Wendy Tse, 32
Founder of matchmaking agency Society W
What do you do?
A lot of people think matchmaking services are similar to dating services, but they're actually different. Dating services tend to be: you have a pool of people who've all signed up, and [the service] just [finds] matches within the pool. For matchmaking services, we actually hunt for matches [on the street]. We're constantly scouting for people.
How do people usually react when you 'headhunt' them?
It ranges from being extremely scared – that I may be trying to sell them some kind of insurance – to being very open. A lot of them are happy to join the database, come in for interviews and stuff like that. There'll always be a handful of people that don’t want to take your card, they'll hand it back to you and run away. Men… they try to keep contact to a minimum.
When you match a couple what's the main thing that you look for?
A lot of it is based on values. Of course, there must be a level of physical attraction. I don't have one fixed method of matchmaking people. We listen a lot to what our clients want. We talk about their previous relationships, why it ended, and we ask for photos of ex-partners to see if there are any patterns or trends.
What is the strangest request you've received?
So many! There was a girl who said she only wants to date a guy who's a virgin. That's tough for us – we don't really go round asking everyone if they're virgins! And most men, even if they're virgins they're not going to tell us. Then there was once a guy who told me he wanted a woman with an Achilles tendon that sticks out. He just finds it sexy. I guess there's a fetish for that.
What's your favourite success story?
It's always the ones where the client tells us I only want a person like this, and we send them on dates with all the people that fit that description, even though in our hearts were like, this is not what's right for you. We let them go on four, five of these and say, 'Are you going to listen to me about what’s right for you?' They'll be like, 'No I don't want to date someone who's not my religion or someone who's not my ethnicity'. Over the years they imagine that this is the rule they must follow because it's what they want. And so the best stories are the ones where we convince them to go on one date that we picked and then, done. [It'll be] someone they said they didn't want but then it works out.
Would you say that the dating scene here is quite male-centric?
No, actually it's the opposite: a lot of women want to sign up because women feel the pressure of the biological clock. The only time men start to freak out and sign up is when they're in their late 40s. We have a lot of men who sign up before that age but they're not panicking. They're like, 'I have no time, I don't meet new people.' For investment bankers and corporate lawyers, they're working all the time. So we get a lot men like that, but the demand is slightly higher from women.
Why do you think matchmaking here hasn’t taken off as much as it has in places like New York?
Well, part of the reason is because matchmaking in Singapore has always been [seen as] a government initiative. So that adds to the stigma, right? It's a lot cooler now, and with Tinder and people getting more comfortable using dating apps, it's going to get easier for people to embrace matchmaking and to be open about it. When I first started four years ago there wasn't a single person who told me that they would go about telling their friends that they [were match-made]. Now they're like, 'Yeah, I'll tell my girlfriend, I'll refer friends, I'll tell my family.'
Do you find it hard to match people that are over a certain age?
For men, beyond a certain age, all the good girls don't want you anymore because you have such a bad reputation. This is why they say if a guy reaches 39 and he's never come close to getting married, they'll probably never get married. So that's why when we match-make, if the girl is slightly older, let's say 38 to 40, and she says, 'I don’t want someone who’s been divorced', I say 'I don't think that's a good idea because the guys who have never been married are very set in their ways.' There was this one client, I think he was 49 and he wants a super hot [woman]. Her body must be super slim. He's Caucasian and he kept telling us that everybody tells him that he looks like this movie star. We suffered trying to matchmake him because every girl we matched him with wasn't good enough!
Who would you say was more demanding: men or women?
For both genders you have outliers who are just ridiculous, and that is when we typically say we won't take them on. It sounds bad but people need to hear it: 'This is why you're single, because you think that this person exists! This person doesn't exist. There may be one in all of Singapore, Hong Kong plus Malaysia, but this guy is not going to go for you. You are a normal person. The guy you described is like whoa, he's good looking, successful, wants a family, has time for you, yet he makes millions of dollars every year. What makes you think that this guy would date you?' – Interview by Andrea Cheong