A matchmaker’s guide to finding love in Singapore

Lunch Actually founder Violet Lim reveals what unhappy singles are doing wrong (and how they can change) 


PHOTO: Ingimage

At one point or another, everyone who’s been unhappily single has asked himself the question, “Is there something wrong with me?” Or at the very least, “Is there something wrong with what I’m doing?”

While some people would cite their singleness to the lack of eligible partners, Violet Lim, founder and CEO of Lunch Actually Group, Asia’s first and largest dating company, would argue otherwise. As someone who’s engineered countless happily-ever-afters, Violet believes that finding love is mostly a numbers game.

“Logically, out of 10 people you meet of the opposite gender, you’d want to get to know five of them better and the feeling is mutual,” Violet told xinmsn in a discussion about long-term singleness.  “Out of the five, you go on dates with four. Out of four, you go on more dates with two or three. Hopefully from these dates, you would meet ‘The One.”

“That’s a very optimistic scenario,” she continued. “But the problem is, most singles don’t meet 10 people of the opposite gender in a month, or even worse, a year. So what are the chances that they’ll actually meet ‘The One?’”

That’s where a little intervention comes in. In her years of bringing people together, Violet has gleaned plenty of wisdom about finding a life partner. And yet, the dating scene still continues to surprise her. A recent intimate profiling study conducted by eSynchrony, an online dating/matchmaking hybrid owned by Lunch Actually Group, found that 50 per cent of people in Singapore are open to cohabitation before marriage, while another 50 per cent would prefer that their date or future partner have sexual experience. (But if that sounds surprisingly liberal, consider that only 28 per cent of Singaporeans are comfortable kissing on the first date, an even scanter 12 per cent said they would go to bed with someone on the first date.)

With all these new findings coming out, what can a clueless single person do to get attached? Lucky for us, Violet was more than happy to discuss what singles in Singapore are doing wrong, and how they can change their situation.

What makes the dating scene in Singapore different than in other places?
I get asked the question a lot since we’ve opened branches in a few different countries. Generally, I do not see a very big difference. People around the world are biologically hard-wired to be attracted to certain qualities. But I did notice a small difference between singles from Singapore and Malaysia.

Malaysians are more open to going on a second date. Even if sparks didn’t fly the first time, they’ll say ‘oh, why not’ when asked again. On the other hand, Singaporeans and people from Hong Kong are very quick to judge and would rather move on if it didn’t go well. It’s not just that they’re selfish, but they don’t want to waste the other person’s time.

From a matchmaker’s perspective, many dating or married couples that formed didn’t have sparks on the first date. After going on a few more dates, they would discover that the other person was quite kind, compassionate, and had filial piety. Usually, a first date is touch and go – it is only on group dates, where you see how the person interacts with his friends, and how your friends feel about him, where you get a better indication of his character.

When we judge someone too quickly on a first date, we write them off based on first impressions like lack of physical attraction or lack of education. But people are like onions. They have layers. And some people just don’t perform well on first dates because they’re prone to jitters.

Is there such a thing as a universal turn-off?
“Interestingly enough, there is! A long time ago, we did a survey where we asked people to indicate the one thing that would really turn them off from the other person. It was an MCQ so it included things like lateness and bad dining etiquette. But overwhelmingly, singles are turned off by someone who complains about everything under the sun.”

“Some people also take our advice to find common ground way too literally and they focus the conversation on the fact that both of them are using a dating agency. They start talking about all of their dates.  And then some people start complaining about why their previous dates were not good enough, and then go on to complain about work or their exes!”

Okay, so what should we talk about when getting to know someone new?
Matchmaking is about finding shared values. But singles tend to fuss over things that are very superficial, such as how the person looks or how tall he is. We also gauge their character based on hobbies and interests. They judge others for being boring. I’m not saying that all this is wrong, just that it only touches the surface of someone’s character.

Rather than just jumping around from person to person asking ‘which movies do you like?’ or ‘what was the last holiday you went on,’  you really need to find an opportunity to go a bit deeper. Find out more about what are their goals in life, their passions, and what makes them tick. Because obviously, if you got a person who’s very into self-improvement, but other person says, ‘I’m content lying on the beach for the rest of my life’ it’s not going to gel very well.

Why do some people have a harder time finding love than others? What advice would you give to people who have been single for a long time?
A lot of singles think they’re single for a long time simply because they haven’t met the right one, but there’s more to it than that. When it comes to finding the right one, it’s not just about finding the right one but being the right one and choosing the right one. Some people find a partner after going on just three or four dates with us. Some go on over 10 and they are still searching.

That’s when we realized that there was a trend. People who find someone quickly are already the right one. They are and they choose the right one. So for us, that means simply helping them meet more people. Other singles are more challenging. They might have emotional baggage from previous relationships, certain wrong mindsets, or an attitude of complaining. That’s where we help with image and thinking.

One of the biggest complaints we hear about Singaporean guys is that they’re so passive, and yet they don’t like it when women chase them.
Okay, even if you’re not the one asking him out on a date, you can give an invitation for him to ask you out. That’s what I did with my husband. We’d met way before but at the time I was dating someone else. We met again at this Singaporean event on campus and exchanged ICQ. The next day we were messaging each other in ICQ. I just said, ‘I have not had lunch yet.’  I didn’t say ‘DO YOU WANT TO GO FOR LUNCH WITH ME?’, but rather, laid the ground to let him know that I wouldn’t reject him if he were to ask me. That was his invitation to ask me out, with me hinting that I would probably say yes.

So if there’s a movie in town, you can tell him that you really want to watch it but that none of your friends are available. This basically says, “She really wants to watch this movie and she has no one to watch it with, so chances are if I were to ask her to watch this movie with me she would say yes.”

Most guys would take the hint. If he doesn’t, he’s probably not interested so at least you can move on.

But guys also complain that the girls in Singapore are unapproachable.
That’s quite tough. I mean, how is a guy supposed to approach a group of girls and single one out?

Sometimes I advise girls not to go for events with their friends.  And if you do, try to make yourself available at some point. If you’re with a group of friends, and you decide to go to the restroom, rather than going back immediately to your girlfriends, linger a bit longer at the bar or the buffet line so that if there’s a guy who’s interested, he’ll take that opportunity come talk to you.

But the other thing I always say to guys is, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ The reason they are shy or passive is that they’re scared of rejection. If you think about it, the worst that will happen is that she will reject you and you will feel miserable for a week. But the best thing that can happen is that she ends up being the girl of your dreams and you have children together. Just by weighing the best against the worst, it makes so much more sense to just approach her.

What do men here look for in a woman?
Men are really very visual. We’ve arranged tens of thousands of dates, and the guys often say that it didn’t work because “they have no chemistry.” And we figure out further down that “no chemistry” means he’s not physically attracted to her.

Women hear this and say men are so shallow, but women are shallow in their own ways as well. Physical attraction is the first trigger point for men when they decide that they want to go on a second date. That’s why we always advise ladies to put their best foot forward for a first date.

Some ladies will say, “That’s not me, they should like me for who I am, and I shouldn’t change myself,” then I’ll be like, okay, can I set you up with a guy’s who’s 163 cm? Why don’t you want to date him? He’s very nice, and everything you’re looking for, but he’s just not the height you want!

What do women here look for in a man?
Contradictory to what people think, women here are not necessarily looking for someone who’s financially super well off. What they overwhelmingly look out for is someone who carries himself well and is confident. And in a way, if you’re confident, carry yourself well, and are driven, that will probably lead you to more financial stability in the future. So the good news is, women won’t write you off immediately because they are looking for the potential as well.

We always tell guys before they go on a first date to project confidence, because some guys tend to be a bit more shy, and don’t put their best foot forward on a date.

Is this criterion really sound? What should we be looking for in a life partner?
You need to find someone who you can communicate with on an equal level. People here think that means being of an equal level in education, but that’s not necessarily the case. Some eligible singles might be intellectual, but they didn’t have the opportunity to get a degree.

I always feel that it’s very important to find someone who’s going to be kind not just to you, but to everyone else around him. Someone who’s interested in you could fake good qualities to your face. Ultimately, good character is determined by how they treat the people around them, especially people like the waiters or those in service. How they interact with those people will give you a true reflection of what they’ll be like when they get married. We tend to treat people of “lower standing” or our family members a little bit worse. So to get an idea of who he is, look at how he treats his family, and beware of any violent relationships.

What makes a good match?
What makes a good match? Compatible values and energy. It goes deeper than things like “opposite attract.” Take my husband and myself. I’m more extroverted and he’s more introverted. When I brought him to meet colleagues, they asked what I see in him because he just didn’t talk. And when I invited him to 10th year high school reunion, he asked me if he could bring a book! I say this to illustrate to you that we’re quite different in the social sense. But it’s not because we’re so different that we get along so well. It’s because our values are very, very compatible. For example, we’re both more traditional, and we both believe a lot in self-improvement. The fact that we are very different is not the reason we are together.

Sometimes people just get confused with that, but compatibility should be found in values like life goals and passions, not just in personalities.

Lots of single people here have qualms about joining a dating agency. How would you convince them to think otherwise?
For some reason, people regard us as a last resort. They think it’s a place where desperate people go because they can’t find anyone on their own.  Ultimately, a dating agency is really just a platform to meet more people.  I’ve even had 22-year-old clients join!  You might ask why a 22-year-old needs our help, but they just needed an avenue to meet more eligible singles.

That doesn’t sound very romantic.
I tell people this: do you want to be “romantic,” and be single for the rest of your life, or be unromantic in what you think, but finally find the love of your life? I think the choice is quite obvious, even if it is kind of a tradeoff. Of course the serendipity and romantic stories happen, but I tell my clients who are hung up on romance that Hollywood scenarios are not the norm. But do you really want to wait around for that and just stay alone?

As one of our earliest couples said, love is love, it doesn’t matter whether you met the love of your life at a bus stop, at the bar or at a dating agency. Point of the matter is that you met and you’re happy together.

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