Hello Love - How I Beat the Odds

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COMPETING PRIORITIES AND PHYSICAL DISTANCE MIGHT BE ENOUGH TO THROW ANYONE OFF DATING. BUT NATALIE HANNA TAN BELIEVES THAT THERE IS ALWAYS TIME AND SPACE FOR ROMANCE.

t 19, Natalie Hanna Tan was embarking on a new chapter of her life – to study in the UK for three years. For some young Singaporeans, an overseas education is the chance to start afresh and explore the world. Natalie went against that grain. A month before leaving Singapore, she and Jireh Tan decided to ‘go steady’. Despite their ages and other priorities that lay ahead, they wanted to commit for life. “We knew when we said ‘yes’ to each other that ultimately, it would lead to marriage,” explains Natalie, now 24. She and Jireh have been friends since she was 12.

At first, they were reluctant to start a long-distance relationship because it would involve a lot of work and sacrifice. Yet they were determined to make it work. “It helped that we got together just before I left for the UK so we could ease into the relationship and grow individually despite the distance,” Natalie says.

THE WINNING FORMULA

Fast forward five years later, and their relationship has not only survived the physical separation but has thrived. The couple have applied for a BTO flat and plan to marry in two years’ time. Still, it is not yet a case of ‘happily ever after’. Jireh, now 24, is in the midst of completing his studies at a local university, but is currently away in the US and China for a year as part of his degree. Thus, he and Natalie are now apart for the third time

Natalie is unfazed, saying they are both committed to investing in each other’s development and strengthening their relationship. This same determination had seen them through previous long-distance phases – when Natalie was in university and Jireh in National Service, and later when Jireh spent five months in Israel on an internship.

Handling their relationship with open communication, mutual understanding and a willingness to compromise has kept the flame burning. This means devoting Saturday afternoons to Skype dates, and waking up earlier or going to bed later to chat. Like all couples, they have had their share of disagreements too. Natalie says, “Most of our fights are about how one was not giving enough to the relationship. When that happens, we always talk through our expectations and how we can each work towards making both sides happy.”

Their advice to long-distance couples is to always communicate honestly. “What is said in a video call or text message can easily lead to miscommunication, so both parties need to be more open about sharing,” says Natalie. Her other tip is to “journey through the small everyday things together” by sending Instagram stories or photos – so they remain a part of each other’s lives, no matter where they are. Their long chats have even guided them through life choices. When Natalie returned to Singapore in 2018, she took on a role as a marketer for a local fashion brand. While she enjoyed the job, she felt she was not making enough of an impact on the community. “Jireh was very supportive and helped me through the decision-making, which led me to my current career path.”

Our mini-holiday in London – which was the first time we saw each other after Jireh’s 5-month stint in Israel in the summer of 2019

At an art jamming date that we went on during the first year of our relationship

Trying our hand at miniature golf in the UK

The day Jireh proposed!

Jireh was there for my graduation

Our mini-holiday in London – which was the first time we saw each other after Jireh’s 5-month stint in Israel in the summer of 2019

At an art jamming date that we went on during the first year of our relationship

Trying our hand at miniature golf in the UK

The day Jireh proposed!

Jireh was there for my graduation

A LIGHT IN THE STORM

Today, Natalie teaches part-time at an enrichment school, writes part-time for a bridal magazine, and has started a content creation and event management company that aims to empower women. She and Jireh know they are heading towards the same goal of having a purposeful life – and that’s the glue that binds them. “Having someone else to journey with you helps make the way easier because you have the same goal in mind.”

Reflecting on her relationship, Natalie says, “Everyone’s journey is different. There is no right or specific time to get into a relationship. Instead, we should just change our perspectives on relationships in general. To be in one is a blessing, and it is an honour to be able to walk through life together with another person. It’s about finding the best time for yourself!”

Ultimately, it’s also about eschewing the conventional sequence of school, tertiary education and career before entering a relationship. Says Natalie, “I believe a relationship will happen when it is meant to. For two people to fall in love and have the same values, beliefs and purpose in life, it is not a coincidence; it is almost divine. And the individual will just know when he or she is ready.”

ARE YOU MAKING ENOUGH TIME FOR LOVE?
Don’t put romance on the backburner. Here’s how you can achieve a better work-life balance and boost your chances of meeting that special someone.

o you spend most of your waking hours in the office? Are you struggling to find love amidst your busy schedule? If your answer is “yes” to both, you may want to do something about this! Relationship experts warn that the lack of work-life balance could sabotage your romantic life. “Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Giving up a romantic life, marriage and children is possible in the short term, but is it something you’d want to give up in the long run?” asks Wendy Tse, founder and head matchmaker at Society W.

This is where you can make the change – it all begins with you. “Many say that they have no time for love, but work-life balance is something you must create for yourself,” adds Cindy Leong, relationship coach at Relationship Studio. Here are a few simple pointers from dating experts to achieve a healthier work-life balance and re-prioritise love. Who knows, you might find romance along the way.

SIX TIPS TO HELP YOU ACHIEVE A BETTER WORK-LIFE BALANCE — AND MAKE TIME FOR LOVE

JOIN SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
Meet-up groups can improve your chances of finding a partner. Being involved in activities outside of work can put you back in touch with other things you want to pursue, and enrich your life and relationships.

EXPLORE NEW HOBBIES
Always wanted to learn how to cook, take beautiful photographs, exercise more and pursue other interests, but have been putting it off? Why wait? You have a good chance of meeting interesting and like-minded people in classes, workshops and other activities.

WORK UP A SWEAT
Physical activities such as dancing, rock-climbing and hiking trips are fun and relaxing ways to meet new people. Our bodies produce mood-lifting chemicals (endorphins) when we work out, which help reduce stress and improve our physiques. Look good, feel good!

SIGN UP FOR SELF-DEVELOPMENT COURSES
Knowing yourself and developing your strengths can stand you in better stead to do well in your career and relationships. Many people overlook this advantage as they seek out their ideal partners. If you put effort into improving yourself, it is more likely that prospective partners will gravitate towards you.

SAY “YES” TO INVITATIONS
Weddings, dinner parties, or even a barbecue at a friend’s place — showing up at gatherings such as these could increase your chances of finding love. That new face in the crowd could be the one you might want to spend the rest of your life with!

PICK A GOOD VENUE
If you want to meet new people, don’t just sit at home or stay chained to your office desk. Head outside. Hang out at common spaces, like a café or a park. Don’t shy away from saying “hello” to that friendly barista or the cute stranger sharing your table at the food court.