Commentary: Succeed in your career, settle down, buy a BTO. Is this Singaporean dream outdated?
Finding love in Singapore can be a challenge when societal expectations get in the way, says Marcus Neo.
SINGAPORE: If you’re Singaporean, you’re told from day one that you need to be successful in order to get someone of the opposite sex to fancy you.
If you add in the common connotations of success in Singapore: Educated, economically well off and good looking, you’ll end up with the typical Singaporean dream - a paper chase and career ladder climb.
FINDING SOMEONE SPECIAL
Singaporeans want to settle down. More than eight in 10 singles in Singapore say they want to get married, a survey of almost 3,000 singles published in 2017 by the National Population and Talent Division revealed.
But most cite not being able to find a suitable partner as a key reason for remaining single, the same survey showed. Might we be too picky in choosing someone?
Yet, dating opportunities for the average Singaporean are limited by demographics and geography. From personal experience, I’ll argue that most couples pair up in their younger days, at school, in university or polytechnic.
Unless one continually makes a deliberate effort to create connections with others outside of your demographics, once you enter the workforce, your choices are limited. Dating apps can help but only to an extent.
This sometimes leads to one being incentivised to stay in an unhealthy relationship, because of the fears of not meeting someone else better - meaning after we finally find someone, we become reluctant to let them go.
The reality is even if you were successful, rich and good looking, you might still lack the opportunity to be with someone else you can really see a long-term future with - because what if you’re not good enough for them?
That’s the problem I faced in my early twenties so I understand and empathise with the young Singaporean guy in his climb up the career ladder to achieve a respectable social status. After all, that’s borne out of a culture that perceives wealth, status and money as important metrics of success.
It is an inevitable cultural narrative that all Singaporean guys brush up against.
ECONOMICS MAKES DATING TOUGH IN SINGAPORE
But let’s really address the elephant in the room that’s impacting the culture of dating in Singapore and the inertia that sets in once you find yourself in a relationship: The expected trajectory of seeing someone that should culminate in applying for a Build-to-Order (BTO) HDB flat.
We all know the seamless storyline we’re expected to conform to – find someone nice, get over the rough patches and settle down after a few years while applying for a BTO before getting married.
One of the top reasons Singaporeans cancel their BTO flat purchase is because they split before collecting their keys, according to data collected by a popular financial blog in Singapore.
The pressure to purchase public housing should not fuel our decision to settle down but if we’re honest, it does.
For Singaporeans who find it difficult to find someone, public housing considerations might incentivise you to rush into a long-term commitment the first chance you get.
Instead of figuring out if you’re both right for each other, it can cause you to gloss over differences in values and interests that should have long been red flags.
Getting into a relationship sometimes create powerful constraints that makes it very difficult to get out because of the depth of the investment you’ve made with someone without realising what you’re truly getting yourself into.
We all want that fairy tale ending but there’s a difference between a couple who looks like they have a successful and loving relationship, and a couple who actually does.
WHEN MORE GET MARRIED LATER, A GOOD THING
Many of our life choices from what to study to our career paths are influenced by our parents.
When a huge part of your life revolves around making decisions in seeking your parents’ approval and relying on them for support, you may not have developed the emotional maturity required for a long-term relationship.
There’s also something to be said about emotional independence, where many stay with their parents until they get married.
Singapore is reported to have declining birth rates and couples are choosing to settle down later, as the median age of those who get married have gone up to 30 for men and 28 for women.
Apart from more having a higher level of emotional maturity before taking the plunge, there are two more reasons why this may not be entirely a negative thing.
Research around the world have shown that later marriages and declining birth rates are par for the course for developed, modern economies.
A popular argument suggests when people have more disposable income and economic opportunities, they are more willing to put off marriages and courtships and focus on individual pursuits.
Second, for the majority of human history, most marriages were arranged by families for economic gains and survival.
Singapore is an advanced country, which means to say that more Singaporeans now have a personal choice about who they see and are exercising these – including the option to settle down later in life with someone for love.
AN OUTDATED SINGAPORE DREAM?
However, back to the HDB question, if Singaporeans are economically well off, then why are we still making choices based on housing?
My gut feel is that Singaporeans may be too rushed to live that “Singaporean dream”, to chase one of the success metrics determined by a cultural narrative: Your own house.
Dating someone shouldn’t mean that you have to confirm, chop stamp that this person is someone you want to settle down with.
Lifelong compatibility, genuine affection and financial stability should be carefully considered factors when it comes to finding someone to get married to. These are important elements for a healthy, lasting partnership, in addition to understanding your partner’s goals, fears and values.
To land a date should be easier. You don’t need to be particularly rich, good looking or have a ton of qualifications, though you also can’t be a bum.
You also need to have things going for you: Goals, an aim and the ability to converse and present yourself in a positive way – ingredients that should afford you more opportunities to evaluate if your date can be more than that.
But to settle down should be a separate, deliberate decision. Ultimately, keep in mind the societal pressures and be wary about chasing that Singapore dream too hard.
Marcus Neo Kai Jie runs a dating consulting company and is currently studying psychology at the Singapore University of Social Science.