Guo Xiao, a 34-year-old single woman working as a mid-level manager in a Beijing branch of a foreign bank, is philosophical about turning down dates. Having passed the "best marriageable age" for city women, conventionally recognized between 25 to 30 years old, Guo refuses to rush into marriage. "Marrying 'Mr Wrong' is even worse than being single," she says.
Unwed women, such as Guo, are labeled in China today as "3S women" - single, 70s, and stuck. They were generally born in the 1970s, are well educated and have decent jobs.
In her early 20s, Guo was an accountant in a bank in Jiangsu province, focusing her whole time and energy on her career. "I barely stopped to see a movie, let alone get involved in a relationship," says Guo.
Many women put relationships on the backburner while they develop their careers.
Sociologist Xu Anqi, of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, notices that against the backdrop of China's progressing urbanization, the growing single population is the result of more time spent on education and career.
Guo was a workaholic before one day, when she was 26, she fell head over heels in love with a middle-aged photographer. "Talented, smart and wild - he had everything I admired," Guo recalls.
The two-year romance ended in tears. "He couldn't promise me a marriage and had no intention of settling down," says Guo. "I met the wrong person at the right time."
To get over the heartbreak, Guo went to Australia to pursue her studies. When she earned her master's degree of financial management from Sydney University in 2003, Guo returned to China and secured a position as a senior accountant in a British industrial designing company in Beijing.
Guo's parents started to nag her about marriage and even resorted to matchmakers. But their efforts were in vain. "I wouldn't compromise by marrying a guy I didn't like," she says.
The number of single women like Guo, who are well educated and in well-paid jobs, is on the rise. A nationwide survey conducted by Shanghai Municipal Statistics Bureau in 2007 suggested that more than 60 percent of the 500,000 single people aged 30 to 50 in Beijing are women. In Guangzhou, the proportion is 70 percent.
Many of Guo's friends of her age are also unmarried career women. "Stressful work, an increasing divorce rate - there are many reasons leading career women live on their own," she says.
On top of that, Chinese men are reluctant to marry more mature women.
A survey conducted by Beijing Normal University in 2006 showed about 65 percent of male respondents believed 25-year-old women were desirable for marriage, while only 12.5 percent said they could accept women over the age of 35 as wives.
As a result, a huge number of that age group - many are "S3 women" - remain single.
Recently, the degrading term of "sheng nu", which literally means "leftover women", has been created to refer to the "3S women" as though there were something morally wrong with them.
"We're not that passive," says Guo. "I admit being a single woman comes with its challenges, but it also offers an opportunity to develop personally and do things outside of the shackles of a relationship."
Guo spends about three hours a week practicing calligraphy.
She also enjoys whole Sunday afternoons at a beauty saloon. "I am no different to everyone else, except that I don't have to wash men's dirty socks and baby diapers," she says.
In the past, China had a saying for women: To marry is to live. However, better education and jobs are giving career women a better financial status.
With a monthly salary of about 16,000 yuan ($2,336) and a 60-sq-m well-decorated downtown apartment, Guo's financial circumstances are secure. "Marriage is no longer a necessity for me compared with women of my parents' generation, unless Mr Right appears," says Guo.
"The influence of material factors on marriage is diminishing among today's Chinese career women," Xu Anqi says. "Society is more tolerant of independent women."
An increasing divorce rate means Guo is more cautious. "Horrendous divorce stories lower my expectations about marriage," says Guo.
Divorce was rare in China until the economic reforms began in the late 1970s. A law change in 2003 simplified the process and has been blamed for boosting the divorce rate.
In 2007, China had 2.1 million divorces, almost seven times more than that of 1980 when it launched its national economic reforms, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Yet, compared with the cautious attitude of the 1970s generation, people born in the 1980s are braver.
Xu points to another remarkable phenomenon in Chinese relationships - the "lightening marriage".
This implies that a couple gets married within a few months, or even sooner, after their first date.
The "lightning marriage" has somewhat undermined China's marriage tradition, in which couples normally know each other for at least a year before tying the knot.
Yuan Ye, 27, and her 26-year-old husband Li Xing ignored the high divorce rate and married two months after they met.
"Our romance blossomed after the devastating May 12 Sichuan earthquake this year," says Yuan, who worked in the quake zone as a reporter for a newspaper in Ningbo, Zhejiang province.
Li was then a volunteer from Ningbo. "I interviewed him in a severely-hit city of Dujiangyan, and we fell in love," Yuan recalls.
A month later, Yuan and Li registered their marriage. "We jumped every hurdle on the road to our marriage in the shortest possible time," says Yuan.
However, Yuan lied to her parents, saying they had been dating for more than a year.
"I didn't think my parents would have accepted my 'lightning marriage', so I tricked them," she says.
There are no specific figures for "lightning marriages". Interestingly, it seems clear that "lightning marriages" often risk "lightning divorces" and newspapers have been full of such stories involving 1980s couples.
In Beijing alone, one in five of the 24,952 divorced couples were married for less than three years, and 52 couples in their 20s split up after being married less than one month.
In Guangzhou, a lawyer says about half of divorce cases he handled this year involved "lightning marriages" of the 1980s generation.
A lack of mutual understanding before marriage is a major factor in the failure of quickie marriages.
Most 1980s people are only children, who are self-centered and less tolerant than their parents, says Huang. They are prone to get divorced instead of improving themselves or becoming more tolerant.
"The key to a stable marriage is a good attitude from both sides," says Yuan.
"Instead of thinking selfishly and dreaming of perfection, we compromise over trivial things, and work together to solve problems."
However, Li thinks their "lightning marriage" has a unique advantage. "It makes us smoothly resolve problems while we still have the passion," she says.
"It's hard to accurately assess the '3S women', 'lightning marriage' or the soaring divorce rate," says Xu Anqi.
"China's social landscape is changing after all, while the freedom to choose in relationships is growing."