A match made in cyberspace
Population Trends Articles

A match made in cyberspace

Couple with their baby

Gerard Wong, 41, with Phoebe Wong, 37, and their three-month-old daughter, Haley. The couple first met in 2016 through an online mobile dating app, Tinder.

Gerard Wong spent over 16 years in Australia, studying and building a career as a dietician. He wanted to stay on in Down Under, but love brought him back to Singapore.

While overseas, the Singaporean bachelor went through several relationships but none were long-term. As he was about to turn 40, he began to think hard about marriage.

“It’s one of those things that you think about as you grow older,” says Gerard, who is now 41.

There was one issue: Where do you go to meet potential soulmates? He decided to turn to technology and try out Tinder, a popular location-based dating app.

“I was already using it in Australia. But I used it in Singapore sometimes to meet people over coffee, when I came back to visit my family. It’s where I met my wife, Phoebe,” he shares with a grin.

The right swipe

For two years, Phoebe was looking for her perfect match – through traditional methods.

“Before 2016, I went for some dates, but the men were always not the right one,” says Phoebe, 37, a Malaysian and Singapore permanent resident.

Frustrated with the lack of success, the insurance advisor decided to try something new – Tinder.

Gerard was the first person she ‘swiped right’ on, indicating her interest of him on the app. They started chatting immediately online, but did not proceed to meet up in person – even though he was in Singapore for a break then.

She was cautious, and took it slow. “I prefer to chit chat for a period of time and get comfortable with the person. Only then will I be okay with a meetup,” she shares.

In fact, when Gerard found out that he was the first person she ‘swiped right’ to, he encouraged her to meet other men so that she would be able to make a more informed decision.

But even as she went on other dates, she kept thinking of Gerard.

The duo exchanged numbers and began chatting regularly over WhatsApp. Their connection grew stronger through the daily conversations.

“It was through these daily chit-chats that I got to know this person better. I could tell that he was sincere about taking our relationship further,” she says.

Three months later, in June, Gerard came back to Singapore and met Phoebe for the first time on a lunch date. By dinner, he had introduced her to his family members.

“It was a bit of a surprise because it was only our first meeting,” she recalls with a chuckle. “But I’m glad he invited me over for dinner because I could get to know more about him and his family.”

At that point, they knew they had found a possible life partner.

“Although I was not 100 per cent certain, the feeling was there. I could see that he was sincere and we could communicate and understand each other well,” she adds.

Gerard chimes in: “It helps that we have similar likes and dislikes.” They both enjoy good food, wine, travelling and sports.

A month later in July, Phoebe travelled to Darwin to meet Gerard. It marked a turning point in their relationship.

“When you live with someone in the same space, you get a better idea of whether or not you can be with that person. So when she came over to visit me, I knew we would be able to live together,” he says.

More singles finding love online

Just like Gerard and Phoebe, more Singaporean singles are turning to the Internet to find love.

A marriage and parenthood survey conducted two years ago showed that almost half (47 per cent) of the 2,940 respondents who were single were open to finding their dates online – more than double from just 19 per cent in 2012. Among singles who were dating or had dated seriously, 13 per cent had met their partners through online channels, almost double from 7 per cent four years ago.

While the majority of respondents still met their partners through more conventional offline approaches, the key is being proactive in meeting new people.

Mr Ng Jing Shen, co-founder of local dating app Paktor, believes the growing popularity of dating apps is due to modern singles being digital natives who are used to the convenience of mobile apps and spend a lot of their free time online. And when they hear success stories of singles who have found love online, it boosts their confidence to try dating apps.

Mr Ng explains: “With dating apps, users are no longer limited to their own social circles. They get to know many more people than what they would normally be exposed to. They are also better protected as they can get to know the other party better in a secure environment before agreeing to a face-to-face meet-up.”

While online dating platforms are great for meeting new people and expanding one’s social circle, critics say they are not suitable for people looking to find life partners.

Ms Violet Lim, co-founder of local dating agency Lunch Actually Group, warned about the illusion of choice on dating apps that causes people to take their matches less seriously, believing that there will always be another match.

“The one they dismiss could actually have been the right one, but they were too busy looking for the next one instead,” she says, encouraging users to “stop swiping” and to “start meeting up”.

But even as the Internet plays the new role of matchmaker in modern dating, sociologist and communications scholar Richard Seyler Ling believes that the essence of making the first connection has remained largely unchanged since the times of letters and telegrams.

The Nanyang Technological University professor explains that online dating only alters the first stage of meeting one another. After sorting out the first level of compatibility, the usual conventions of developing deeper relationships in a relationship will follow.

“That whole work of trust comes in as you deepen the relationship,” notes Prof Ling.

From swiping to saying “I Do”

All it took was a whirlwind four months for Gerard and Phoebe to make a life-long commitment to each other. After her visit to Darwin in July, he asked for her ring size.

He also started looking for a job in Singapore. He found one by August and started making arrangements to move back home. In March the following year (2017), the couple registered their marriage and immediately started to plan for a baby.

Their baby girl Haley was born in December that year. “We are really happy that Haley came to us so easily. We never expected it to happen so quickly, so it’s a lucky thing,” shares Phoebe.

The couple is still learning how to bring up a baby, but they receive strong support from both their families, who chip in to help look after Haley.

Looking back, the couple never expected that Tinder swipe two years ago to lead to what they have now. The journey has not been without bumps, but they have worked hard to smoothen things out.

“It was tough adjusting back to life Singapore in the first few months. But Phoebe has always been there for me, and that has been really helpful,” says Gerard.

A connection that began online has led to a beautiful life – offline.

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