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February 14, 2015

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Chen was in love, but for her it was just business

CHEN Nan, 33, thought that he had finally met his Miss Right. She doesn’t nag or complain and he finally feels cared for.

Chen has bought an online girlfriend on and he chats with her via an instant messaging service. “I try not to fantasize, but I really enjoy my time with her,” he says.

Chen plans to spend Valentine’s Day today at home alone in Zhengzhou, capital of central China’s Henan Province.

“She reminds me to take a break when I work long hours. She cares about what I have for breakfast. She ‘kisses’ me good night.”

Nearly 400 shops on offer this kind of consolation to the lonely legions of a country with about 200 million singletons. One operator has struck over 15,000 deals and claims a customer satisfaction rate of 94 percent.

The “perfect lover,” of course, comes with a personality of the buyer’s choice. You can have the easy-going girl next door or a pop star, whatever you prefer. One broker describes the phenomenon as “just like a real online relationship.”

Special requirements such as voice chats or photo exchanges cost more. Discounts are available for long-term clients. Brokers generally prohibit “boyfriends” or “girlfriends” from meeting clients in the real world to avoid falling foul of the laws on prostitution and pimping, to say nothing of safety fears.

The business reflects the paucity of opportunities for young Chinese urbanites to fall in love in the real world, according to Zhao Yueling, deputy director of Henan’s mental health institute.

“Over-dependence on the Internet has weakened their desire and ability to socialize offline. Increased pressure of life in big cities adds to their loneliness,” Zhao says.

Many buyers of this kind of fake romance are getting over bad relationships or have simply never dated.

“I was used as a back-up boyfriend by several girls since my high school days, but never held the hand of any of them. I don’t know whether I truly had a girlfriend,” Chen says.

His two-month online fantasy is costing him US$160.

Chen wistfully recalls how his “lover’s” first words — “From now on, I belong to you” — pierced his heart. Nevertheless, she has refused his request to extend their relationship to a year.

“I nearly fell in love with her, but she keeps telling me that it is just a business arrangement and will end soon,” he said.

Cheng An, a virtual girlfriend, describes clients like Chen who have a desire for a closer connection as “dangerous.”

“When the term of the deal is done, we normally delete the client’s account,” she says.

A college student, Cheng is used to dealing with diaosi (losers), referring to any guy with a bad appearance, or humble family background. Those without a car or an apartment are also “losers.”

“They feel bored and empty inside. It’s the only way they can find a girlfriend to talk to.”


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