“My priority is to study/build my career now. Marriage can come later.”
“I need space and freedom to pursue my interests and dreams.”
“Relationships are fleeting. I’m too young to tie myself down to one person.”
If you have used any of the lines above, you understand what it feels like for many of Singapore’s youths today, who say they have put marriage and starting families on the backburner in favour of other competing priorities.
From my experience growing up as a child of the 90s, I understand why it feels like there may never be a right time for such things. In school, we have been told to study hard, while any other matters, including dating, are ‘distractions’ which could be put on hold until we are ‘older’. As we become older, we get bogged down with work commitments. “No time” seems to be the common thread here. But will there ever be time or room in our lives for relationships and family? Are these convenient reasons to put off the tricky task of finding a life partner, or a genuine cry for help from time-starved youth?
Nathaddeus Tan and Lim Zhen. Credit: Nathaddeus Tan
Nathaddeus, 26, a Business Development Executive, agreed that dating takes a lot of time and effort, but added that it is the simple gestures that matter.
Nathaddeus recounted how his parents’ advice has influenced his own attitudes towards relationships, “My parents started dating when they were 16. They have been married for more than 25 years and they always tell me that a relationship has to be worked on every single day.”
Nathaddeus met his girlfriend Lim Zhen in Junior College seven years ago. The couple makes effort to meet up at least on one of the weekdays, in addition to spending quality time together during the weekends.
But this is not always easy.
A public servant, 26-year-old Lim Zhen admitted it is sometimes hard to balance between work and other competing priorities. “It would be even more challenging to make time for each other, when we get married and have kids in future,” she quipped.
Nathaddeus, meanwhile dreams of starting his own business, but is concerned if this will impact his relationship.
“I used to tell Lim Zhen that if we didn’t get together, I would most probably have risked it all and started my own business already. But the stakes are too high and I don’t want to put that kind of pressure and time restraint on our relationship now.”
But he promised himself to revisit the idea sometime down the road, when he finds a way to balance both sides of the work-life equation. Daunting prospects aside, this couple is determined to make their relationship work, and will be tying the knot this December!
Meanwhile, 22-year-old final year university undergraduate student Germaine (name changed) has been in a relationship for five years. She met her boyfriend through co-curricular activities in secondary school, and the regular club meetings provided the natural environment for them to interact frequently and grow closer, as they bond over common interests.
But Germaine has no plans to marry her boyfriend anytime soon.
“30s is the new 20s. That’s the word going around lately. The new age thinking shows that being an independent single woman with earning power in her late 20s is something to look up to. There are truly more perks of being single. With a college degree and income, the world is her oyster.”
Fiercely independent, Germaine believes that getting married early entails high opportunity costs. It may mean lifestyle changes, or affect your chances to advance your career, she added.
For other youths, school takes centre stage, with coursework and co/extra-curricular activities keeping them sufficiently preoccupied. A marital commitment appears to be the furthest thing on their minds at this point in their life.
Junior College Student Xin Hwee, 18, who met her boyfriend 10 months ago through volunteering events said, “We don’t like to think about anything besides our studies and immediate necessities.”
On the other hand, financial stability is also cited as a consideration for older youths like 26-year-old Estate Manager Jason Tey and his girlfriend, who are saving up for their wedding and matrimonial home. Like many Singaporeans, they, too, believe that it is important to secure a home before they get married, as it provides some kind of stability to the wedded couple.
It is perhaps with this in mind that the Ministry of National Development recently announced plans to shorten the waiting time for around 1,000 new HDB Build-to-Order (BTO) flats in non-mature estates from the current 3-4 years, to 2.5 years – a move which Jason agreed would help couples move into their own home earlier, to embark on their marriage and parenthood journey sooner.
While dating couples seem to have it planned out when it comes to setting up families, there is also a group of Singaporeans who have yet to find a partner, and their numbers have climbed over the years.
In 2000, 6 in 10 male residents aged 25 to 29 years old were single, compared to 8 in 10 males in 2015. On the other hand, 4 in 10 females in 2000 were single, compared to 6 in 10 females in 2015.
With the proliferation of mobile dating apps, some have argued that singles now enjoy more convenience in reaching out and connecting with people outside of their immediate social circle. But others remain sceptical about the practicality of these platforms.
Graduate Thivya, 22, who is single, does not believe that one can find his or her life-long partner through such online platforms.
“The seriousness of these dating apps is questionable. I feel like relationships formed through such a platform might be more short lived and less serious.” (pull quote)
She is not alone in this view. Many local youths we spoke to believe these apps foster a more hook-up culture, rather than create meaningful emotional connections.
But Darryl Lee, 29, begs to differ. He met his girlfriend through popular dating app Tinder, and he strongly encourages youths to try out such online platforms to broaden their social network.
“The ability to filter the profiles based on your desired traits and common interests helps save a lot of time in the ‘matchmaking’ process.”
“Are you seeing anyone? When are you getting married? Not having children yet?”
Depending on which stage of your life you’re in, these questions have surely come up in conversations with well-meaning relatives, colleagues or peers at some point or another. Dodging nosey questions have become an art, even prompting websites to come up with tongue-in-cheek comebacks to fend off “The Inquisition”.
But the fact remains that marriage and parenthood is a personal matter.
While youths today strive to live by their own rules, what might motivate them to consider getting married and settle down early, especially in view of competing priorities?
Darryl feels that the Government can roll out more policies and measures to nudge Millennials in the right direction. He suggested extending paid maternity leave to 9 months and providing free healthcare for children up to 12 years old.
Helen (name changed), 26, who is currently a Masters student at the National University of Singapore, acknowledged that it may not be possible for the Government to have a hand in all matters, especially when it concerns the private lives of citizens. Instead, she feels that more can be done at the community level to foster a family-friendly environment, with businesses taking the lead in promoting work-life practices to help young Singaporeans better manage their family and work commitments.
Recent Enhancements to the Marriage and Parenthood Package. Source: heybaby.sg
It is not all doom and gloom in the dating world. Many youths I have met do seem positive about meeting new people, and eventually building their own nest and growing their family. But despite the positive outlook, it appears that some youths are still bent on waiting for the perfect time for things to fall into place nicely as they achieve their respective goals.
Will there ever be a perfect time? Ironically, this is something only time can tell. Perhaps the key is in acknowledging that life is full of uncertainties, with little or big successes, and even missteps. There is no one guaranteed outcome. Family or career? Or both? There is no reason to believe that our Millennials cannot multi-task and juggle both roles with confidence.
While the ‘dating game’ might not be strong amongst our youths at this point in their lives, depending on their current priorities, I believe that many of us do aspire to have a fulfilling and meaningful family life, be it immediate or extended, old or new. Family is after all, where we forge some of the strongest and most important relationships in life.
Whatever the decision, I would like to believe that we are in control of our own destiny. And hopefully, we can look back at our youthful selves years later, with no regrets.