Brutal Cupid: Hong Kong’s Hellish Dating Culture
A married woman sips iced coffee in a hip Hong Kong co-working space and checks Tinder.

“Can you sex with me have can?” reads one Casanova’s slightly pitiful opening line.

Ariadna Peretz, founder of Maitre D’ate – a matchmaking business, has filed away her favorite Tinder chat up lines and is showing them to me as we discuss the trials and tribulations of dating in Hong Kong. She’s been doing intel on what it’s like as she starts to take her business up a notch and go fulltime. There’s certainly demand for it in flashy and lovelorn Hong Kong.

“People aren’t taking the time to get to know each other,” she says. “And they’re lonely.”

From bespoke luxury matchmakers to the ever-diversifying market of apps, the dating industry is booming, drawn by a populace who are so busy working, checking Facebook and looking for the next stranger to shag that they’ve forgotten how to be intimate.

“It’s just hard finding someone you really connect with,” said one longtime Hongkonger and friend after a painful break up. “People come and go so much that you get used to not knowing them very well.”

“You don’t get that closeness very often,” she adds.

Slow dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, which markets itself as an antidote to the fast turnover experience and superficiality of Tinder, reports that Hong Kong users are more active here than any other market.

The implication being, they say, that many have hook up fatigue.

Hong Kong has long been described as a place to get laid, not find love

“Close to two million Facebook users in Hong Kong are listed as “single” or “unspecified” said co-founder Dawoon Kang, explaining why the SAR was the first market they launched in outside the US.

From the seedy Wanchai strip bars to Lan Kwai Fong’s boorish and cocaine-fueled club culture, Hong Kong has long been described as a place to get laid, not find love.

In a dense city where there’s always something to do and someone new to meet, durable and deep connections can be hard to come by.

That we’re living increasing online lives can’t help the pervasive sense that intimacy eludes those who have come to feel more comfortable getting in between the sheets of a stranger than under someone’s skin. It impacts our empathy-levels, makes us feel little regret when we treat people like they’re dispensable fodder for our fragile egos.

“There’s a lot of talk of poor dating etiquette nowadays. Part of the problem is ‘pending better offer’ syndrome,” says Peretz.

She thinks it’s now too easy to seek out someone new. Giving a prospective relationship a genuine chance happens less in an age where novelty trumps intimacy, and in which we’re encouraged to play a much wider field.

Ariadna Peretz is the founder Maitre D'ate, a Hong Kong based matchmaking business.
For the record, my own experiences on Tinder here aren’t exactly horrifying. Certainly not when compared with the dumb shit guys said and did in my native London suburb; a place where street harassment was so endemic we rated aggressors on a scale of the lukewarm to the insane.

(One guy shouted “give me your fanny” from inside his Volvo once. “Give me your fanny” – what does that even mean?  He got an eight out of ten on the crazy scale. The tens we don’t talk about, baring the guy that emitted a deafening, guttural “rawr” that reverberated down the street. That was funny).

So, I don’t want to wholeheartedly confirm what people say about dating in Hong Kong being an eternally abominable sleaze-fest, though my experiences have not been without their share of weirdness.

(Exhibit a: I’m walking down an alleyway with a guy who says that this is where he takes girls to rape them, and is then baffled when I express my discomfort. Apparently I don’t have a sense of humour?) Oh, and don’t get me started on the guy who tried to use the topic of violently masturbating nuns as a conversation Segway.

What I will say is that Hong Kong is designed for solitary living, and the way we treat each other reflects our playing by that social rulebook. We all seem to be very much in our own worlds. Self-contained, workaholic units running on low-level compassion, desperate to appear fun and invulnerable.

We don’t like to answer to anyone other than ourselves, which, you know, helps us feel powerful in a place where someone always seems to be living their lives better than we are.

“Hong Kong isn’t very real,” said one friend when I first arrived over two years ago on a warm, beautiful evening watching the tide come in. We were the token beleaguered Brits in a crowd of beach party revelers, and the scene felt Truman Show-like.

connections can feel very superficial in a city that teems with “global citizens” who live nowhere and everywhere

Life as an “expat” (for want of a better word that connotes wanting to feel at home here but not really being ‘from’ here) in Hong Kong can feel like millennial stereotypes on overdrive.

Hyper-ambitious, hyper-individualistic, hyper-atomized. Ever glued to I-phones, connections can feel very superficial in a city that teems with “global citizens” who live nowhere and everywhere.

It’s not surprising that making a real commitment to anyone can feel anachronistic.

I wouldn’t pretend that I’ve not become part of the problem, that my own behaviour doesn’t buck the zeitgeist of being emotionally lazy and risk-averse, jaded and caustic.

Why put in the effort when it probably won’t last and I’ve adapted perfectly well to getting along by myself? Why invest when I know there’s a high chance this person is figuring out where to place me in his rankings, and wondering whether he could do better?

I’m totally pro The Sexual Revolution. I don’t think everyone needs to settle down and that their not doing so means they’re a bad or superficial person. I certainly don’t think people should get married just because. And I think everyone should enjoy all the (consensual) sex they want.

But Hong Kong is a city about being a picture of success, and about making the right transaction.

And I think I’m not alone in the feeling slightly resentful that the dating culture here makes you feel like a stock that rises and falls so rapidly and relative to forces beyond your control that it hardly seems worth playing the game at all.

“I don’t think love is dead” says Peretz as our interview comes to an end. She met her now-husband in Hong Kong seven years ago and moved to our high-rise metropolis from her native Canada for him.

“I do think Hongkongers are too busy making money and not busy enough making babies, though.”

Image Credit: Time Out 

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