China's love consultants offer dating advice and wardrobe tips. They'll even adjudicate lovers quarrels.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Feb. 11 2010 9:37 AM

Love in the Time of Consultants

China's date doctors to the rescue.

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Tai, a published novelist who is considered an accomplished professional, looked at me as if I were a child. "I used to date this guy," she told me. "He said, 'Who cares about your job?' Most guys don't care."

Lastly, some singles—both men and women—lack dating experience. People devote themselves to graduate school or a demanding job, and before they know it, it's time to get married—even though they've never had a serious relationship.

That was the situation Amanda Zhang found herself in two years ago. She'd spent most of her 20s getting a Ph.D. in comparative literature, then she moved to Beijing to work as a translator. And though Amanda was a chatterbox with her close friends, she didn't meet many people outside the office.

One Sunday morning, Amanda and I got together at a teahouse in her neighborhood. A waitress hovered by the indoor rock garden as—in the Chinese manner—we repeatedly deferred to each other over which tea to order.

"When I turned 28, I thought, 'I still don't have a boyfriend?' " she remembered. "I was so old and had no sense of security."

Determined to find a boyfriend, Amanda signed up for a love consultant from Baihe.com. A year's VIP service cost $1,300, but the chance to meet quality men with an expert's help was worth the high price.

Knowing that Amanda was an innocent when it came to dating, her consultant gave her a basic run-down on how to relate to men—men and women express their feelings in different ways, men sometimes act the way they do because they fear rejection. Then she sent Amanda off on a series of dates. Unfortunately, there were no sparks for several months.

Finally, last April, Amanda was introduced to John. For one of their first dates, John had planned to impress Amanda by taking her to a big, expensive restaurant. His consultant pointed him to a casual spot instead, explaining, "Maybe she doesn't want a da nanzi"—a macho man.

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Dinner went well, and the two went on more dates over the following weeks. Born in the Year of the Rabbit, John had wanted to be paired with women who were sheep or dogs in the Chinese zodiac. Four years younger than John, Amanda was a sheep. John also liked her because she said exactly what was on her mind.

A month into their relationship, however, Amanda and John started to have doubts about one another. "I didn't call her often enough," said John, who'd accompanied Amanda to the teahouse. "She wanted a call every single day."

"If a guy doesn't call you enough," Amanda said, giving John a playful shove, "a girl thinks she's not that important to him."

John didn't recognize that he and Amanda were having a simple misunderstanding. To him, it appeared that the two of them were too different. What else could one expect, he said, when he had been an engineering major and Amanda had studied humanities?

Meanwhile, it was clear to Amanda that John had to be in charge.

But the new couple didn't confide in each other about these worries, nor did they trust the advice of friends. Instead, they each called their date doctors. "I knew the consultants talked to each other," said John, "so I told my problems to my consultant, and she told hers to her consultant."

Amanda's consultant calmed her and explained that John wasn't signaling that he didn't like her. Men were simply more career-oriented, and if John didn't feel secure in his job, he couldn't pay much attention to dating.

John's consultant told him to get an attitude adjustment.

Problem solved.

Three months after they first met, John picked an auspicious date, July 4, and asked Amanda to stay home. He went over to her place with an arm full of lilies. Knowing what was about to happen, she greeted him in a traditional Chinese dress, a white qipao embroidered with flowers. John popped the question, Amanda said yes, and the two went ring shopping.

Because their setup resulted in marriage, they would each owe Baihe.com $400. But the newlyweds don't mind. "I found something worth a million dollars," John told me.

Michelle Tsai is a Beijing-based writer working on a book about Chinatowns on six continents. She blogs at ChinatownStories.com.