"No matter how bad you are, there is always somebody who loves you. No matter how good you are, there is always somebody who doesn't love you." —attributed to Chinese writer Eileen Chang (张爱玲)
As a teenager, I had a clear description of Mr. Right: He is Chinese, healthy, and not bald. The details went on: He is 1.78 to 1.8 meters tall, appropriately taller than me. He is fit, interested in sports and, even better, he is good at sports, especially basketball, my favorite. He sings well so that I can enjoy it when we go to KTV. He is bold, decisive, responsible, filial, and every other positive attribute missing in myself so that we complement each other.
But even as this happily-ever-after dream faded as I grew up, Mr. Right never appeared.
Then again, neither did Mr. Wrong, and the dream eventually faded out completely. When one of my friends came back to Chengdu during the Spring Festival, she asked me about what kind of men I was interested in. My answer was ... I had no idea. During my 20s, when my girlfriends stayed with Mr. Wrong while they reviewed their lists for Mr. Right, I came to understand that no man would meet all the criteria on my checklist. Maybe I would fall in love with somebody I couldn't picture at all—maybe he would be shorter than me, bald, and a sports idiot.
My friends, especially the females, cannot understand why I am still single, being such a nice woman. I used to think it was because I was not beautiful enough or slim enough. But after seeing plenty of women who were neither slim nor gorgeous get married, I decided that wasn't it. And I decided, furthermore, there was nothing wrong in my being single.
But from time to time, the question would creep up. Why me? Or rather, why not me?
An icebreaker for a work-related conference I participated in took the format of a speed date, and all of us were asked whether we were single. Most men lightheartedly joked that they were "MBA" (married but available). Most women said they were not in any kind of romantic relationship. All of these were professional consultants at the top of their field. Being so-called successful women (making good money working for multinationals), we frequently worked overtime. So obviously, the first problem was that I had no time for men. But I have time for friends, books, movies, parties, and other things, so that wasn't the answer.
Is it because successful women pursue more successful men? Maybe for some single women, this pyramid theory holds true, but not for me: I am looking for a man I want and need but not necessarily one who is conventionally successful. I prefer the explanation that successful women are more independent both economically and psychologically, and thus they can afford to be more concerned with the right choice rather than just picking one before it's too late.
But even if I've accepted my singleness, most people around me seem to hold that a marriage, even if it is a failure, is still better than none. So, since that's their attitude, they can tell me why I'm single too. I polled a dozen of my close friends and family members to see why they think I'm single.
Michael (32, in a stable relationship, friend, former colleague):
"I think compatibility matters when choosing the 'other half.' Since you have a good job and are well paid and you are mentally independent, fewer men are compatible."
Jesse (29, in a struggling relationship, close friend, gay):
"Mr. Right has not shown up."
Eliot (37, breaking up with his girlfriend, friend and former subordinate):
"Establishing a relationship is similar to selling a product, and the product is you. Different products have different features and attractions. Unluckily most men do not use their head, so hot girls are popular products compared with women of thoughts."
Xinmin (61, divorced, father):
"Mr. Right has not shown up. And you are too busy."
Jerry (28, single, soul mate):
"Because you are not fond of the people who are fond of you, and the people who you are fond of are not fond of you, and the people who you are fond of and are fond of you are married to other people."
Gino (32, single, friend, former colleague):
"You think too independently."
Haha. Is there a problem with my male sample? None is married, and only one is in a happy relationship.
Indie (29, in a stable relationship, close friend, lesbian):
"I think the richness of your heart/inner world is beyond men's control. However, I love you soooo much."
T (30, married in 2011, close friend of 10+ years):
"You have not met Mr. Right in the right time at the right place."
Sasha (30, divorced, close friend of 15 years):
"Mr. Right has not shown up."
Sherona (41, divorced, cousin):
"You didn't know to find a boyfriend in school when busy with studies. You don't have time to find a boyfriend when your work is too occupying. With high education background and high accomplishment, it is difficult for you now to find a boyfriend compatible to you."
Iki (56, divorced, mother):
"I don't know the reason, and it is your own business. You have not met the right person and you don't meet guys who I wanted to introduce to you."
Bonnie (26, just breaking up with her boyfriend, friend and former subordinate):
"It is in the end a mistake for two people being together; the key lies in whether one can stand such a mistake. But there are people who do not stand mistakes and you are one of them."
Their answers can be boiled down to two different explanations: one about lot and destiny, the situation is beyond one's control: He just hasn't come. The other group is about compatibility: My independence and my job make it difficult for me to find a man. But wait a minute! Is there also problem with my female sample? I did not realize the marital status, or lack thereof, of most of my friends until this survey. Perhaps they have influenced me.
Having turned 30 last year, I feel I have crossed a threshold. When I was 25, I thought I could wait until 30. When I turned 30, I started to think I may stay single forever because nowadays everything has a price, and my price is going down, as most would say. On the contrary, I love myself more after 30. I decide to be a better person for a man who knows, understands, and loves me rather than just any boyfriend or husband, even though that man may never show up.
This article by Tan Juan was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 63 ("People"). Illustration by Meike Männel.