Until this time last year, Su Yunmin met twice a month with three friends she's known since kindergarten, just like the four characters in the popular US television series Mistresses.
Now, though, the frequency of their gatherings has fallen to once every other month because Su, an assistant manager at a real estate company in Changchun, Jilin province, has told her friends that she's extremely busy at work.
However, that was just an excuse. The real reason she has cut back on meeting her married friends is that as a single 30-something woman, Su was bored with their habitual topics of conversation: their children and their mothers-in-law.
"Every time they were in high spirits－for example, discussing which of them has the worst mother-in-law－and I interjected a few words, they would suddenly remember my single existence and make statements designed to scare me, including telling me that I will have to marry an old, divorced guy with children if I don't find a boyfriend soon," she said.
"Every time I came back from those gatherings, I would see my illusions like a withered rose in the mirror. I'm not bad looking, I have a stable job and a comparatively good income, so why am I still alone? I often ask myself that question.
"I usually volunteer to work during holidays because it's really embarrassing for this 'old single woman' to have to face so many relatives, especially during the Lunar New Year."
Su may be single, but she certainly isn't alone. She's just one of the tens of thousands of single people in China who are having difficulty finding a spouse.
Not only is Nov 11 China's biggest day for online shopping－"Double 11" for large-margin discounts－but it's also Singles' Day, when countless singles pledge to find the love of their life.
Mass blind date
The theme for Singles' Day this year is finding a partner, because in Chinese the numbers2014, or er, ling, yi, si, can be pronounced to mean, "Love you my whole life".
A number of private and public activities to help singles find spouses and partners have been organised by relatives, friends, companies, communities, schools, and even government departments.
On Saturday, 10 universities in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province, held their annual mass blind date for unmarried students, especially postgraduates and people with doctorates. This is the 11th year the event has been held.
Online forums have been buzzing with posts inviting singles to spend the day together, and Baidu Tieba, a popular online forum, has been inundated with ads from people looking for, or even selling, their company on the big day.
One poster, who advertised his services for the entire day, posted a price list that included 15 yuan ($2.45) per hour for walking together in public, and 12 yuan an hour to accompany his "date" on a shopping trip.
Fang Haotao, who works for a business magazine in Beijing, hasn't had a girlfriend for four years and is desperate to lose his single status.
"I felt a strong antipathy to blind dates, so I stopped going on them. Now I think they may help me. Maybe my parents are right when they say that I idealize love too much. Sometimes I regret not following up with several girls I met on blind dates. They were pretty good," the 32-year-old said.
A report on the status of marriage in the northeastern municipality of Tianjin, published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in September, included a survey of 1,336 single people. Men accounted for 46.33 per cent of the respondents.
According to the survey, the "golden age" for men to search for a soul mate is 30 to 34 years, and they prefer women aged 24 to 36.Within these age groups, women out number men by two to one.
However, the golden age is far younger for women, who tend to be 20 to 24, and their preferred age range for males is 20 to 30. In this group, men outnumber women by 11 to 1.2, giving the women a wide scope for selection.
Respondents said the prime age for women to become embarrassed about being single is between 25and29, when urban females usually have more mature personalities, stable jobs and good incomes.
Women in this group prefer men four or five years older than themselves, who can meet their demand for higher incomes and mature personalities. The downside for these women is that very few males in the city fit the criteria.
The differences in expectations between men and women also greatly reduce the chances of meeting a suitable partner. Wang Jun, manager of the Beijing Weiqing Marriage Consultancy, who has worked in the field for more than two decades, said physical appearance is still the top priority for men, followed by career choice and family background. For women, a man must have a stable job and a good personality above everything else.
"I have met so many single men who complain that girls are too materialistic nowadays, but the truth is that only a tiny percentage of females really consider property to be the major requirement. Usually, that's the fault of their parents, who set the bar too high when looking for a son-in-law, "Wang said.
"Singles should keep in mind that a happy marriage is based on solid feelings, and they should make a decision based on their own happiness, not that of their parents. Of course, they should take the advice their parents offer into consideration, but it's not compulsory to act on it. Parents also need to rethink their roles and not interfere too much."
The three top reasons people use to explain why they are single are: unsuitable suitors; long working hours; and a narrow social circle.
Wang said many single people complain that they spent their "golden age" studying and taking exams to further their careers, but having found a stable job, they realise they've missed the best age to find love.
"People need to better manage their time, and try to balance work and love. Earning a lot of money or occupying an important position in a company don't really equate to success－a happy marriage and a family are also important, perhaps the most important things in life," she added.
She suggested that men should start searching in earnest when they are 25, while women should be about 23 when they embark on their quest for the perfect partner.
Fang Haotao, the Beijing magazine worker, has decided he needs to be more proactive if he is to find a partner. However, the long years of being single have dented his confidence, and he isn't hopeful of resolving his problem anytime soon.
"Last month, I started going on blind dates again. I met three women, but the dates weren't successful. My chances of bidding farewell to my single life this year look very slim, but I'm still looking," he said with a sigh.