, it means he’s not interested. Most of the time, when the woman takes the initiative, it doesn’t work out.”

    Using this system, she can eliminate up to 90% of candidates after just one date. For subsequent dates, the attrition rate is about 50%. Ultimately, she feels most relationships fail due to a lack of chemistry. “My strategy is to meet a lot of people,” Li adds. “As long as the pool is large enough, there will always be four or five people left in the end.”

    Li agrees that her profile makes her “highly marriageable” and insists her standards aren’t “excessively high” when it comes to screening potential suitors. So why have her rigorous efforts failed to produce the desired result?

    This is her story.

    Blind date SOP

    My first blind date was when I was 26 years old, still in graduate school. Within a minute of meeting the person, I could tell it wasn’t a good match, so that date ended abruptly. After that, I continued going on blind dates, but not regularly. It wasn’t until I joined a large internet company in April 2020, when my colleagues introduced me to the dating app Ergou, that I began dating intensively. I tried a succession of dating apps, including Tan Tan, Qingteng Zhilian, Hua Tian, and Himmr, and even posted on the Shuimu forum, Tsinghua University’s private online bulletin board.

    In the end, I found that the most reliable were “elite dating apps” focused on the niche market of highly educated singles. Most of my candidates have come from these apps. My mom also helped me search using paid-for matchmaking services for parents in Beijing. I would meet most of the people she recommended and then give her feedback if it didn’t work out. Some of the candidates in my database were also screened by my parents.

    For most candidates, I would first screen them on the app. If they met my basic criteria, we would add each other on WeChat and have a brief chat before arranging a date. I believe that meeting in person is most important, so I don’t spend too much time chatting online.

    On the app, I get straight to the point by sending the candidate a message asking about his location, like “Hi, I’m in XYZ. Where are you?” The first round of screening starts by opening the conversation with geographical location. If someone adds me on WeChat and finds out I’m in the northwest corner of Beijing while he’s in the southeast, no matter how compatible we are, it will be difficult for us to see each other, and he might disappear.

    If the candidate is OK with my location, we move forward. About 70% of candidates make it to this stage. After meeting a man for the first time, I wait and observe his reaction. If he frequently sends me WeChat messages or suggests another date the following week, that’s a positive sign.

    Very few people make it to the second date. Last week, I met six men, two of whom progressed to the second date — this is an exceptionally good outcome. After the second date, about 50% of candidates are eliminated.

    From the second date onwards, the process is about the same. Usually, men take more initiative. Sometimes, if a woman feels that a man is losing interest, she might take the initiative again. There was one candidate I maintained intermittent contact with for six months. Initially, there was some chemistry, but once he stopped taking the initiative, I realized I didn’t have any feelings for him at all. I had only continued talking with him because I felt bad for him and thought he was a nice person.

    Last year, I went on blind dates with more than 100 men, and I’m still in contact with four or five of them. Meeting so many people, they all blur together — I only have a vague impression of each date. It’s hard to remember all of them, so I created a spreadsheet to record their details. For some, there’s no need for them to take up space in my memory; they are just entries in the spreadsheet.

    Sometimes I chat with six or seven candidates at once, and it’s easy to forget where they are from, leading to some awkward situations. Once, when scheduling a date with a guy, I mentioned that it would be quite far for him to travel to our meeting place from where he lived, and he replied: “That’s not where I live.” After that, I marked each candidate’s location in their WeChat contact details and grouped them by geographical location. For candidates that I don’t think will work out, I mark them with a “P” for “pass” and put them in a separate group. This group is the biggest, around 300 people.

    For me, blind dating has become a standardized procedure. It’s essentially a project I’m managing.

    I have a set of “dating armor” — a high-neck sweater under a white vest paired with a knee-length skirt, as I’m going for the “intellectual” look. Since I meet most of my candidates only once, I don’t have to think about what to wear next time. It’s always the same outfit — one set each for fall, winter, and summer. This saves time deciding what to wear.

    The conversation during the first date is repetitive; it’s mainly about what their work is like and what they do in their free time. I often meet them on a road I’m familiar with and lead them to a place where we can chat. I’ve walked that route countless times, and there’s one place I’ve taken at least 20 blind dates.

    At one point, I was even having virtual blind dates over the Tencent Meeting platform. One day, during my busiest dating period, I met four candidates: a walk in the morning, lunch at noon, tea in the afternoon, and a virtual meeting at night. That was the most intense day, and the virtual meeting was added at the last minute. Despite the large number of candidates I talk to, I don’t compromise on attention. During our one-on-one meetings, I am fully focused and present — I don’t even take out my phone.

    The advantage of having experienced so many blind dates is that I’ve learned to quickly discern a person’s attitude, which saves time. In the beginning, if I liked a date, I might have contacted him afterward, but now I’m more familiar with the process. I don’t take any action after the first date; instead, I wait for the other party to take the lead.

    With men, their attitudes are quite clear. If they don’t take the initiative after the first date, it means they’re not interested, and I don’t invest more energy. So, my strategy now is to keep the quantity. With this large number of candidates, there will surely be several who like me enough to take the initiative to follow up, and from these interested candidates, I can choose the ones I like.

    Finding that spark

    My ideal partner is someone slightly older than me, relatively mature, and stable. In the past, my mindset was such that I’d hoped to find a partner who was highly accomplished and could lead me in my career, almost like a mentor. Now I feel that this condition is difficult to meet. As long as we’re well aligned, with similar family backgrounds and life goals, that’s enough.

    Many people question whether my standards are too high. I truly don’t think so. On dating apps, I’ve already lowered my standards significantly. I don’t care about height; anything above 167 centimeters is fine. Appearance-wise, as long as they are decent looking, I’m not picky.

    I realized long ago that there are very few genuinely handsome guys on dating apps. Maybe around 5% are handsome, but of course, if they look like the “pretty boy” type, that’s an absolute no-go. On apps like Tan Tan, there are many guys wearing big gold chains, posing with one hand on the steering wheel, or taking shirtless selfies to show off their abs. If I see any of these, it’s an automatic “no.”

    The men I choose are generally decent looking. Once, I encountered an extreme case of “photo fraud.” In his profile photo, the man looked like he was in his 20s, presenting a youthful vibe. We arranged to meet at Starbucks, and when I got there, I looked around for ages but couldn’t find him. Then an older man greeted me, and I realized it was my date. Unlike his photos, he was clearly around 40 years old and quite overweight. Of course, these are rare cases; most people pass the appearance test.

    As for other criteria, I don’t mind if they own a house or not, although it’s better if they do. Some people who don’t have a house still mention that they have the ability to buy one. I have Beijing household registration, and my job is relatively stable, making me quite sought after in the matchmaking market. However, educated men in their 30s don’t usually list their conditions upfront during blind dates like many would assume. These things are already mentioned in their profiles, so if you’re matched on the app, it’s generally assumed that both parties meet each other’s basic requirements.

    So, blind dates aren’t as bizarre as people think. Every time I chat with a candidate who seems like a nice guy, even if we chat a lot, it just turns into a friendship. There’s no spark, no flirtation, and that’s why I still haven’t found my Mr. Right.

    After so many blind dates, my standards are gradually changing. Initially, I liked meeting men with government and institutional jobs, thinking that the state had already “vetted” them for me to some extent. But after I went on blind dates with several government employees, that illusion was broken. Many of them were arrogant, feeling they have a certain status and are highly desirable in the marriage market. On top of this, they are often a little too comfortable. One man told me, “I just want a stable life. There are ways to live well at every income level, whether it’s 3,000 yuan or 8,000 yuan ($415 or $1,100) a month,” rationalizing his low income. I still hope for a partner who is ambitious, daring, and willing to grow with me.

    Another group I filter out is anyone working in finance. They just don’t match my style — they all seem to have that “elite look,” with the same slicked-back hairstyle. A lot of them love skiing, and I can’t stand those expensive luxury hobbies. I also rarely meet humanities majors — artists and media professionals, highbrow culture buffs who love attending exhibitions and operas. I’m not that sophisticated, so we have no common interests to talk about.

    So, later on, I mostly met STEM majors. In early 2021, I met my now ex-boyfriend. We became a couple after knowing each other for three or four months, dated for a year, and even discussed marriage. But we eventually broke up. He thought I was too busy with work, and in 2022, I changed jobs to become a teacher at a high school that was quite far from where he worked. He hoped I would leave my job and find one closer to him, but that was crossing my bottom line. I love my job and don’t want to give it up.

    Since 2022, I’ve been in my “peak dating” stage, meeting 100 candidates a year. During this whole time, I’ve been torn between wanting to give up and wanting to get back into the game. I sometimes take a break, but after a few months I can’t stand the anxiety of being single with no prospects, and I go back to adding people on dating apps.

    Why is it so difficult to find a suitable partner? I also want to know. I’ve had three serious relationships, so I know how to love and be loved. My first love was in college with a debate team opponent who actively pursued me. At that time, I thought I would never meet someone so interested in me again. After graduating from university, we had to move apart to work and go to school in different locations, and we both felt that we were too young to consider getting married, so we split. My second relationship was with a colleague. I had just started working after completing my master’s degree and was still quite “green.” He was the same age as me but had begun working right out of college and was already very accomplished. The relationship ultimately ended because of our different family backgrounds; he was from a rural area in the northeast, and my family opposed the match. Since then, I’ve tried to avoid candidates from rural backgrounds in my search for a husband — not out of discrimination, but because I grew up in the city and am not accustomed to living in a rural environment.

    By the time I’d ended two serious relationships, I was 28 or 29 years old and was still feeling confident. But later on, I began to wonder when I would feel that spark again. In this endless procession of blind dates, it is indeed difficult to feel a romantic attraction, and I’m becoming more indifferent.

    Geographical location is also important for Beijing drifters. My mom helps me find potential dates, but many people stop talking once they hear I’m in the suburbs. I’ve also tried to meet people nearby, giving them more of a chance if they live close, but it never works out. I just can’t feel the spark.

    I’ve also done follow-ups with some candidates to see if there’s some problem on my side. Before I transitioned to teaching, during a low point in my life, I went on a blind date with a lawyer who said, “I feel like you’re not very confident.” Maybe it’s because during the date my eyes kept wandering, avoiding direct eye contact. I really appreciated his sincere feedback. Since changing jobs, I’ve become more proactive and engaged — I have more energy to focus on finding a partner.

    I once went on a blind date with a civil servant who was quite an independent thinker. I did a follow-up with him too, asking why he didn’t keep in touch. He said he felt my family background was better than his and thought it wasn’t a suitable match. I don’t know if that was really what he thought, but it’s representative to some extent.

    A colleague of mine, a local Beijing woman, found a suitable partner after only a month of dating. I asked her why her search went so smoothly, and she said it was because they had similar social status. The man who ended up becoming her husband had been introduced to her three times before through different channels, but they had yet to meet face to face. This goes to show that it was inevitable that they would meet eventually, because they have the same social background.

    In the matchmaking market, men must be excellent “hunters,” proactive and ready to pounce on opportunities. My ex was a natural hunter; we became a couple just three or four weeks after meeting. But most men aren’t that proactive. With many men on blind dates, it’s obvious they’re only there because their parents pressured them. They’re just going through the motions.

    During this process, women can send some signals, but they are not the ones leading the courtship. Their position is somewhat passive. On major dating platforms, there are more women than men, so men often feel they are a scarce resource. Some men are calculating in their approach to dating apps, dividing women into two categories: “marriageable” and “just for fun.” Some men openly state a preference for women with Beijing household registration, while others indicate the importance of a woman’s desire to have children. I’ve nothing against having children; I want to build a family and live a good life. So, if a man isn’t particularly ambitious or responsible, doesn’t have much career drive, and just wants to cruise through life, that doesn’t align with my values.

    My parents recently placed a Buddha statue in their home, and bow to it every day, praying for me. But they’ve got a good mindset, and they don’t pressure me or try to rush me into marriage. Even members of my extended family are changing their views, agreeing that it’s better to stay single than to marry the wrong person.

    I’ve seen many women on the lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu talk about their “100-date challenge.” Nobody enjoys the process. I no longer stress myself out about it. If someone suitable comes up, I’ll meet with him; if it doesn’t work out, that’s fine. I still maintain a routine of going on two or three blind dates every weekend. I still have hope. I firmly believe the next blind date could be “the one.”

    Reported by Xu Jiajing.

    (Due to privacy concerns, Li Yufei is a pseudonym.)

    A version of this article originally appeared in Oh!Youth. It has been translated and edited for brevity and clarity, and is republished here with permission.

    Translator: Carrie Davies; contributions: Strapko Nastassia; editors: Xue Ni and Hao Qibao.

    (Header image: Visuals from Pablo Stanley/Open Peep, reedited by Ding Yining/Sixth Tone)