Looking for love

Mr Benjamin Koh, 36, says he still wants to find a wife who shares his Christian faith. Ms Wee Le Fong, 40, does not go clubbing and seldom takes the initiative to meet people, prefering to leave such things to chance.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Lawyer Yeo S.E., 39, has a group of close female friends around her age who are all single.

According to her, they had channelled all their energies into their careers, but very little into finding husbands.

"We spent the previous decade telling ourselves that we're happy as we are, and if it happens, it happens," she says.

Three years ago, hoping to get over an unrequited crush, she took matters into her own hands and joined the OkCupid dating website. At that point, she had been single for 12 years.

Three years later, she has gone on dates with men in their 30s, 40s and 50s, but has remained single. As have her friends.

See also: 'Looking for a partner can be scary'

GROWING NUMBER OF SINGLES

Ms Yeo is part of Singapore's swelling ranks of "singles" - a term used by statistics gatherers to define someone who has never married - who are aged 35 and older.

In 2004, there were 844,100 Singapore residents who were singles, compared to 1,048,100 last year - a jump of almost 25 per cent over 10 years, figures from the Department of Statistics show.

The number of singles also rose across all ages surveyed, but the sharpest spike was in the 50s age group. The number rose from 43,100 to 75,600 between 2004 and 2014 - or a jump of 75 per cent.

In a sense, these numbers are not surprising as marriages worldwide are following the same trend: people are getting married later - or not at all.

Delaying marriage is reflective of most developed countries, says associate professor Paulin Straughan, a sociologist at National University of Singapore (NUS).

The main reason for delaying marriage is "competing life goals", she says, such as a prolonged period in formal education and career.

She adds: "When you're older, you're also more likely to know what you want and less likely to compromise."

See also: Men dare not date her

The median age for first-time grooms in Singapore rose from 29.1 years in 2003 to 30.2 years in 2013. For brides, it rose from 26.6 years to 28.1 years.

But there is another set of figures. In the Marriage and Parenthood Study 2012, a survey commissioned by the National Population and Talent Division, 83 per cent of single respondents indicated that they wanted to get married.

WHY ARE PEOPLE NOT MARRYING?

If so many people want to put a ring on it, why is it not happening?

Older singles Life interviewed say the challenges they faced include ambivalent attitudes towards dating, dwindling social circles, a mismatch in expectations and a self-sufficient lifestyle.

This might seem counter- intuitive at first glance.

By all accounts, dating culture should be burgeoning in Singapore with the growth of online dating and dating apps such as Tinder.

Moreover, dating agencies in Singapore have also seen a rise in demand from older singles - as well as interest from divorcees and widows.

CompleteMe, a dating agency with a 3,000-strong database, set up a personalised matchmaking service for above-35s last year that has since seen a 40 per cent rise in customers.

Ms Anisa Hassan, managing director of It's Just Lunch Asia, which matchmakes professionals over a meal, says: "In the past, people who were married before might have felt that the best years are behind them. Now, more divorced persons have come forward."

In 2004, when the company started, 20 per cent of its clients were divorced or widowed. Now, 40 per cent are divorced and 10 per cent are widowed.

But attitudes are hard to change: There is still a lingering sense of embarrassment and conservativism about putting oneself out there, especially for older people in the dating pool here.

The problem seems to be worse online. Ms Yeo, for example, sees a marked contrast between men in Singapore and those from abroad.

When American men sent her online messages via OkCupid, an international dating website, she could find and identify them on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Dating in Singapore was far less transparent.

"There were men who didn't want to give their real names or say what they did for a living. Some said on their profiles that they were married but were looking for 'friends'," she says.

DATING CAN BE EXHAUSTING

There are also those who find online dating exhausting, meeting person after person on first date after first date.

Take bachelor Benjamin Koh, 36, a consultant in learning and development at a corporate training firm, who three years ago gave up on the Lovestruck app he used to meet people.

He found the constant search for romantic possibilities tiring and fruitless.

"Sometimes I would meet someone who I may not have had any connection with. I'd think, maybe another girl would be better," he says, which would spur him to get on the dating treadmill again.

Having given up on dating apps, he says he still wants to find a wife who shares his Christian faith. Now he is looking among his church circles.

See also: 'I'm branded goods that's slightly worn'

SHRINKING SOCIAL CIRCLES

Another common reason that older singletons give about their lack of prospects is their shrinking social circles.

As they get older, more of their friends get hitched and start families. The friends have less time to hang out and have fewer new friends to recommend as possible matches.

Finance analyst G.V. Kang, 40, who has never had a relationship, puts it this way: "As a single, you tend to hang out with singles. We tend to get 'more single'."

There have always been more women than men in her life. She was from a girls' school and mostly socialised with the same group of friends through secondary school, junior college and university.

In her business administration course at the National University of Singapore and at her places of work, women also outnumbered men.

Two years ago, she attended events organised by dating agencies, but found it "draining and depressing" when she did not find a suitable match.

One criterion for her partner is that his salary should be similar to hers, that is, at least $9,000 a month, an amount she says is "realistic" for someone in his mid- to late-40s.

He should also be pleasant looking and have good values.

Expectations of what a partner should be like are thorny issues to navigate.

Life found that men's concerns tend to revolve around appearances and child-bearing abilities of their partners, while women's preoccupations centre on financial stability in their potential husbands.

See also: 'Looking for a partner can be scary'

Private investor James Foo, 44, who has gone on dates via a dating agency, admits that he is "quite picky in terms of looks".

But he counters that women in Singapore also have very high expectations.

Those he dated tried to suss out, for instance, whether he owned a car by asking if he knew where to park at certain locations.

On the other side of the fence, Ms Eunice H, 43, who lost her husband in a traffic accident three years ago, recently felt ready to look for a new partner on dating websites and agencies.

She found that many guys were tactless pragmatists.

In a first phone conversation, a man rejected her because he said he needed a woman young enough to bear him children.

And sometimes, singletons are too independent and comfortable with their lifestyle to make the effort to find a partner.

Ms Wee Le Fong, 40, a former air stewardess of 11 years, wonders if she has led the lifestyle of a cabin crew member for too long, and is too used to doing things on her own. She is now an administrative associate at a bank.

She does not go clubbing and seldom takes the initiative to meet people, prefering to leave such things to chance.

"Mainly, I work and spend time with my parents, who are very old, and the rest of my family. I sometimes spend weekends with my elder brother and sister and their children," she says.

"A friend once said, 'You're content with the love you already have from your family.' I think it's a bit accurate."

CHILDREN COMPLICATE THINGS

For older people who have had past relationships, there might be another factor that complicates dating: children.

Mr Victor Chua, 50, who runs his own tour operations business, lost his wife seven years ago when she was knocked down by a lorry, leaving behind their son, who was just one then.

Four years later, he started a relationship that lasted a year.

It broke down because the woman "didn't realise that caring for a child was so tough".

These days, Mr Chua, who mostly finds dates through work, says anyone he has a relationship with has to understand that "my time will not be spent entirely with her. I find I'm more attracted to divorced women who can handle my kid because they have kids too".

Father and son are so close that his son comes along on dates.

"It's more honest, more real. We might go on those dates for a simple dinner at a cafe, no pubs or discotheques," he says. "My son asks me, 'when are you going to give me a mummy?' I say, 'we choose a mummy together.'"

See also: 30-year-old single man shares his speed-dating experience

venessal@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 19, 2015.
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