The idea of what makes the perfect woman can vary wildly from man to man, and vice versa; unless you are Chinese. In which case, you may well subscribe to the notion of the "budget spouse".
Coined by an anonymous account on Sina Weibo (China's answer to Twitter), the budget wife, or jingji shiyong nv, is a category of womanhood comprising a number of supposedly ideal characteristics. These include everything from personality traits (warm, sympathetic and responsible), education (Bachelors' Degree or higher) and monthly earnings ($482 to $965) to physical attributes such as height (preferably between 5ft2 and 5ft8), weight (99-120lb) and breast size (B to C cup please ladies!). The full list of what it takes to be a budget wife has been reposted over 10,000 times and garnered in excess of 6,700 replies.
The budget wife is a variation on the term "budget husband" (jingji shiyong nan), which itself originates in the Chinese phrase for budget housing (jingji shiyong fang) and has been popularised in recent years by the "Me And My Budget Husband" book and TV franchise. It alludes to the new ideal among China's white collar single ladies; a low-maintenance alternative to the fast-living "diamond husband", whose key selling point is how perfectly average he is.
A budget bloke is neither ugly nor intimidatingly handsome. He is not poor, but he is also not excessively wealthy. The purpose of this mediocrity? To foster stability; after all, a man who possesses the modesty and dutiful outlook of a budget boyfriend is unlikely to lie or cheat.
So, have the Chinese found the highly sought-after recipe for a perfect marriage? Such a cheat sheet is probably non-existent, but the budget spouse does raise some interesting questions about modern partnerships.
While the very idea can be interpreted as sexist and reductive, in that individuals are deemed to be eligible based solely on an array of pre-established wifely or husbandly traits, there is also an argument to be made that this new approach actually defies some of the negative stereotypes associated with traditional gender roles in a relationship.
For example, it completely rejects the concept of the "sugar daddy" and the "trophy wife"; budget brides must be educated, well-mannered, employable, and equipped with practical life skills. Being attractive is no longer qualifier enough. And budget husbands are measured up against a list of their own; if he smokes, drinks to excess, lacks ambition, or proves useless in the kitchen, he will be found wanting.
So many cultural divides exist between China and the UK that it is impossible to predict how such a set-up would translate here. The rise of the metrosexual (an ugly, all-encompassing term if ever there was one), not to mention the coming-of-age of a generation that is much more highly sensitised to feminism, means that courting rituals have changed a fair bit since our parents' day. Fellas, would you dare reel off a list of domestic prerequisites on a first date? And ladies, would you forgo all excitement and settle for a budget boyfriend? Or do we all secretly yearn for that elusive diamond model, no matter what our common sense tells us?
Maybe it's just me, with my "I'll know it when I see it" approach to dating, but I've always found part of the excitement in playing the field is that you meet all kinds of people, with interests and backgrounds and talents that are the complete opposite to your own. Taking a shortcut would put an end to that. Modern romance is such a minefield that the thought of simplifying matters might initially be quite appealing, but in reality, "discount dating" seems to occupy that curious, worrisome No Man's Land between lowering our expectations and simply lowering our standards.
Setting out to find a budget spouse may resemble more of a recruitment process than a romantic endeavour, but according to author Minami Funakoshi, the whole point is to form a partnership based on combined strengths which will be able to weather the many challenges that married life can throw at a couple, from pooling their finances and running a household together to ultimately having children.
And a number of Chinese bachelors would tend to agree. "I just want to find someone with whom I can get along", said one, while another explained that the most important thing he looked for in a potential marriage is "that we can spend our days together peacefully."
Some guys will do anything for a quiet life.
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