by Laura Lucas
In their quest for love, Singaporean singles have enlisted the help of an unusual matchmakertheir government.
While Americans are busy cozying up to their computers searching for love, single people in Singapore have an even less likely tool at their disposal: a government matchmaking service.
The Social Development Unit (SDU), a government service within Singapore's Ministry of Finance, matches educated singles through activities, computer dating, and social gatherings. Its mission: to make marriage an attractive option for singles with college degrees.
The SDU method for getting singles together includes offering self-improvement courses, bringing young people to popular restaurants for exclusive parties, and setting them up for dates via individualized computer matchmaking. The courses for the educated singles run the gamut from dating and social advice such as "CourtshipGetting on Board and Sailing Smoothly" to regular instruction on how to be a good mate with "Baking Treats: 1) Luscious Chocolatey Oatmeal Cookies; 2) Banana Cake." Outings include diving, ice skating, and nature walks. Other courses offered include charcoal painting or how to buy a good secondhand car. The end result of all these activities should be to find a soul mate, but a popular nickname for the service may, for some, signify its true target audience: Single, Desperate, and Ugly.
For Americans, the government's interference in citizens' personal lives is alarming. For Singaporeans, it's fairly normal. In a country where the government imposes hefty fines for not flushing a public toilet, littering, and chewing gum, it's no surprise that the government has stepped into Singapore's dating scene. One Singaporean joke goes like this: "Put two Englishmen with a beautiful woman on a deserted island, and they will fight for her. Put two Frenchmen with a beautiful woman on the island, and they will share her. Put two Singaporean men with a beautiful woman on the same island, and they will wait for the government to tell them what to do."
In addition to helping hapless singles decipher modern mating rituals, the SDU promotes eugenics. The self-proclaimed function of this government entity is to unite well-educated women with well-educated men in order to populate the country with more intelligent offspring. The SDU Web site advertises its exclusive nature: "You can be assured that all our members are eligible single graduates." If less educated singles apply for membership, they're turned away. In fact, another agency called Social Development Services caters exclusively to less educated singles; it's available to anyone who has completed only high school or its equivalent.
What is the SDU's success rate? Since its formation in 1984, more than 14,500 members have tied the knot after meeting through the service. According to the SDU Web site, the percentage of graduate grooms married to graduate brides in Singapore has increased from 40 percent in 1984 to 61 percent in 1996--with some help from the SDU.
Because the SDU is a government program and not just a private matchmaking service, political motivations to make it appear effective may skew the statistics. Therefore, the actual success rate for the matchmaking service is debatable, as is its popularity. But to those who are "single, desperate, and ugly," and even to those who aren't, the SDU offers a dating service with power behind it. Even if that power is the government.
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