Divine intervention for the desperately singleIn the beginning was the word, and the word was with dating, and the word was dating.
For a long time, priests, monks and pastors in Korea had informally brought couples together, and they saw it was good. So good, in fact, that they’ve decided to go pro.
Churches and cathedrals have gotten serious about romance and have started offering semi-professional matchmaking services. The cathedral in Guui-dong, northern Seoul, for instance, recently launched its “Matchmaking Potential Adam and Eve” service, while Daeseong Temple in South Chungcheong province opened an online cafe for singles in February. The Korean Methodist Church started its own matchmaking program, “Joeun Mannam” (Good Meeting), in May 2004, and Bongeun Temple, in southern Seoul, has actively promoted its “go-between” program since 2002.
Most of the religious groups say they’re moving into the field of matchmaking in order to deal better with the rising divorce rate and its related increase in the number of children without parental guidance. That divorce is a common part of Korean life is now undeniable; according to the National Statistical Office, last year alone 139,365 couples, a little over 1 percent of all married persons, divorced. In addition, the average age of marriage in Korea has shot up, as young people want to rejoice in their youth, while their parents worry that their prodigal sons, or perhaps daughters, will end up permanently single.
Another reason for charging is psychological. Bongeun temple offered its service for free at first, but found that participants didn’t take it seriously. The organizers therefore decided to charge participants and limit them to five “introductions” per person.
So how does religious matchmaking help these love bums work out their dharma?
“We thought that based on their trust and belief in God, people would be able to overcome and endure small family troubles,” said Bae Gyeong-soon, an official at the Korean Methodist Church.
But perhaps the potential for success is higher because both partners share the same values. “Christians like to marry Christians,” Ms. Bae explained.
Asked the same question, Kim Dong-rye, in charge of the matchmaking program at Bongeun Temple, gave nearly the same answer: “Buddhists like to marry Buddhists.”
Bongeun’s program, however, is a little different from that of the Methodists. While both groups accept applicants from any temple or church around the country, the Methodists only accept Protestants, although Buddhists will accept Catholics (though not Protestants).
Ms. Kim pointed out the similarities between Buddhists and Catholics (though not Methodists): in Korea, both will hold rituals to respect their ancestors (known as jesa) and both use beads while praying, she said.
One mother of a son who was married through the Bongeun program said she applied on the behalf of her son because she thought it would help the families of the couple to better understand each other if they were of the same religion.
Perhaps she’s right. The woman said she enjoys a trouble-free relationship with the bride’s family and had no problems getting both to agree to have the marriage forecast by a fortuneteller, who also chose the date for the wedding.
Even with a common religious background, however, lighting the fires of passion isn’t quite as easy as lighting a lotus candle. The Methodist Good Meeting program has 500 members, but only 14 couples and five marriages this year. Ms. Bae said she tried to satisfy the conditions of both participants based on the forms they fill out, but sometimes things backfire, as in the case of one woman, who asked her how she could dare to introduce her to “such a nerd!”
One Good Meeting participant, who gave her name as “Choi Hae-na,” 27, said she had met five men so far, but most were too old and the others, well, didn’t quite fill the pew. But she’s not ready to quit.
“It’s a good program, because I can get detailed information about a man before I date him, including his family background,” she said.
For Kim Mi-sun, 35, part of the appeal of the Bongeun program was that the matchmakers weren’t in it for the money; the fee was a mere 20,000 won ($19), a pittance compared to what professional matchmakers charge.
Not that the course is any less serious: Kim Dong-rye and 10 other volunteers at the temple meet the applicants many times to get a sense of their personality. They also meet the parents and try to judge matches not just by the individual, but by the families.
The application form is suitably detailed, including not just one’s name, birthday, address, religion, hobbies, health, height, weight, job, income, education and “genetic inheritance,” but also blood type. (As most people who live in Korea know, blood type can be taken very seriously. One man who registered at Good Meeting wrote that he would prefer a woman to be either A or O, while another said he didn’t want to meet a woman who was AB.)
In addition, applicants need to submit two photos, one of their face and one of their whole body, as well as copies of their census registration, resident registration, diploma and job certificate. They must also list their conditions for potential partners, from age to education, job, personality, body type, hobbies and even property.
Don’t get carried away, though ― the longer the list, the less likely you’ll meet someone.
“If you really want to marry, you’ve got to wake up,” Ms. Bae said. “I once introduced a man who’s just 168 centimeters tall (5-foot-6) and 60 kilograms (132 pounds) to a woman who wanted to meet a man who was tall, not thin and had good personality.” The result?
“They’re to be married next month,” she said, smiling. It must have been his personality.
Ms. Kim, at Bongeun Temple, was more blunt. “I want to tell the singles who are looking for Mr. or Ms. Right, if she or he is good looking, you’ll be happy at the wedding; if they’re rich, you’ll be happy for three years, and if they have a good personality, you’ll be happy forever.”
by Park Sung-ha