At first she did not know what to make of being romantically matched with Kim Jong-un, that roly-poly bachelor, the presumptive future lord and master of North Korea. Should she be offended, amused, angry, what?
After some thought, she said: “I felt proud to be selected. I thought, ‘Cool. It means you’re in the elite.’ If he was South Korean, he’d be in the top 1 percent of the men.”
Miss Kim, 28, a Korean-American who declined to be identified by her full name, was among four possible marriage partners selected for Mr. Kim by Couple.net, one of the leading matchmaking agencies in South Korea.
The online dating industry here is large, lucrative and fiercely competitive, with more than 1,000 companies vying for customers and nuptials. Couple.net ran Mr. Kim’s profile through its computer-selection algorithm as a promotional idea before White Day on March 14. (The faux holiday, highly promoted by the candy industry, has South Korean men giving sweets to the women who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day.)
“We try lots of interesting matches, and this time we went a little wild, just in time for White Day,” said Erica Oh, a marketing executive with Couple.net.
The computer kicked out 36 highly compatible matches for Mr. Kim, before veteran matchmakers from the company winnowed those down to a final four.
The woman chosen as the very best match declined to be interviewed, citing Mr. Kim’s notoriety, and none of the selectees wanted their full names to be used.
One of the likely matches, a 25-year-old high school art teacher, said she had heard some nice things about Mr. Kim’s father, the dictator Kim Jong-il.
“I heard that Kim Jong-il is really into the arts and theater, and assuming Kim Jong-un inherited the same interest, as an art teacher I would share a common interest with him,” said the woman. “However, I’ve also seen him portrayed in the media as a hostile and radical person, and that aspect of him doesn’t appeal to me.”
Another woman, a pharmacist, 27, said: “My general perception of him is not positive because he’s not my type. However, if I were to meet him I would gladly take the chance to ask him many questions.”
Couple.net said its formula for matching people — company executives refer to it almost reverentially as The Logic — came from a decade of empirical data on proven, successful couplings. The agency claims to have matched 23,000 people over the past 20 years using Korea-specific criteria that emphasize their clients’ jobs and educations, their families’ assets and their parents’ levels of education, especially which universities their fathers attended.
The result is a score that the agency calls its Soulmate Index, essentially a number that rates a person’s attractiveness as a potential marriage partner. The top woman scored 90 out of 100, two of the women scored 89s, and Miss Kim had a 76. Good matches all.
“Of course these women have virtually no possibility of meeting Kim Jong-un,” said James Lee, the founder and chairman of Sunoo, his original matchmaking business that is being rebranded as Couple.net as it goes global. “We have analyzed Kim’s potential as a marriage partner, not as a political leader but rather as a man.”
Mr. Lee, who got his start as an entrepreneur peddling toilet paper from a Seoul pushcart, added that “one of our greatest hopes as a company is establishing a branch in Pyongyang,” the North Korean capital.
Despite Kim Jong-un’s position as a four-star general and the heir apparent to his father, he remains something of an enigma. Few verifiable details are known about him, including his exact age, which is believed to be 28 or 29. He is thought to have been schooled in Switzerland for a time, or maybe not. His height and weight are uncertain. He is not known to be married.
But The Logic was able to crunch other available data about Mr. Kim — primarily his university education in North Korea, his lofty job titles, the family’s assets and his father’s schooling and socioeconomic status.
“His assets are off the charts,” said Ms. Oh, adding that the company had rated his physical appearance as “average.”
“Looks are not so important for Korean females as long as the guy is highly educated, successful and financially stable,” said Ms. Oh. “For Korean men, looks are the most important thing.”
In the end, The Logic awarded Mr. Kim a score of 89 points on the Soulmate Index. That would put him among the top 2 percent of eligible single men in South Korea, according to company indices. In other words, the young general is a real catch.
“Look, he’s a Pig!” Ms. Oh exclaimed as she reviewed a listing of Mr. Kim’s personal details. She was not unkindly referring to his girth or grooming habits. Rather, she had noticed that Mr. Kim, according to company research, was born Jan. 8, 1983, in the Year of the Pig under the Chinese zodiac.
Pigs, coincidentally, are considered good matches for each other, which would enhance Miss Kim’s compatibility with Mr. Kim. She, too, is a Pig.
Miss Kim worked her way through the University of Illinois, taking jobs in the cafeteria and the library. Her Korean parents, who own and operate a motel in New Mexico, do have a connection to North Korea: Miss Kim’s paternal grandmother was born in the North but was separated from the rest of her family in 1950, during the Korean War.
Political differences with North Korea aside, Miss Kim said: “I don’t have any particular feelings about Kim Jong-un. Maybe he’s a funny guy, but maybe a bad guy, too. He doesn’t seem happy or affectionate.”
The pressure on women to get married by age 30 can be strong in traditional Korean families, and Miss Kim said she had been feeling it. A married cousin in Seoul paid the $1,000 fee for her to have a year’s worth of matches, dates and personal consultations with a matchmaker.
Miss Kim has had several meet-ups in the past nine months, but no romances yet. She remains optimistic but said most Korean men seemed intimidated when they found out she spent her teenage years in the United States.
“The first thing they ask is if I’m rich,” she said, sounding a bit dismayed. “They assume because I was in America I’m rich. ‘Teach me English’ is the second thing they say.
“I have different standards than most Korean girls. I don’t want to be rich or poor, just happy. If a man thinks what I have is nice, that’s great. But I can make my own future — in America, in Korea, in Europe. Carpe diem.”
Meanwhile, Miss Kim is pursuing her doctorate in crop sciences at the prestigious Seoul National University, a specialty that could prove highly useful in impoverished North Korea — a first lady who could whip the North’s sorry agricultural sector into shape with some modern techniques.
“I would welcome the chance to be able to help North Korean people,” she said. “But realistically, it’s not that simple. It probably couldn’t happen, not in reality.”