TAIYUAN - Valentine's Day is a particularly embarrassing time for men and women who are looking for love in China, where it's considered shameful to remain single after 30.
This year, the Western holiday falls on the fifth day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, in the middle of family gatherings and feasts that often focus on gossip, including who is getting married and who is going to have a baby.
Lonely hearts are then forced to the center of the stage. Well-meaning aunts and uncles work to arrange dates that promise to ruin the rest of the holiday.
"I am either on a date or on my way to the next date" -- some have described their holiday life as such on their microblogs.
"I was forced to go on two dates during the first four days of the holiday," said Cheng Xiaonian, a female office worker in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi Province. "I was not in the mood to meet anyone, but my mom called me a weirdo, saying I was immature, unsociable and too picky."
Cheng, the only child in her family, is 29, a borderline "old maid" as far as her mother is concerned.
"I know how people will look at me and my family if I remain single, and I know precisely how my mom feels," she said. "But I'm still a green hand at my current job and I'm under heavy pressure. I don't have the time or energy for dating."
Like most of her peers, Cheng said she believes her "Mr. Right" is waiting for her somewhere. "I will meet the right person at the right time. These forced dates will not work," she said.
Despite their reluctance, it's always difficult to turn down a warm-hearted aunt's invitation to a "private chat" at a restaurant or coffee shop, only to find a complete stranger of the opposite sex, often equally uneasy, sitting there and struggling to strike up a conversation.
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