Courtships that go on and on

SINGAPORE - Some couples here date each other for a long time but experts say it may be wiser to settle down earlier.

For Mr William Teo, his seven-year courtship of his eventual wife Catherine Koh several decades ago meant it gve him time to prove his worth to her and her family.

The couple, who have two married children, met when they became next-door neighbours in a block of rental flats in Tanjong Rhu in the 1970s. He was 17, she 16.

Mr Teo, now 61 and a grandfather of one, and a technical officer in a maintenance company, says his late mother-in- law was against the relationship.

"She did not like me because I was not highly educated," he says. "But what was in my heart and mind, no one could see." He only had vocational schooling then.

The couple stole about an hour each day, meeting along the corridor a few floors below their 10th-storey rental homes, he says.

Midway through their courtship years, Madam Koh's father suffered a stroke and Mr Teo went to their home in the evenings after work as a factory operator, to help bathe and feed him.

He won their hearts. After national service, he obtained an electrician's licence, saved up for his wedding and married her in 1975.

He and Madam Koh, now 60 and a room stewardess in a hotel, live in a four-room HDB flat in Bedok Reservoir.

Theirs was not quite the epic romantic journey of Hong Kong celebrity couple Sammi Cheng and Andy Hui, who recently got engaged after more than 20 years, including a seven-year separation.

But it is longer than relationship experts say is necessary. Two dating agency owners say most of their clients tie the knot between two and three years of dating.

Mr Jerald Lim, 39, owner of One Plus One Dating, says: "Courtship shouldn't take too long. If things don't work out, it's a waste of time for both parties."

Ms Michelle Goh, 33, who runs CompleteMe dating agency, says: "Two years give a couple a good gauge of each other. You can't know everything there is to know about your partner before marriage."

After that, couples need to "give and take and compromise".

Lengthy courtships are not suprising in Singapore as couples want to build careers and save for their weddings and home.

And newlyweds have become older over the years. Marriage statistics show that the median age for first marriages was 30.1 years for grooms and 28 for brides in 2012. The median ages were 28.8 for men and 26.2 for women in 2001.

Some teenage sweethearts told SundayLife! that extending the dating years is necessary because parents object to their nuptials at a younger age.

Singapore Armed Forces regular Remes Thay proposed to his girlfriend Ang Bee Ting, a UniSim undergraduate, two years ago. They were then 23 and 21.

Says Mr Thay, now 25: "I'm holding on only because her parents said we were too young. I proposed two years ago and it's a promise I plan to keep."

The couple expect to get the keys to their four-room HDB flat in Sengkang this year and will register their marriage next month.

They have been dating for nine years since secondary school. The spectre of a break-up never occurred to her, says Miss Ang, now 23, because they are "comfortable" with each other.

She adds: "Being in a relationship that breaks up after eight to 10 years would mean wasted years, especially for a woman."

For customer service executive Parameswari Prathiya Raj and her husband, self-employed despatch rider Sivaprakash Palaniappan, their one-year engagement turned out to be an 11-year wait.

She met him in 2002 through a mutual friend. She was then 27 and a factory operator and he, a 25-year-old canteen cook.

They planned to marry in 2005 after their engagement in 2004.

But the deaths of both their grandfathers and her grandmother, between 2005 and 2010, with the customary wait in between, put their wedding plans on hold.

Moreover, Ms Parameswari's only brother died of kidney and liver failure in 2007. "I was depressed and in no mood to get married," she recalls.

And after her brother's death, Mr Sivaprakash got into a traffic accident on his motorcycle, tearing the ligament in his right index finger. He was advised against heavy-lifting jobs for half a year, was retrenched and became jobless for a year.

These distressing years proved to be a bedrock for their relationship. Says Mr Sivaprakash: "She didn't say bye-bye to me when I couldn't work. She stuck by me and said, 'You can do it'.

"When she was depressed and couldn't work for eight months after her brother's death, I supported her financially."

When they finally tied the knot in December 2012, about 1,000 family and friends turned up at a restaurant in Geylang.

And if he had to do it all over again, Mr Sivaprakash says he would still opt for a courtship of eight to 10 years. "The more years you have together before marrying, the more you understand and adjust to each other," he says. "Now, life is happy."

However, counsellor Francis Lee, 56, of Touch Family Services, says that while under a year is too brief a dating period, a long courtship does not guarantee a lasting marriage either.

He says: "A couple may know each other for 10 years or more and still divorce one or two years after marriage."

This would be so if relations were "shallow" and the couple merely enjoyed going for movies and meals together but did not know each other's expectations.

For instance, a wife might find her spouse insensitive and a man might think his wife "restrictive" if they had not spelt out that she likes a man with a listening ear and he had not said he wants time with friends for fishing or football, adds Mr Lee.

Nurse Gin Tan, 28, feels that the length of a couple's courtship depends on the age of the couple. She says: "A couple in their early 20s should have a longer courtship to find out if that person is the one."

However, her husband, Mr Daz Lim, 29, a manager in a food manufacturing plant, feels that three years is the mininum.

He says: "If you are young, anything less than that is too rushed. When you are married and everyday problems pop up, you won't be able to handle it."

When they met in 2003, she was a polytechnic student and he was waiting to enlist for national service, and they had entered the same modelling contest.

He popped the question in 2010, after seven years of dating her. He was then 26 and she 25.

During the seven years, he did his two- year national service, completed a three- year business management diploma course at a polytechnic, then worked and saved for two years before proposing.

Part of the reason for dating longer was that he needed two years to save for a $7,000 diamond ring.

However, hanging on for too long is not advisable, he adds, as life is unpredicatable.

"I didn't want to waste any more of her time and wanted us to move on to the next stage of life," he says. The couple now live with their one- year-old daughter, Lixuan, in the private apartment of Mr Lim's parents in Woodlands.

His wife says: "He was the one who sped things towards marriage. People now are settling down later. "Age is not a problem because women are more independent today."

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