Marriage Arrangement Goes CyberSome 363,000 marriages took place last year, the lowest of any year in the 1990s, according to a recent demographics report by the National Statistical Office. Although the total number of marriages has gone down, the earnestness of those ready to take the plunge, estimated at some 4.5 million, has not abated.
A generation ago many eligible men and women may have turned to matchmakers, or marriage brokers, to find their suitors. Today, those looking for lifetime partners have more options; in addition to casual meetings, there is the usual blind date where much rides on the whims of person setting up the meeting. In the increasingly digitalized world, however, some people leave very little to chance, turning to computers to find the ideal partner.
People who decide to take the scientific route can sign up with one of the hundred or so computer dating services currently available. At Duo, a major computer dating service, members pay 585,000 won for 12 introductions. The five-year-old company currently has over 30,000 members seeking spouses.
"We define eligible women as those in the 27-29 year-old group, while 28-32 year-old men are considered prime candidates for marriage," said Lee Sang-ho, a Duo official. Because its members are serious about getting married, most tend to be at the older end of those spectrums.
"We estimate that we have a success rate of 15-18 percent," said Lee Sang-ho, a Duo official. That hit ratio is attributed to Duo Matching System, a search engine developed three years ago. Each member is profiled on 150 categories to find the closest possible match, according to Lee. "Our members vary greatly in their needs. We have set up specific groups, such as those seeking remarriage, women above the age of 32 and professionals who we group under the "VIP" club label to meet their specific requirements," explained Lee.
However, not everything is left up to computers and databases. Acting as a go-between, a "couple manager" is assigned to each prospective couple, handling the details of each meeting, such as setting up dates and getting feedback after the date.
That human touch is essential to a successful meeting, and can hopefully lead to a marriage. "50 percent of our work is first done by the computer matching system which screens the candidates. The remaining 50 percent requires the careful attention of professional counselors," said Lee Hyun-jung from Echorus, the computer dating firm which pioneered the market in 1986.
Thirty counselors advise some 20,000 members who pay 495,000 won for 14 rounds of meetings. "I would say experienced counselors are key to our success," said Lee. Indeed, matchmaking has always been an art, not an exact science, relying on the experience, sensibility and wisdom of the matchmaker.
While the hit ratio of slightly under 20 percent seems impressive in an industry based on the successful tie-up of two complete strangers' lives, 80 percent of those who sign up with the expectation of meeting mates are in for disappointments.
"Career and background-wise, they seemed impeccable. But their personalities left much to be desired," said a 33 year-old professional woman, whose mother had signed her up at a computer dating service. After meeting four candidates, she called it quits. "They appeared desperate; too desperate to get married," she recalled. Yet, she is willing to try other dating services, keeping her fingers crossed that the combination of computers and counselors will find her the ideal mate.
For those who desire casual dates rather than spouses, computer dating services also offer limited memberships. At Duo, for example, members can choose to have their pictures and profiles available on both the fixed-line and wireless Internet. Looking through the database, members can send e-mails to arrange meetings. "The service is catching on quickly with college-age members, who just look at it as another way to broaden their circle of acquaintances," explained Duo's Lee.
by Hoo-ran Kim