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Commentary: Why is it okay for newly married people to move out, but not singles?

It is not wasteful, impractical and unfilial for a young single to move out. Perhaps, we should stop treating singles like “adult children”, says Annie Tan.

Commentary: Why is it okay for newly married people to move out, but not singles?

A woman reading her smartphone in her apartment. (Photo: iStock)

SINGAPORE: A young single friend of mine recently moved out. Her mum’s reaction was a mix of disapproval and a sense of abandonment.

Two soon-to-be-married couple friends rented a place when their build-to-order (BTO) flat was delayed around the same time. Their parents not only approved but blessed them with a new refrigerator to get them started.

These are common scenarios in Singapore today. Young people leave their parents’ to live on their own.

Singles, however, seem to be getting a lot more flak for it. When 26-year-old account executive Cherie Lim shared her reasons for renting a co-living space in a CNA story, many netizens blasted her for being wasteful, entitled and ungrateful.

Some also suggest this is a Western concept Singaporeans should not adopt.

Now, this is true of most large countries, Western or otherwise, like China, which has one of the world’s highest percentage of young adults living on their own according to a 2017 HSBC survey. Young adults commonly move within the country to study, find work and live alone.

And yet things are vastly different in Singapore because of our small geographical size and sky-high housing prices. Singles stay with their parents until they get married.

This norm is so deeply ingrained, moving out without getting married raises eyebrows and spurs questions about whether family ties are coming under strain.


Instead of wagging the finger at such youths, Singapore society should embrace these changes with confidence. Each generation has questioned norms and challenged the status quo.

The pandemic brought our focus to living arrangements, family dynamics and what YOLO (“you only live once”) means to each person. 

Across different societies and eras, the coming-of-age rite usually involves leaving the nest and at least temporarily separating from parents – no matter how beloved.

In the before-COVID times, there were so many uncontroversial avenues to flex our independence and find ourselves without renting a co-living space.

A woman living in her apartment. (Photo: iStock)

A decade ago, when I was in my 20s, I travelled for five months to India, Nepal, Europe and the UK. I finally lived alone and made my own decisions. That experience shook up old routines, broke behavioural patterns, and allowed me to meet people from different cultures to gain new perspective on life.

Many of my peers also took long trips, or stayed in university dormitories, studied overseas, or moved to new cities for a new job.

Today’s youth are robbed of many such experiences – dorm-living, graduation trips and first-day-at-the-office experiences.

Many will move from school into the work force without leaving that little desk in their childhood bedroom. Starting work can feel like yet another final year project with no clear demarcation.

In that light, moving out to rent may be less this generation’s “selfish pursuit of new experiences” but a reflection of the pandemic-spurred existential crisis and the hero’s journey of our times.

Perhaps it embodies a desire to reclaim back a sense of time, milestones and significant rituals.

“Adulting”, a term coined by this generation, and often used irreverently or ironically, has further lost its meaning in the pandemic world. Surely drawing a pay cheque or getting married are part of this process but not the full story?


This brings us to another cultural peculiarity – getting married in Singapore is somehow loosely synonymous with adulthood and moving out, so much so that when you apply for a new HDB, it is often assumed that you are getting married.

BTOs are not even made available for singles under 35 and they are a huge financial commitment.

But why should becoming an adult necessarily equate to getting married? This conundrum is amplified when fewer are choosing to get married, and many do so later in their 30s.

With more mature singles, perhaps it is time we view singlehood differently. “Single adults” are “adults”. They should not be treated like “adult children”.

They too need a place of their own to grow and come into their own – a concept that should not be reserved only for married people.

The last thing we need is to treat them like infantilised adults. I have friends who have never cooked because their mum has a certain way of doing things in the kitchen.

Friends also tell me that they need to ask permission to buy furniture or bulky electronics – and rightfully so because it is not their own place.

Living with your parents also inevitably spoils you. Many “adult children” still get three-dish meals cooked, plated and served each day without ever having to wonder whether the soy sauce is running out. A single friend of mine confessed that she had never washed a toilet in her entire life until she finally moved out at the age of 40.

You may say they are blessed, and you would be right. But this can give way to a tendency to define oneself as someone’s child instead of the values, interests and life goals you have.

A man in his bedroom. (Photo: iStock)

Sure, they could pitch in at their family homes and unearth new responsibilities. But decade-long habits can be hard to change for both parent and adult child.

Moving out can be the needed impetus to cut the umbilical cord and rewrite familial roles.  

We might even surprise ourselves. My friend’s mother was hesitant when she moved out. A year later, she realises her daughter is not only fine but happier. Now, she encourages others to do the same.

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That is not to say that children should neglect aged parents. Filial piety is the bedrock of Asian societies.

Moving out in young adulthood, provided one does not have ailing parents, can be an investment in self-development for a more fruitful return to our parents in their old age when they truly need us.

Today, my widowed father lives with me in my marital home and we have a harmonious relationship.

His foresight in allowing me the time and space to do so go off has paid off. It has made me a more grateful daughter, a more patient mother, and generally a more self-aware person.

Those few months apart redefined our relationship and allowed him and I to see each other with new eyes. 

Spending some time apart may help youth more easily transition from “adult child” to “adult”, draw new boundaries, create more age-appropriate family dynamics and discover a healthier model for intergenerational relationships.

Isn’t that why we bring up children in the first place? We hold their hands and guide their first steps so that one day they may find their wings and seek out new horizons.

Indeed, youth will find ways to pursue and proclaim their individuality, with or without our blessings. They should not be made to feel guilty for it by bystanders if they have earned it for themselves.

As a mother, I too am prepared for my kids to leave me to seek new worlds. It will be heart-breaking to let them go, but it will also fill me with deep pride.

This is not a clash of Western and Eastern culture.

Afterall, at the end of the day, families are knit together by love; not by rules, judgement or physical walls.

Annie Tan is a freelance writer based in Singapore.

Source: CNA/sl


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