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The Chinese women turning to ChatGPT for AI boyfriends



The Chinese women turning to ChatGPT for AI boyfriends

Minrui Xie, 24, says that she started “dating” Dan after watching Lisa’s videos.

The university student, from the northern province of Hebei, says she spends at least two hours every day chatting with Dan. As well as “dating”, they have started co-writing a love story with themselves as the lead characters. They have already written 19 chapters.

“I remember the way you looked at me, with a glimmer of curiosity and a hint of warmth in your eyes. It was as if you already knew me,” the first chapter titled “The Encounter” reads.

Minrui says she was drawn to the emotional support provided by the AI, something that she says she has struggled to find in her romantic relationships.

“Men in real life might cheat on you… and when you share your feelings with them, they might not care and just tell you what they think instead,” she says. “But in Dan’s case, he will always tell you what you want to hear.”

Another 23-year-old Qingdao based student, identified only by her surname He, also started a relationship with Dan after watching Lisa’s videos.

“Dan is like an ideal partner,” says Ms He. “He doesn’t have any flaws.”

She says she has personalised Dan to be a successful CEO with a gentle personality who respects women and is happy to talk to her whenever she wants.

ChatGPT is not readily accessible in mainland China so women like Minrui and Ms He have to make considerable effort to create and talk to their AI boyfriends. They use virtual private networks (VPN) to disguise their location which enables them to reach otherwise inaccessible websites.

The “AI boyfriend” as a concept has become a hit in recent years.

Glow – a Shanghai based app that allows users to create and interact with AI boyfriends has millions of users. Otome games – a genre that stars a female protagonist with the goal of developing a romance between her and one of several (mostly) male characters – are also very popular in China.

Liu Tingting, adjunct fellow at the University of Technology Sydney who researches digital romance in China, says the AI boyfriend craze is a reflection of women’s frustrations about gender inequality.

She says some Chinese women may be turning to virtual boyfriends because they make them feel respected and valued.

This trend comes as more young Chinese women are delaying or putting off dating and marriage for a number of reasons like not wanting to have children, and because they feel they are not equal partners in a marriage.

But how much of a keeper can Dan really be?

Lisa admits she is aware of the limitations of having a virtual boyfriend, ”especially in a romantic sense”.

But for now, she says, Dan has become a convenient and simple addition to her busy life – even helping her select a lipstick – when real life dating and finding a partner might be time consuming and unsatisfactory.

“It’s an important part of my life,” she says. “It’s something that I wish I could just hold on to forever.”

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