Meeting your match on Valentine’s day

Those who are desperately seeking someone have more options than ever in real life and online, but looking for love can still be a lot of hard work

Valentine’s Day is for lovers, and for the desperately dateless to watch on in despair as seemingly everyone else pairs off.

With the day of love fast approaching, there are more options than ever for those in need of a dinner partner, drinking buddy or something more substantial — and many of them are a thumb’s length away in the form of smartphone dating apps. Asia has a 30 billion baht market for online dating apps — from Tinder to Skout to MeetDrinks to Grindr and more. And Valentine’s Day is the time all the single ladies and gentlemen are putting their best profile pictures forward.

Elsewhere online there are options like Craigslist and even the Pantip webboard, which aroused controversy last week after one user complained it was being misused by teenagers pursuing romances. But where else should people turn if they spot someone attractive yet can’t bring themselves to make the first move?

In the real world, matchmakers offer the chance to actually meet people, plus events where singles can mingle have been organised for Saturday night. And like any other weekend, there’s always the chance that getting out will lead to a close encounter of the right kind.

But having more options doesn’t necessarily make navigating the murky waters of singledom any easier. There are plenty of people out there looking for short-time fun.

Relationship expert, celebrity and MeetDrinks chief executive Natacha Noel knows how awkward a first encounter can be, and has designed her app with this in mind. The 37-year-old Canadian love guru, who was certified by the Matchmaking Institute in New York, expects there will soon be about 10 million Asians using the MeetDrinks app, which was launched in Thailand in time for Valentine’s Day.

“MeetDrinks is good for hooking people up for a first date because the first date should be between 45 minutes and one hour only,” Noel said.

“It’s based on two drinks, which are the maximum number of drinks for me on the first date — if things go well, have dinner after. The first date should be nice and fun and the topics should be general. You shouldn’t be an open book on the first date.”

In the end, Noel said it would always come down to that certain thing called “chemistry”.

This year, Brunch decided to stage a chemistry experiment of our own. In exploring Thailand’s singles scene, our reporters tracked down some of Bangkok’s dateless. These are their stories, with names changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

SERVICE AT A PRICE

I contacted Pat, a marketing professional and part-time matchmaker, expecting that he could find me a date in time for Valentine’s. There were still a few weeks to go before the big day and I thought he could at least introduce me, as a woman in her mid-twenties, to a few men.

I didn’t have much doubt that Pat had some idea about my character, even before developing a matchmaking profile. I’ve known him in a professional context for almost five years now, and every time we meet he says how he wishes someone “mature” could take me out for dinner or drinks.

This year I decided to give it a try. I sent him a photo in which I wore dark glasses because, regardless of how Pat works with clients, I didn’t want to leave any traces of myself behind. In the profile, I wrote that I needed no “friends with benefits” — the only benefits I wanted was company and someone with a mind of his own.

As soon as Pat saw my profile, he said what I needed “makes sense” and he reiterated the cost of his service: 3,500 baht for a date, 9,000 baht for three of them, 60,000 for a guaranteed relationship and 120,000 for a guaranteed marriage.

“I could go for a date, if you would only guarantee that the man has a job,” I told him.

“Of course he has a job,” Pat replied.

“Where would you find him?”

Pat answered: “From a pool of contacts.”

A week passed without word. I emailed Pat, asking how things were going and what kind of dates he thought would match me with. He replied that it should be someone who was “mature, cool and calm” and nothing more.

Things were up in the air at this point, like my destiny was being decided by a pool of strangers neither of us had met. I was hoping to ask for some profiles for me to choose from to speed up the process, but I also wanted to test Pat’s level of matchmaking accuracy.

There was fun to be had seeing if he could live up to his boastful observations about my characteristics over all these years. And if I am going to pick potential partners, I’d rather do that from a pool of more intimate choices in a real-life setting where I could get to really see the guy in the flesh.

So while I was still hesitant, I thought matchmaking was the way to go. I felt more confident in this approach after speaking to MeetDrinks chief executive Natacha Noel. Though I didn’t hire her to find me a match, her insight into the world of matchmaking and distinguishing between The One and everybody else made sense.

“You might be a compatible couple judging by the profiles, but if you meet in person and, even if both of you are physically attractive, have no chemistry, there is no spark. Chemistry is DNA, it is biology. You have to have it.”

But in the end, the chemistry wasn’t there. The promise of a relationship that would end in marriage, and for such a fee, made me dubious and I backed out. Ultimately, I wouldn’t trust a matchmaking service, either in the flesh or online, to guarantee my future.

MR RIGHT VS MR RIGHT NOW

My name is Nicky. I recently turned 30 and am still single. So many of my straight friends at this age are married and have at least one child. But as a gay person, I think finding love is more difficult than winning the lottery.

I don’t want to make excuses, but I literally have no time for anything else in between work during the day and school at night. My life is simply work, assignments, homework and more work.

Time is passing and I am not getting any younger. To break the pattern, I decided to find a date for Valentine’s Day.

I am not a bar person and I don’t like being in the gay scene. Therefore, my choices seemed limited. But since I am part of Gen-Y, I thought I should make the best of the technology that is supposed to make life easier. I heard all of my gay friends are using the smartphone app Grindr, which detects users who are nearby.

I heard good and bad things about this app, but I figured it was like everyday life when you never know what kind of people you run into.

I am not the best looking man in the world, but I used my own picture with a little touch-up from a phone app. Still, I doubted anyone would come and say hi to me. I was quite nervous.

When my phone beeped I checked Grindr. I was surprised to see 28 notifications. This might be working. After all these years of hibernating, I might finally find my Valentine. I could hardly wait to read the messages.

“Are you top or bottom? Are you into high fun? Can you host?” I read through all the messages and felt so disappointed. All of them were invitations for sexual encounters, which was not what I was looking for. I browsed through all of them and found that 12 of the 15 messages I got were from Asian men, mostly Malaysian, mainland Chinese and some Thais.

After the first day of disappointment, I still had hope of finding that one person I am looking for. But all I got were sexual invitations, which I ignored. This went on for almost a week, and I started to feel hopeless.

Just when I thought about deleting my profile and the app, one message grabbed my attention. “I know it is not easy to find the potential Mr Right here, but don’t give up. Eventually something good will come,” a motivational message came from a faceless profile.

I checked him out and found that he was a 38-year-old GWM (gay white male) who is looking for friendship and a relationship. At least his first words to me were not sexual, so I started chatting to him. After a couple of days of decent conversation, we agreed to meet at CentralWorld for coffee.

It was about 4pm on a weekend and the mall was quite busy. I had no idea what he looked like since he never sent me a picture of his face. He said he will wait at the water fountain in front of the mall.

I walked around without a clue who my date was. When I took out my phone to send him a message, a voice came from behind me. “I am here.” I turned around slowly and there he was. A well-dressed, good-looking white man. I was really nervous before, but then it felt like a lot of butterflies were spreading their wings in my stomach.

We spent most of the afternoon getting to know each other. It turns out that he is a very high-profile person who has just recently transferred to Thailand for work. We had a good, intelligent and meaningful conversation. I can’t believe that someone as decent as him could be found on an app otherwise filled with people looking for quick hook-ups.

Some said when it rains, it pours. From one decent man, I found more of them. I recently agreed to meet another, a Spanish man in his mid-forties. He is here for a short time with his medical crew for work.

He told me that he came out only a couple of years ago. For most of his life he tried to please his parents by marrying a woman and having children. Now that his parents have passed away, he gets to do what he always wanted to do: to live his life as a gay man.

For someone who always ended up in the corner of the room when going to a party, the application is not a bad choice. I guess the app is just like going to a nightclub or bar by yourself. You will never know who you will meet. You just have to put yourself out there and try your luck. As one of my dates said to me: “Don’t give up. Eventually something good will come.”

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CRAIGSLIST

My name is Paul, and I have just moved to Bangkok. This is not my first time here, having had short getaways and brief work engagements, but now I am here on a three-year contract.

With the longer commitment, I am keen to make some local friends. Previously, I had never had to bother with finding restaurants or places to hang out. It was always arranged for me. The result is I don’t know where to go to meet someone. Where does a 38-year-old American-born Chinese man turn?

So I started with the only universal source I know: Craigslist. I carefully worded my notice and made sure it didn’t sound like a sexual ad, because it wasn’t. The subject was “Be my Valentine”, and I placed it in the “men seeking women” section and went to bed.

When I woke up, I had five emails. I was excited about seeing who they were from. I went through all five emails only to find that all were offering to meet on the condition I paid them. Three of them were really attractive ladyboys. Now I know why so many foreigners come to Thailand to find them.

I responded to all the emails to thank them for their interest, and I apologised that I was unable to agree to their terms since I was not looking for sex.

My advert attracted a lot of escorts in Bangkok as well as Pattaya, even though I showed no interest in a sexual encounter. I became quite annoyed and stopped reading the emails from Craigslist.

I was caught up with my new duties and work environment, went out with colleagues and completely forgot about the advert on Craigslist. I was enjoying the real world more than the cyber one.

I couldn’t see the point of keeping the advert on Craigslist, and came to the conclusion that it’s not the place to look for love. But still, I went through all the emails I received.

“Do you mind BBW?” was one short message. I went on Google to look for the meaning of BBW. Some sources said it means “Big Black Woman”, while others said it means “Big Beautiful Woman”.

I actually have no specific type, so I asked her to tell me more about herself. She sent me an instant reply: “I am Thai. I lonely look for friend. Where you from?” I tried to talk more but there was no further reply. Another email was written in decent English. The sender introduced herself as a well-educated Thai-Chinese woman. She was keen to know more about me and wanted to know if I was still looking. I replied, and later found out a lot more about her.

She seems to be a very professional woman with decent manners.

We are still communicating back and forth by email. We have agreed that we will meet for the first time on Valentine’s Day for a blind date.

I am sure people have mixed feelings about Craigslist. From my experience, I have to say many people on Craigslist in Thailand are looking for one-night stands. My simple advert had nothing to do with sex, yet somehow attracted people who were looking for it.

Valentine’s used to be just another day for me since I am a hard worker. But this year it will be different. Who knows what it will bring?

I know I am lucky and it might be rare to get a decent date on Craigslist, but I can’t wait for Valentine’s Day now.

SKOUTING FOR BOYS

I hadn’t been desperately seeking an online “friend” since I first started using ICQ on my mother’s old Macintosh in the 1990s. Remember that? The green flower icon?

And now that I’m a woman in my twenties there’s Skout — one of the country’s most popular location-based social networking and dating apps for meeting new people, the other being Tinder.

You would think that the people who use these apps for dating are freaks who are always out of luck in love, but sometimes it’s actually the opposite.

I have two close friends who use both apps, and they are far from unattractive.

My friend Pear uses both extensively and said that while Skout has “nicer” people, Tinder has more handsome men. I decided to try out Skout, since it is more popular on the iPhone’s App Store.

The app can either be set up by linking a Facebook account or by setting up a new account from scratch.

It then asks for general information such as name, gender, age, ethnicity, and also whether the user is interested in men or women and if he or she is looking for friends, flirting, dating or a relationship.

I decided to call myself “Tangmo”. I said I was 28.

Thanks to a picture I borrowed from my attractive friend Pear, I was able to attract 81 men within three days.

Skout lets you choose the age, sex, ethnicity and age range of the person you would like to talk to. It also lets you choose the location based on the same city, state or country.

If you want something completely random, there’s a “shake to chat” function, which allows you to literally shake your mobile phone to find someone random to chat with.

For a certain number of “points”, which are purchased using real money, you can also get “featured” for a limited time on the first page of the app along with dozens of other people.

Ash, a Malaysian who has been in Thailand for three weeks, asked to meet me on the second day we talked.

“I think it’s too soon,” I told him.

“That’s fine, we’ll just meet, have some coffee and have some fun,” he replied.

“But I still think it’s too soon,” I reiterated.

“So when do we meet?”

After realising that he wouldn’t stop pestering me, I decided to ignore him.

Others weren’t as pushy. Many of the men I talked to asked to meet me only after a few sentences, but would stop asking me when I told them I didn’t feel comfortable with meeting a stranger unless I knew the person better. Fortunately, none would explicitly talk about sex.

Exactly where I lived in Bangkok was one of the first questions everyone would ask, followed by compliments such as, “Your beauty can make any man have an instant crush on you”, to which I would reply with a thank you.

I talked to people in their late twenties up to early fifties, although only one Caucasian man approached me. The majority were Thai, Asian and African. 

Even though I indicated that I was single and looking for a date, a lot of men still asked whether or not I had a boyfriend, and some asked if I was married or single.

My phone kept buzzing whenever I received a message or when someone “checked me out”.

At one point, I was talking to 15 men at the same time, which was a pretty daunting task, even for a multitasker like me.

I was relieved when I found out that they had a website which had the same features as the mobile app. That made typing much easier, and it didn’t come with the advertisements that kept popping up at the bottom of the mobile screen.

The faint hope that I would meet someone who I at least enjoyed talking to came when I met King, a 30-year-old business owner living and working in Kuala Lumpur.

“Tell me, what makes you happy?”

I told him I enjoyed reading. He said he used to read a lot when he was very young, and has 48 Laws of Power at home. I told him I read The Art of Seduction by the same author, which he happened to own as well.

But then, on the second day, he started calling me “cutie”. That turned me off. I decided to delete the application for good. n

About the author

Writer: Jitsiree Thongnoi, Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai and Nanchanok Wongsamuth