Vietnamese parents play matchmakers during Tet celebrations

By Quynh Nguyen   February 12, 2024 | 01:41 am PT
During the week-long Tet Lunar New Year holiday, Hoang Ninh, 27, from the northern Bac Giang province, was arranged by her parents to have three matchmaking meetings at home.

On normal days, she could have excused herself as being sick or on a business trip to avoid meeting and exchanging contact details with these unfamiliar men. However, staying at home during the Tet holiday, which lasts from Feb. 8-14, 2024, forced Ninh to comply.

After the matchmaking sessions, her mother went on urging her to take the initiative to text the men she met, all of whom had stable jobs, good looks, and came from reputable families.

"My precious holiday days turned into awkward meetings," said Ninh. "I didn’t want to open up [to the men] if forced, so I only planned to meet them once."

Ninh on a coffee outing with friends in Hanoi in early-2024. Photo courtesy of Ninh

Hoang Ninh on a coffee outing with friends in Hanoi in early-2024. Photo courtesy of Ninh

Many single youths in Vietnam could not escape similar matchmaking sessions arranged by their families who they came to visit during the Lunar New Year.

Since turning 30, Nhat Anh from the northern province of Nghe An, who is working as a technician in Ho Chi Minh City, has been constantly set up by his parents and relatives whenever he returns home.

Over Tet 2023, he was tasked with taking his mother to offer Tet greetings. Every family they visited had unmarried daughters between two and five years younger than him.

Besides feeling embarrassed, Anh said many of the introduced women were not compatible with his personality, lifestyle, or educational level. He thus chose not to contact them afterwards to avoid wasting both parties’ time.

"Even if we matched in every way, if she worked in Nghe An, I still refused because I could not give up my career [in Ho Chi Minh City] to move back home," he said. "And it was uncertain if she would agree to move to Ho Chi Minh City with me."

This is also why he prefers to find a woman who worked in the same field in Ho Chi Minh City and with similar life views for marriage, rather than following his parents’ arrangements.

Ninh and Anh are among the 31% of people who dislike being set up, according to a recent VnExpress survey. Only 20% of survey participants see it as an opportunity to find a life partner.

According to Vu Thu Huong, former lecturer at Hanoi National University of Education, the phenomenon of "being set up" is quite common, stemming from parents’ anxiety about their unmarried children, especially in the context of the increasing rate of single people in Vietnam.

Statistics from the General Statistics Office show that the average age for people to marry for the first time in Vietnam in 2021 was 26.2, 0.5 years higher than that in 2020. The figure was 26.9 years by 2022.

Experts predict that by 2034, there will be 1.5 million men facing the risk of not being able to find a wife, and by 2050, the number will rise to 4 million.

Afraid that her son would "remain single forever," Anh’s 65-year-old mother Kim Ly actively sought a daughter-in-law.

She also repeatedly confided and persuaded Anh to find a girlfriend, but to no avail. Seeing Tet as a suitable time, Ly and her husband made a list of families with unmarried daughters in the village to connect in advance.

"Sneakily arranging matches for my son is not joyful," she said. "But I have to try because if he is left to his own devices, he might still be single at 40-50 years old, while we parents are getting older."

Psychologist Nguyen Thi Minh, a lecturer at the National Academy of Public Administration in Ho Chi Minh City, said that the phenomenon of being urged to marry and start a family is not new, and was even harsher in previous generations.

However, as young people become more proactive and independent, influenced by exposure to cultural elements from other countries, the urging from parents and those around them is seen as outdated and backward.

Experts believe that young people today face more pressure as unemployment rates rise while daily expenses increase. Many among them are also forced to work overtime, leaving them wishing for time to rest and recover energy instead of being forced into matchmaking.

"In many cases, young people may develop feelings of discomfort, stress, fatigue, conflict with relatives, or reluctance to return home for Tet," said Huong.

Dr. Nguyen Duc Loc, founder and head of the Social Life Research Institute, said that the tendency to avoid Tet has been common among young people in the past five years. Though there is no specific survey on this phenomenon yet, the expert believes it often affects young people over 25.

"This is the age that starts to be affected by expectations about marriage, incomes, and other economic pressure whenever Tet approaches," he said, "causing them to feel fearful and seek ways to avoid the entire holiday."

Ninh has gotten exhausted and is now looking for every excuse to escape after being constantly arranged matchmaking sessions at home. She finds reasons to not be at home from morning until late at night, waiting until the Tet holiday ends so that she could return to Hanoi.

Tired of constantly going on arranged dates, Anh shared his thoughts with his mother. But instead of receiving empathy, he ended up arguing with her.

"My mother was mad when I refused to marry and told her I would not come home [if she kept doing so]," he said. "After a year of working, I hoped to return home to have a rest, but I had to think of a thousand ways to avoid matchmaking until I was exhausted."

Having been in a similar situation, Thanh Tam, 29, from the northern Thanh Hoa Province, chose to travel during Tet 2024 instead of returning to her hometown. This gave Tam more time for herself. She told her parents that she would eventually marry but had not yet found the right person.

To prevent young people fearing returning home or conflicting with their parents, Huong advises families to consider suitable "matchmaking" methods.

Parents should openly express their desire to introduce a young man or woman to their children but always respect their children’s decisions.

Meanwhile, he said that young people should actively communicate and express their thoughts to their parents instead of maintaining a negative attitude because parents only want the best for their children.

"Matchmaking is not bad but needs to be done at the right time and under the right circumstances," Huong said. "There’s nothing more complete than being reunited with family on the first days of the new year and luckily finding a life partner."

Ngoc Linh, 27, from the northern city of Hai Phong, recently married to a man three years her senior she met through her parents. Finding many common points and compatibility in their personalities, the two got married after eight months of getting to know each other.

"I am lucky to have found someone suitable," Linh said. "Knowing each other’s families beforehand made everything - from getting to know each other and meeting parents, to getting married - easier."

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