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Nothing is More Unreliable than Love

Nation, page 10
Issue 506, February 14, 2011
Translated by Ruoji Tang
Original article:

"Free as a bird!" 28 year old Lu Yuan (陆苑) exclaimed as she closed the door and left her family home.

During the Spring Festival period, Lu Yuan left Guangzhou, where she works, for Hebei, her home province. As soon as she arrived, her mother began arranging blind dates for her. Shortly after meeting the men, her mother anxiously asked "any hope?"

"I was almost nagged to death!" said Lu Yuan.

The men who met her mother's criteria have steady jobs and own their own homes. Introduced through family, they are familiar with her work and her person.

Two years ago, Lu Yuan parted ways with her boyfriend. She has been looking for a partner to start a family with ever since, but has had little luck.

Her single friends started marrying off one by one. When she began her job, Lu Yuan and four other single women of marriageable age formed a group that called themselves the "Five Nuns." They got together to swap stories and discuss how to accomplish "the great task" of finding an "economically suitable man." A year later, the "Five Nuns" had become three.

Her 26 year-old colleague Xiao Zhou succeeded in "love," and is planning to get married.

"They're a weird couple. They decided to move in together after discussing their life plans, and they only decided to get married because they lived together without any problems."

Xiao Zhou's goal was simple, a safe life. Her partner is a little older, and has a house in the commercial district of Guangzhou. He is a mid-level manager for a state-owned enterprise.

In truth, Lu Yuan knows of countless "miraculous" lightning marriages.

"Some of them married public servants they met on the internet, others married employees of state-owned enterprises that had been introduced by friends. There are others that are so anxious to re-marry, that only 3-months after divorcing, they quickly tie-the-knot again" says Lu Yuan.

Lu Yuan also has strict standards for filtering prospective boyfriends.

"If you want to talk about marriage, you have to meet certain criteria. Or else there's no point."

Love is the Least Reliable Thing in the World

When Lu Yuan was in college, one of her professors once told the class that "Love is the least reliable thing in the world"

The phrase has stayed with Lu Yuan for many years.

She figures that he meant that without basic material comforts, love, however passionate, cannot last.

For a couple without financial security, parents can be the greatest obstacle.

Lu Yan's friend Tan Ling once had a boyfriend from an economically disadvantaged family. Her mother was staunchly opposed.

When reminded of the boyfriend, Tan Ling said, "You can't argue with yourself. You have to quickly change your mindset and find someone more suitable." She did exactly that. She did not indulge in self-pity, and in 2010, married another man.

Together with her husband she bought a new house; she even has her own study. Tan Ling can watch movies and read every night, and feels pretty pleased with herself.

Since graduating from college, Tan Ling has seen couple after couple break up over "practical issues."

"In college, you are looking for love. When you are out in society, you're done with love. You have to find someone to marry and start a life with," she says.

Tan Ling does not blame her mother for her "cruel" interference back then. She said, "When I think back on it, if I were my mother, I would not let my daughter live a life without financial security either."

Tan Ling says she has seen two friends fall in love, but after a steady relationship of two or three years, the woman secretly accepted a luxury car from another man. She later married the second man. When Tan Ling first heard about the marriage, she cried.

Time Waits for No One

After college, women reach the "marriage age."

The pressure of traditional values, coupled with the difficulty of finding financial security, make it a difficult time.

The internet has become a quick way to find a partner in a sea of people. Key phrases include "annual income" and "occupation."

Some also organize singles mixers.

The editor of a leisure magazine Tan Wanlan (谭晚兰) believes that the interest in matchmaking mixers grew out of the demands of modern life.

"Modern life limits your social circle and creates demanding problems," says Tan Wanlan.

Tan Wanlan has gone to a mixer called "Let's date," (我们相亲吧) and mixed with participants. She thinks that most of them wanted to get up on stage and display themsevles and also just to meet more people.

"Lots of people exchange numbers after the event, it makes it easier to get a step closer" she said.
A foreign media outlet that visited one of these mixers observed that these events were a quick method to match up individuals according to their the material criteria.
Lu Yuan admits that now, financial terms come before feelings in a relationship. The most basic criteria in finding a partner has nothing to do with love.

After a "diagnosis" from colleagues, Lu Yuan believes her problem is that she "wants too much."

Her partner has to be easy to get along with and be able to support a family. Since Lu Yuan is tall, she's hoping for someone taller than 170cm.

"It's simple," a few of her colleagues advised her, "do you want money or do you want looks?"

The Next Step

Lu Yuan is tired of dating, but she does not think marriage should be taken lightly.

"I can pick someone who meets my criteria, but after you pick someone, there will always be other things that are also important, that take time to figure out, things like whether he is dependable, whether you get along. Dating websites don't tell you that."

In 2007, Lu Yuan decided to quit her job in her hometown and move to Guangzhou for her career. She was looking for someone who was ready to settle down.

During New Year's in 2010, Lu Yuan stopped by her family home to celebrate the Spring Festival. On returning from a high school reunion late one night, to pack her things before leaving the next day, she was suddenly overcome with misery.

It had been over ten years. For her classmates who stayed in town, everything seemed to have been easy. They had careers and families of their own.

"Time passes too fast, but the steps you take are slow," Lu Yuan sighed.
In the past year, she's been caught in a vicious cycle of hope and disappointment. Even if a man met her standards, the mutual regard was never there. After every disappointment, she would give herself a little time to sort out her feelings.

At the end of 2010, Lu Yuan wrote the following lines: "we are floating because we haven't found a place to call home, we feel lost because haven't found a career we are passionate about, and we are lonely because we haven't found love."

"To have a home, a career, and partner you really love. It's hard," she said.

It really is hard.

Of the two men introduced by her family the last time she was home, her mother liked the successful Mr. A, but Lu Yuan preferred the worldly and open-tempered Mr. B.

She said, "My mother has ordered me to stop being so picky, but I still need to be sure of what I want."

This article was edited by Paul Pennay

The above article is part of a special feature devoted to Happiness in China that appeared in the Nation section of the Economic Observer. You can read the original Chinese articles from the special feature here. We plan to publish another translation from the feature next week.

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