Young Vietnamese going ‘blind’ for dating

By Ngoc Ngan, Thanh Nga   January 15, 2024 | 01:14 am PT
Diep Chi took a deep breath and walked into a Hanoi café carrying a chocolate bar and a small teddy bear as gifts for a boy she had never met.

The 24-year-old from Hanoi's Thanh Xuan District was willing to participate in this particular blind date because it was part of a professional service that pairs singles with strangers at cafes.

"I'm an introvert, with not so many friends, and I don't believe in dating apps, so I want this program to help me find a boyfriend," Chi explained. "

A week beforehand, she had sent her personal information, interests, and profession to the program’s organizers. Among hundreds of applications, Chi was selected to participate in a pairing session on the evening of Dec. 28, 2023.

When she entered the care, Chi was given a blindfold and was guided to her seat across the table from a man also wearing a blindfold.

The two had 15 minutes to chat, asking about each other's personalities, the ideal traits they wanted in a partner. Chi nodded in agreement with what her candidate said, and tried to learn as much and as deeply as she could about this other person.

After a while, she felt the match wasn’t right, so she raised her hand to signal a change to another man, which is part of the game’s premise.

The man Chi then paired with was a freelancer three years older than her, currently working as a freelancer.

"He's funny," she said. Then they chatted at the cafe until 2 am. One the blindfolds were off, Chi added: "And he’s handsome."

A couple on a date playing games to connect at a pub in Hanoi, December 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nga

A couple on a date playing games to connect at a pub in Hanoi, December 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nga

Quoc Bao, 26 years old, dressed up and went to a pub on Giang Vo Street, Dong Da District, an hour early hoping to find the woman he might fall in love with. He’s been single for three years due to the nature of his work, which provides him little contact to no contact with women outside the workplace, and he, very reasonably, does not want to date within the office circle.

At this particular random matchmaking event he was attending at the pub, would-be partners played games that involved things like trivia about themselves and solving puzzles.

After a few glasses of wine, Bao became less shy and more confident with the strange girl he was paired with. After their three-hour conversation, she gave him her contact information.

"I will try my best so she can become my girlfriend," he said.

According to a survey by VnExpress, in the last two months of 2023, this model in which cafes and pubs host blind date events between strangers has become increasingly popular in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, with dozens of establishments acting as regular venues. People who want to find a partner send their personal information to the organizers, who then do their best to arrange a suitable date.

In November, Nguyen Quynh Nga, owner of a pub in Thanh Xuan District, began holding an event twice a month that he calls "Talk with Strangers."

More than 60% of participants – singles wanting to connect with other singles – are aged 18-35, according to Nga.

Registration slots usually sell out after only 5-10 minutes' notice online. Nga then closes the rest of the pub in order to receive the 20 "blind" guests, who get divided into 10 pairs. They each pay VND300,000 ($12.24) to participate, and the ticket includes a cocktail.

At another pub in Hanoi offering similar blind date nights, a staffer said that 80% of the events’ customers are 20-24 years old, with twice as many women as men.

The events at this location start with groups games, the final results of which – either high scores, or similar character traits reveled in some of the games’ answers – end up being the criteria that matches would-be partners together for their date.

Finally, the pairs are given challenges such as "name three things you want in your future lover."

The questions are intended to help players understand more about their partners – and the libations act as a social lubricant allowing the love-seekers to loosen up a bit.

"We are not sure these couples will become lovers, but 60% of the participants always say they had a happy date," the bar staff member said.

A group of young people blind-dating at a pub in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi, December 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nga

A group of young people blind-dating at a pub in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi, December 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nga

Psychologist Dao Le Tam An, from the psychology department at Ho Chi Minh City University of Education, said this form of dating is not new, but it reflects the growing need among young people to connect with suitable partners, not just those arranged for them by their families.

An said this method is similar to dating apps, using personal characteristics to suggest matches. However, blind dates are different in that two people can meet and discuss things directly, creating trust between participants. "The actual meeting is effective for most people as a starting point for a new relationship," An said.

Psychologists say that this is one way people can easily confide in strangers with reduced anxiety, because both parties have no effect on each other’s lives yet. Friendship, love, or simply an interesting, safe experience are all suitable outcomes for people trying this way of "dating."

However, An warns people not to expect too much from their first date: it is simply an opportunity to meet new people outside their social circle. If you have too many expectations on a date, it will become a burden for yourself and your partner.

"Opening your heart to receive and share is important for the date to go smoothly," An said. "You need to clearly understand your safety standards and boundaries to evaluate whether the next steps are appropriate or not."

On the evening of Dec. 28, two hours of talking to strangers at a coffee shop in Cau Giay District left Viet Anh, 32, unsatisfied.

Anh said he prefers using dating apps because he has time to learn about his partner before meeting in real life.

At this particular event, he was hesitant with the first "partner" he met. The two were silent for more than 15 minutes, staring at their phones because they didn't know what to say.

The situation is similar to what Khanh Linh, 26, experienced.

She spent nearly a million dong for a date at a luxury restaurant with a stranger. At the end of the date, Linh said the experience was a waste: she did not dare to eat, drink, or talk freely because she was too shy. She said her arranged partner at the restaurant was wearing a suit, which gave the meeting an air that was too serious for Linh. After nearly an hour, she excused herself to leave because she "had urgent business to attend to."

"Maybe dating someone I know first will make me more confident," Linh sighed. "I'm not good at confiding in strangers."

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