“Online Dating For 17 Years… And I ’m Still Single”

Zeng han ting, 42, is smart, sassy and has spent almost two decades trying to find the one.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Zeng han ting, 42, is smart, sassy and has spent almost two decades trying to find the one.

My Reading Room

After working and studying in London for three and a half years, I returned to Singapore in 1998, aged 25. Young and single, I was ready to meet someone. I had a limited social life back in the UK – my colleagues were attached or married, and my Asian friends had gone home to their respective countries – so I spent many weekends by myself. But I wanted to change that. Online dating was coming into fashion, and I was excited about giving this new avenue a shot. A friend introduced me to dating site Asia Friend finder, which connects Asian singles online for US$50 a month. It wasn’t cheap, but I  figured it was a worthy investment.

A pioneer in online dating

Being one of the first among my friends to try online dating, I felt like a trailblazer! I’m pretty confident, so I was comfortable with posting a selfle and personal profile explaining who I was and what I was looking for. I can be picky, and having studied abroad, I saw myself as independent and well-travelled. I wanted someone with a global mindset, preferably an American-born Chinese (ABC) who should not be more than five years older. He had to have a decent education, with at least a diploma. I didn’t mind taking the initiative to message guys I was interested in, asking about their hobbies or profiles. I got responses 60 per cent of the time. When guys messaged me, I’d only respond to those who asked about my interests – travelling, reading and cooking. I usually ignored the ones who started with ‘Hi, you’re really pretty. Can we be friends?’ because they sounded generic and began with too little effort! After connecting on the site, we’d usually continue chatting on other platforms such as ICQ (an instantmessaging service) before arranging to meet up – I met about 80 per cent of those I talked to. First dates usually involved getting to know each other over a meal. If it worked out, we might arrange subsequent dates; otherwise the interactions just fizzled.

Falling below expectations

Of the first few men I went on dates with, a San Francisco-based Chinese guy came closest to my criteria. We chatted for six months before meeting up in San Francisco for a meal when I was en route to Mexico for a holiday. I felt a connection. Although we lived miles apart, it wasn’t an issue because I was cool with the idea of relocation if it came to that. But midway, he told me rather bluntly that he preferred slimmer girls. We didn’t keep in touch after that. Subsequently, I met other men who were very specific about appearance – and their criteria tended to be ‘tall, slim and with long hair’. At 1.63m, with short hair and a hint of chubbiness, I definitely did not fit the bill. Frustrated, I posted a dating ad on Craigslist (a classfieds website with a personals section) declaring that I didn’t look or behave like the stereotypical Asian woman. I’m not submissive; I am strong-willed. I’m not self-centred; I’m independent; I’m not meek; I know what I want. The message I wanted to get across was: ‘If you’re up for the challenge, great. Otherwise, let’s not waste time.’

The one who got away

Surprisingly, a guy who responded really stood out. He was an expat here, three years younger, intelligent, into art, books and animals, and we shared great banter. For two months, we saw each other twice or thrice a week, going for walks at Ang Mo Kio-Bishan Park, watching movies and meeting for lunch and after work. We were dating exclusively and it felt like it was going somewhere. We shared the same relationship goals – we weren’t dating ‘just to have fun’. That was until he completely ghosted me. I texted him a few times, but he never replied, so I got the hint fast. I was upset, but I backed off to maintain some pride.

Dating over the years

I picked myself up and continued dating online. I had a particularly memorable date with an architect from Detroit who was in town for an event. We chatted in a bar until it closed, then continued the conversation in his hotel room until the wee hours. It didn’t work out, but we became good friends. I even went to his wedding years later. Ironically, I made several good male friends in my quest for true love! As for those who didn’t work out at all, there was an arrogant and self-absorbed Kiwi who went on about his ex, was dismissive about my job in package design, and tried to psychoanalyse me based on my dating experiences. I walked out halfway through the date. I widened my options to offline events. I hate the idea of meeting people in loud bars, but I did try speed dating, though it always felt like I was conducting weird, one-sided interviews. Friends respected me too much to set me up with someone, so I signed up with a local dating agency – but it couldn’t find me any matches! My mum introduced me to a friend’s son, but it was the most boring date ever. He talked about telegraphic transfers (like I cared!), and when I asked what books he read, he looked at me blankly before blurting out: ‘Huh, you mean storybooks ah?’ Who refers to them as storybooks?!

Feeling defeated

By the time I was 39, I was still single, never attached, and quite frankly, a little desperate. I’d been on more than 90 dates online and offline, with only five to seven men being real potentials. My close friends were married with kids; even the singles had formed cliques during the years I’d spent working in Bangkok. While smartphones and apps have made Internet dating a breeze – I no longer have to wait till I’m home and in front of the computer to check e-mails – I now stick to Tinder and one website, http://personals.hk, because you tend to see the same few people on a platform after a while. It’s harder than ever to meet decent guys, thanks to cyberscammers. On average, three out of 10 guys who contact me seem suspicious – for example, they’re too eager to share personal details, volunteer many selfies or are always travelling. I’ve never been cheated on, but it does feel sucky to chat with someone only to discover I’ve wasted my time with a potential conman.

Personally, I get a kick out of unmasking their deception. There are moments when I feel demoralised that I haven’t found anyone, but I distract myself by learning new skills, which boosts my self-esteem. I’ve picked up boxing, cycling, art and even writing Chinese poetry in the wake of all my failed dating attempts. I’ve considered the possibility of meeting someone through my hobbies, but somehow it just never happened. After all these years, I’ve considered whether I am the problem. I’m outspoken and independent, but is that a bad thing? Friends have suggested I be less opinionated, slow down (by going on fewer adventures) and try to look more feminine. Growing up, I was influenced by my feminist mum, who believes ability is more important than looks, so it only recently hit me that I should try harder when it comes to my appearance. But I draw the line at changing my lifestyle or personality to find a man. I have lowered my expectations over the past few months. Now, I just wish for a pleasant date. My new approach? Finding a food buddy – to accompany me while I satisfy my craving for, say, Korean fried chicken – instead of hoping for a whirlwind romance.

Not putting my life on hold

People tell me I try too hard, but if I’m single at 80, I want to know I gave love a good shot. In the meantime, I live life to the full, work out to stay in shape, and travel. Despite the setbacks, I’ve grown more confident and know I’ve still got it – I can tell from men’s positive and complimentary reactions to me. Ultimately, I don’t believe women need men to complete their lives. If the right person comes along, he should complement what I already have. I believe that if I remain patient and openminded about meeting the right person, my time will come.

My Reading Room
Zeng Han Ting, 42

I am… founder of a co-working art space; worldly and well-travelled; fond of reading, travelling, Chinese poetry, pets, cooking, cycling and walking. My perfect match is… a cat lover; non-smoker; an eco-friendly person; a man who takes care of his body, is passionate about life and naturally witty, and appreciates a good read.

Q&A with Han Ting
❶ How many sites have you signed up with?

Currently just two platforms – http://personals.hk and Tinder.

❷ How often do you log in to the various platforms?

Four to five times a week on Tinder, and once a week (when I receive a message) on http://personals.hk.

❸ How often do you make the first move to chat up a guy?

About 70 per cent of the time.

❹ Of those who contacted you, how many have you replied to?

Perhaps 200, but I met up with less than half of them.

❺ What do you usually talk about during dates?

Holiday experiences, books we’ve read, restaurants, food and animals…

❻ What is your date attire?

For after-work drinks, I’ll dress up, selecting colours and styles that are more feminine. For something casual like weekend brunch, I’ll go with shorts and a ladylike top.

❼ Of the 90 people you’ve gone out with in the past 17 years, how many have you had subsequent dates with? About 12.

We ask Violet Lim, founder of matchmaking agency Lunch Actually, to help Han Ting up her chances of finding love.
Profile photo

“Use a portrait of yourself as your primary pic, and put up photos with your cat as secondary pictures – even if you are looking for a cat-loving partner. It’s good to vary the types of shots (closeup or half-body) and settings (on holiday, playing sports and so on) to give potential dates a better sense of who you are.”

Conversation etiquette

“Keep it up with the emojis – they’re a good way to share your emotions. But avoid using overly short sentences punctuated full stops as they can come across as curt.”

First-date attire

“Consider wearing dresses or skirts, and a touch of makeup. This helps you to look fresh and chic, while accentuating your best features.”

Online dating

“Dating is a numbers game, so you should cast your net wider by trying more dating platforms. For websites, you could opt for Lunchclick, eSynchrony, OKCupid and eHarmony, which attract serious-minded singles, and focus more on compatibility rather than first impressions. Also think about participating in social events or interest groups – for instance, those for cat lovers.”

Dating expectations

“While you prefer to date ABCs who are more likely to have a global mindset, keep an open mind and widen your dating preferences – especially if what you’ve been doing has been futile. Very often, the one for us comes in a package we least expect.”