Singled Out

Between campaigns promoting romance and wedded bliss, and nagging parents wondering why you still haven’t found someone nice at your age, is it any wonder that singlehood is seen as nothing more than the undesirable alternative to settling down?
What the government and relatives itching for another wedding don’t seem to realize is that meeting Mister or Miss Right isn’t all that easy. There are work and family commitments to deal with, one’s identity to maintain, and the minefield of trying to meet someone “normal” that we want to be with for the rest of our lives.
Over many hot coffees, we spoke candidly with eight singles about the scene, life solo, and even settling down—to get a clearer picture of what it’s really like to be unattached and “fair game.” Names have, of course, been changed.
› The Scene
To Be Scene
The discussions kick off with the most obvious of queries: With so much weight behind the joys of being in a relationship, is there anywhere here singles can go to meet their potential soulmates?
In a city that hosts a variety of internationally renowned clubs and bars, the answer to that question seems straightforward. However, Rebecca, a 24-year-old expatriate administrative assistant, feels that it isn’t a question of whether there is a scene so much as if there’s any real quality to it. “I don’t want to go somewhere thinking ‘Everyone here’s single and looking to pick up’,” she says. “I just want to meet cool people. I don’t like the pressure of going out for Ladies’ Night or something like that.”
Rebecca’s sentiments seem to be echoed not just by the expat crowd, but by locals as well. Meeting someone through the nightlife scene isn’t that hard … if you’re not expecting anything of any real substance. Clubs and pubs are filled with people looking to hook up—the ACPG Sex Survey revealed that they are the preferred place for finding potential partners (with 65 percent of the vote). But that seems to be the extent of it. No one really goes to clubs hoping to meet someone they can have a long term relationship with.
As Frank, a 34-year-old freelance copywriter, puts it, “If you’re looking for a fling, they’re readily available. It depends on what you’re looking for. A no-frill kind of thing? Sure, you can find it. But something really concrete in this scene? Not very likely.”
“There’s not much sincerity in most of the people you meet at a lot of clubs here,” agrees Eileen, a 26-year-old personal assistant. “You’re very rarely going to meet anyone that you’d even want to be friends with, let alone date.”
It seems that everyone understands that the nightlife scene is purely for superficial relationships. No one’s fooling themselves into thinking that theme nights like Ladies’ Night are anything beyond what they seem: A chance for women to get free drinks and with the potential for guys to score. “The ‘branding’ of these nights say it loud and clear,” says Tom, a 26-year-old customer service officer. “If you’re there, it shows that you accept and are aware of stuff that may happen during that time.”
“I’ve actually been to one Ladies’ Night before, and it was very sleazy,” adds Natalie, a 23-year-old expatriate administrative assistant. “There were actually more men there than there were women.”
The Grass Is Always Greener …
So, what is it that the scene here lacks?
Tom thinks it’s fine as it is. He believes it’s the patrons of the scene who could use a bit of a change. “I don’t think that it’s any particular place that the local scene is lacking, but rather friendlier people. Some of the girls I’ve met walk around with this damn high and mighty attitude.”
Variety seems to be key for others. The nightlife scene works if you’re not looking for anything serious, but if you’re going for something with a little more substance, throbbing R&B or slurred pick-up lines aren’t going to cut it. “More coffee houses with live music would be nice,” says Amelie, a 29-year-old reports coordinator. “Some place where you can have actual intelligent conversations, as opposed to having to shout at the top of your lungs just to get someone’s attention.”
Comparisons to the scene elsewhere in the world naturally come up. Rebecca narrows it down further to local singles’ attitudes. “I find the whole clubbing scene a little bit pretentious here,” she says. “I mean, compared to Australia, where I live—it’s more like you go to the pub, have a few drinks and everyone gets drunk and they don’t really care what people think of them and you’re loud and … whatever! But here—maybe it’s the kind of clubs I’ve been to, like Velvet, Zouk or Attica—it all seems like you absolutely have to be beautiful.”
› Life Solo
The Juicy Bits
According to Durex Global Sex Survey 2005, Singaporeans have been doing the horizontal mambo even less than before. Couples tend to attribute this to busier work schedules or the flames of the relationship dying, but singles have their own set of reasons.
A relationship seems to be more important than just “doing it.” Sure, sex may still be a priority to some, like Frank, who says that he’s always looking to score, but “finding the one is just an added bonus for me.”
However, he seems to be in the minority. Some singles may indulge in a one-night stand here and there, but it seems that most of them are more concerned with just finding someone nice. “I think we’re all kind of looking for the ‘one,’ but when you pick up someone from a club, you doubt that she’s it,” says Miguel, a 25-year-old car salesman.
“I’m a woman of substance,” adds Stephanie, a 31-year-old makeup artist. “Only the morally challenged tarts go for one-night stands. I mean, it’s so shallow. And at the end of the day, what’s the point to it? I honestly think that the sex with someone that you’ve known for more than just a couple of hours is probably a hell of a lot better anyway. And more than anything else, I don’t want the sheer nastiness of unearthing ‘cauliflowers and cheese’ during The Age of Disease.”
On or Off
Stephanie’s concerns about contracting an STD certainly don’t seem unfounded. ACPG’s Sex Survey results revealed 11 percent of the local respondents had contracted an STD. While Durex’s Global Sex Survey 2005 revealed almost half (47 percent) of all adults globally have had unprotected sex without knowing their partner’s sexual history (in Singapore the rate is 41 percent). Whether it’s a one-nighter or with someone you’ve been out with a couple of times, a lot of singles here don’t seem keen on strapping on their “crash helmets.”
“I just can’t function with rubber,” says Frank with a laugh. “It’s like, you strap it on and it’s suffocating. I know it’s not the most politically correct answer, but I’ve got to be honest—I just can’t.” Miguel says “I would say that it’s a big ‘yes’ on using protection, unless you’ve already done it with that person on a few occasions.”
Eileen, however, is firm on her stance: If it doesn’t go on, then there’s no way anything’s going to happen. “I know a lot of women would close one eye based on what the guy looks like,” says Eileen. “Like, if you seem the ‘good boy’ type, then they’ll assume you’re clean. But for me, personally, if it’s someone casual, then please, please, please put one on because I have no idea who you’ve been with!” She adds: “The only time I’ll ever go without rubber is when I’m in a steady monogamous relationship. And even then, I’ll still take precautions against getting pregnant.”
Methods Behind The Madness
If there was a topic that really divides the crowd, it’s the actual act of picking someone up. Everyone has their own super secret method of seduction, but the most popular (though not necessarily effective) seems to be Frank’s. “How you doin’?” he says in his most suave tone with a cheeky wink. Everyone bursts out laughing and the secrets start spilling.
“Nothing turns guys off more than pretty girls who can’t hold their own during conversations about politics and the economy. So know your IPOs from your VPLs!” swears Stephanie. Not so, says Eileen. “Are you kidding? There’s no way you need to go that far,” she says. “For most of the guys in Singapore, if a chick was to go up to them and she was just reasonably decent looking, they would just take it. You don’t need to do anything extra, no real methods you need to learn. Just say ‘Hi’ and smile at them and they’re on you like rabid wolves.”
Back on the testosterone team, Tom elaborates on his moves. “My favorite’s staring blankly into her eyes for, like, two seconds … then looking away,” he explains with a look of intense concentration. “Do this every once in a while, then smile to yourself as you look away. Not so much of an ‘I wonder what she’ll look like without that shirt on’ kind of smile, but more of a ‘Darn! She saw me looking’ bashful sort of smile,” he ends with a cocky wink.
The Race Card
The laughs die down a little as we move into the delicate topic of race. If there still is a social stigma on interracial dating, it’s hard to tell. As Frank jokingly puts it, “Race? Hell, man, if you’ve got a pulse, I’m there!”
“Beauty, for me, isn’t categorized by skin color,” agrees Tom, slightly more seriously. Stephanie does specify that she prefers local Chinese men, but adds that it doesn’t play as big a factor as their ability to just communicate well. “I’m definitely all for musically knowledgeable guys with that tinge of mission schooled smugness and who speak great English,” she says.
Most people are open to anyone as long as they’re a decent enough person, it seems. When probed further, however, Miguel does specify a strict preference, though it isn’t a matter of skin tone. “In the long run, I’m more concerned about religion,” he says firmly. “Call me a traditionalist, but I’m not going to convert for anyone. It’s just the way I was brought up.”
Dating Games
So, you’ve met someone. Then comes the first date. Everyone has their own ideals of what that dream outing’s like, but the surprise is that it really is quite simple.
“As long as there’s chemistry, that first date’s all good,” says Miguel. “Dinner gives a good opportunity for the potential couple to get to know each other through conversation,” says Stephanie. “Movies are ideal for testing the physical chemistry, because the dim lighting and conducive proximity can really help to speed up the combustion, should there be one.” On a sleazier note, Tom informs the crowd (without the slightest hint of care) that his ideal get-together is “to mate on the first date.”
Yet, as simple as dating sounds, it’s amazing how much can go wrong. Everyone’s got their fair share of dating horror stories.
Amelie relates about getting her ears filled with saliva, and Stephanie talks about having her date actually calculate to the very last cent how much she owed him for dinner, but what takes the cake is Frank’s tale of awkwardness. “My brother set me up with this girl, who was 16 at the time. I was about 18, maybe 20,” he relates. “Now, I very seldom wear a t-shirt and a shirt over it, but I had this checkered shirt, and I wore that to meet her at Centrepoint. She was wearing the exact same thing. We sat down and got to talking and, lo and behold, my camp friend pops out of nowhere. And I’m sitting there talking to her and this guy says, ‘Who’s that? Your sister?’ The date was pretty much over by then,” he ends with a groan.
Ups and Downs
“Freedom!” everyone yells out, almost simultaneously before we can even finish the question. If there was one thing that the eight really enjoyed about being single, the complete lack of commitment to anyone else seemed to be it.
“It’s just nice not having to answer for anything,” says Natalie. “Your time is your own.” Rebecca agrees. “I think when you’re single is when you take a lot of effort to do different things. When you’re a couple, you sort of get into a comfort zone and you do the same things with the same person.”
But it’s not all livin’ la vida loca for the singles in Singapore. Yes, they agree that not having anyone tie them down is great, but most of them would trade it all in for … a feeling. They speak of it in very vague terms, but everyone knows what everyone else is talking about. There’s a certain irreplaceable joy in being with a partner, and that’s what really gets to them about singlehood.
“I really hate that lonely feeling you get sometimes, when you’re just chilling by yourself,” says Miguel somberly. “It’s not so bad when you’re surrounded by friends, but when you’re on your own, it just hits you.”
“The lack of copious amounts of sex!” laughs Frank, but continues in a more serious tone, “There is a strong longing for someone who really understands you that you can relate and talk to. Someone more than just a friend, you know?”
› Settling Down
The Ol’ Ball and Chain
When it comes down to it, everyone, it seems, sees the single life as a means to an end. Marriage is on everyone’s mind and no one has any qualms about it. “Of course I want to get married eventually,” says Natalie. “I don’t want to end up being Bridget Jones!”
For most at the table, the factor of parents pushing them into marriage doesn’t really play much of a part. “I won’t allow anyone to pressure me into something as huge and as life-changing as marriage,” says Eileen. “It’s a big decision, and it’s my life, not my parents’. If I’m ready, I’ll do it. If not, I won’t. No matter how much you nag.”
The main concern when it comes to marriage, however, seems to be that sense of self and whether it will be lost in the long run. Frank feels that it can’t be helped. “Devoting yourself to the family and the kids—that’s what you’re supposed to do,” he says.
Natalie even relishes the thought, saying the idea of the soccer mom life appeals to her. But she seems to be in the minority. Singles seem to want to keep their identities when they utter the magic words of “I do” and a lot of them truly believe that it’s possible.
Eileen says that it’s all a matter of working at it with your significant other. “I want to have kids, yes, but it’s a very thin line between having kids and devoting your entire life to your kids,” she says. “You don’t have to forget about yourself and your life. You need to be with that one person who understands that they have to give you a stab at having a healthy normal life too.”
The Right One
And that’s what it really boils down to—that ever-elusive right one. There isn’t a doubt that everyone at the table is looking for that someone special. And heck, the ACPG Sex Survey results revealed that 61.9 percent of men believe in love at first sight, compared to 54 percent of women. For all the banter about one-nighters and playing the field, at the end of it, they would all like to be with that person who fits them perfectly.
Whether or not they can find that person, however, is a completely different story. They mostly agree that if given the choice they would never settle for just anyone, but the reality is that they understand that it may not be their choice to make. “I think looking for ‘the one’ is actually quite unrealistic. I may be a dreamer, but I still have my feet on the ground,” says Amelie.
But there is also hope among them. As clichéd as it may sound, romance isn’t dead. “I believe that no matter what, you should always marry for love,” says Eileen. “Sure, there are other practical considerations and I’m not saying to dismiss those, but always–always –make sure you truly love the person you’re marrying.”
“Marriage,” Frank says in a slow careful voice, bringing the discussions to a quiet close, “is sacred. Most singles are being pressured so much that they get married to shut people up. And when the shit hits the fan, that’s how the rut sets in and how it festers and you end up hating your wife. I’d rather wait for someone who’s, at the very least, the one closest to the one.”