This chapter deals with the great fertility/marriage issue in Singapore. Well, sort of. I’ll have another chapter on how to actually increase the fertility rate without spending more taxpayer dollars.
Fact 1: One of the things most feared by the majority of people is loneliness. The desire for companionship is hardwired into our psyche and people who say they don’t need friends are often lying.
Fact 2: In Singapore, and many other developed countries, a lot of time is spent in the public space debating about how to arrest falling marriage rates, rising age of people who get married, rising divorce rates and in tandem, the plunging fertility rate.
The two facts seem to contradict each other.
Why is it that we desire to find a mate so badly, yet statistically, the population seems to be experiencing the mass breakdown or non-happening of relationships?
Yes, many young people today would rather be single and enjoy a financially-stable life without dealing with having children. But they simply haven’t encountered the time when the buddies and girlfriends they used to hang out with are now too busy with their own kids/work to hang out at the Swinging Singles Bar.
As a journalist and young father in the early 2000s, I observed the Gahmen doing everything it could to convince people it was great to get married and have three or more kids. What amused me was that the Gahmen was trying everything it could to be nice about it, when all they really needed to put on the table was some logic and mathematics to strike dread into everyone’s heart.
Let me explain.
University, or any other educational institute for that matter, is a great place to make friends and find your future spouse. The only distraction is having to attend tutorial classes and take exams.
We were happily daydreaming through one of those boring lectures in 1998 when our university lecturer suddenly shifted gears to a topic that we couldn’t possibly ignore.
“Do you know it’s statistically very difficult to find the right person to marry?” he quipped.
Now this guy was teaching the boring science of media research cum statistics, and all the numbers and theoretical assumptions that needed to be made were driving us up the wall. But start talking about BGR issues and you have our attention, man.
His logic was simple and the results were downright terrifying. (See brackets for my assumptions and calculated figures)
1. Ask yourself how many people you’d ever meet and get to know to a reasonable extent in this lifetime. (About 1,000, excluding all the weirdoes who add you on Facebook)
2. How many of them would be the opposite gender and heterosexual? (About 450 girls)
3. How many would become good friends with you? (About 50)
4. How many of them would you get to know really well? Like the type you’d share your deepest thoughts with and all the gossip you’d ever care to remember? (About 8 girls)
5. How many of them would NOT be attached to another person that they won’t ditch until they’re married? (About 3)
6. What was your last answer again? That’s how many potential spouses you’ll meet in this lifetime.
And honestly, I think my numbers were on the optimistic side.
Imagine, you’d probably only meet three or less people in life who might be the one to take your hand in marriage and walk down the aisle. That’s an awfully low number, but from what I’ve observed to date, it might not be far from reality.
That means the classmate you used to argue with all the time in school, the mousey colleague whom you’ve never thought about asking out for a date or even that guy 20 years older than you who’s sitting in the corner humming Copacabana to himself…any of them could have be The One.
You might even brush off The One without knowing it, and before you can say “Spinster”, you’re stuck in a lifetime of solitude and self-despair! Or you might spend your life as a lonely journalist writing long columns about how it’s not so great to be single at 40, hoping to rally the masses to share in a collective sigh.
And could this explain the high rate of divorces and why people keep marrying the wrong person? (See chapter: Why Gorgeous Girls Marry Ugly Guys)
Okay, I don’t wish to depress you further.
There is hope, and it’s not by proving the above statistical hypothesis to be wrong.
I once interviewed a marriage counselor on a story about long-lasting marriages and she told me – “There is no Mr or Miss Right out there. Stop looking for him or her. There is only “Mr/Miss Gets More Right Over Time”
What she meant was that most people spend their whole lives looking for the perfect person who has all the right attributes (or perhaps the right car) to meet their heart’s desires. The search begins in earnest when we are young, when we believe it wouldn’t be long before we meet that wonderful person among our social circles.
Why, you know you’ve hit the jackpot when Prince Charming comes in his white horse (or Ferrari) to sweep you off your dainty feet.
But as you’ve probably observed for yourself, that search or wait often starts to drag, and the searcher becomes bitter or self-doubting. This guy is not tall enough. This guy has a rather craggy complexion. This guy is too focused on his work and doesn’t know how to pamper me. This guy is not romantic enough. This guy is probably not interested in a picky girl like me. Why is this guy not looking my way? Why is he going out with that shrew? Etc. Etc.
What then, should we be looking for?
The marriage counselor said: “You look for the person who you think you can marry today and grow to love even more over time. He or she will not be perfect, but you can accept those flaws with no grudges. And you know why you’ll love him even more over time? Because when two people live with each other, they take on the traits of each other, slowly but surely. You pick up the habits of your wife, and she in return, and soon you become more like each other and understand what are the things that will make you upset with each other. By the time you’re old, you’d find that your spouse has become Mr/Miss Perfect For You.”
I’m coming to the 8th year of my marriage (wipes brow over the notorious and somewhat mythical Seventh Year Itch) and her advice rings true every day. Most people don’t realize that getting a marriage to work is simply a work in progress, and that matching expectations happens over a long period of time rather than overnight.
And for goodness sake, if your companion likes to drink heavily and gets violent on other people, that’s not a flaw you should accept ok? And a gambling addict is near impossible to cure. And body odour is also something that should ring your alarm bells.
So be smart about what flaws you are willing to accept because I will not provide a customer support number for this article.
The gist of this theory is that if you are currently dating someone, there’s an extremely high possibility that you might end up marrying him even if you haven’t considered that thought. And if you aren’t dating anyone, you might need learn how to pick up some guts to ask that person out once and for all (See previous chapter: Live A Life Of No Regrets)
But here’s another story to completely throw everything off.
As an intern journalist, I was tasked to interview a couple who had been married for 25 years. The editor asked me to interview them separately to find out the secret of their marital success. Sounded like an easy job, I thought.
The wife bubbled enthusiastically: “Oh to be a good wife for a long time, you have got to be understanding of your husband’s needs…you gotta be the strong support behind your husband when he is feeling down. You have to make sure the house is in good order while he runs the show.”
Then I interviewed the husband.
He said: “You’re asking me how my marriage lasted so long? Aiya, when your wife starts complaining or nagging, you just keep quiet lah. Let her think she’s right. If she gets upset with me, I just leave the house and go for a walk. Usually, when I come back everything is ok already. If she’s still upset, I just go for another walk lah!”
For their marriage’s sake, the story was never published.