I grew up in the heartlands of Singapore, in a traditional Asian cultured family. I grew up in a conservative Asian family setting. You know, the typical conservative Asian family. If you don’t get a 101/100 in school, you get disowned and aren’t allowed to come home. Family dinners were often stifled. You weren’t allowed to speak during dinner and there wasn’t much affection displayed or sense of warmth growing up.
Over the years, after traveling solo all over the world, I figured that Singapore’s dating scence and culture is unique and flawed in its own special kind of way. Singapore is a society that is sandwiched between Westernized and Asian values simultaneously. This weird sandwich often results in a clash of values, beliefs amongst individuals when it comes to metrics of success, expectations and beliefs in sex, dating and relationships.
If you were somewhat like me, you probably aren’t equipped to talk about openly about sex, intimacy and relationships openly. Some of you were brought up to think that good grades equal a good job, a good job equals a hot girlfriend, a hot girl friend or wife equals success in life. You were brought to be ‘useful’ to society. You had to excel in anything you laid your hands on. Rejection or failure in any form meant death, some times even in the form of a divorce or a failed marriage.
Singapore Dating Scence and Culture: Shame and Honour
There’s a reason why the pick up artist community is much smaller compared to Westernized cultures. One thing the dating and pick up artist community did right was the concept of self-reliance. If you take full responsibility for your own behaviour, you can change your love life and not everything is left to fate or genetics.
It’s the most difficult thing to admit to themselves, their families, and other loved ones that they have a problem and need help. The mere acknowledgement of an Asian person having a problem is going against cultural norms because it sends the implicit message to others that you have let them down.
– Psychology Today
It’s quoted by Emerson that society is a conspiracy against self reliance. Asian cultures are collectivistic by nature. The idea behind collectivism it’s that it’s culturally acceptable to rely on groups, stay in groups, rather than rely on oneself.
Here’s what a female friend of mine, Cornelia, who studies philosophy and has lived abroad in foreign cultures said about collectivism and confirmity in the Singaporean culture:
Collectivism promotes the idea of giving up your invidiual needs for the ‘greater good’ of society. Giving up your needs is also known to be selfless and considered a ‘good’ moral value in Asian cultures.
However, altruism also be debated philosophically. Our human actions are inherently selfish. You can argue that giving up your needs for the greater good is still selfish because you’re deriving pleasure from the action of giving up your needs. Look, I’m not here to debate if collectivism or individualism is better, there are helpful and unhelpful values in both collectivism and individualism.
It’s up to you to adopt the useful aspects of these cultural values.
One huge part of Singaporean culture believes that success from dating and relationships will ensue from success in external metrics such as your career, job, academic success or monetary wealth. There’s a common cultural notion that if you’re rich, hold a high paying job, you’ll automatically attract women, or are deemed successful in life.
From my experience, the majority of Singaporean (and arguable Asian) man goes through his whole life believing he needs all of these external successes to be successful with women. He lives with the belief that he doesn’t actually need help with women. I put these down to cultural pressure.
Firstly, it’s painfully difficult to admit that you’re going nowhere in your interactions with women and that you’re not the man you thought to be and that women aren’t actually that into you.
Secondly, you’re not suppose to talk about your emotions, you’re not suppose to feel sad, you’re not suppose to swear, to be pissed off. You’re suppose to be that good Asian kid that goes to school and get good grades.
This is also why psychotherapy, mental illness, is much more stigmatized in Asian societies, with the majority of Singaporeans suffering from it not seeking help.
I also put it down to the willingness to re think out cultural values. From personal experience, many Singaporeans actually pride themselves on these metrics of success, without questioning if that’s the best way to measure success in life. It’s no surprise that Singapore has been reported for being a soulless, unhappiest, longest worked culture.
The Lines Between Love, Lust, and Sex
If you’re a Singaporean male, you probably feel judged or ashamed of bring a woman back home by your parents. I heard this a gazillion times as a dating coach. Sex is often seen as “immoral and unethical”. This, ultimately, is a source of sexual shame. It’s no surprise that people that has trouble with attracting women often feedback to me that they have got extremely strict parents.
One of the traditional Asian cultural beliefs is that you have to have a great connection with a woman before you can have sex with her. There is unsaid rule that it’s a must for marriage or a long term relationship before you can have sex.
This is why girls complain that guys only want sex, and why guys complain why girls are needy. In the end, causes a lot of manipulative and nice guy behaviors where you the male end up buying gifts and spending time, effort and attention in hopes at the end of the day receiving sex.
It’s basically saying: I’m going to buy you this dinner/gifts/bags so that you let me fuck you later.
Here’s the truth: Sex is not immoral or unethical when it’s consciously agreed between both parties.
Here’s the second truth: sexual desire should not be in the only reason why you get into a relationship. Ultimately, a long committed relationship should only be pursued if there’s a long-term compatibility in the relationship.
Wanting to have sex with someone and desiring a committed relationship are two separate issues. Emotional attachment/commitment doesn’t automatically/ shouldn’t come after or before sex. Sex doesn’t mean automatically mean emotional attachment/commitment. There are many a times both parties sexually attracted to each but are actually incompatible and differ in life values.
Throughout the majority of history, sex was a strictly controlled good. If you dated up in social classes, you might find yourself beheaded or shot. Now, you’re living a modern world where you have the knowledge and freedom the choose your sexual partners and relationships with lesser repercussions with the invention of condoms and pills. It’s a gift in itself.
Lastly, sex shouldn’t be seen as a huge deal. It isn’t something that you should hold on to like a badge of honour. Sex, love and intimacy isn’t something that you can earn or objectify yourself into, it’s also not something you tick off in a box.
Singaporeans Confuse Economics and Long Term Relationships
One of the cultural nuances of Singapore is that public housing is only purchasing upon marriage or what we call registration of marriage. This can cause a problem, a blog post by MoneySmart.Sg claimed that one of the top reasons Singaporeans cancel their flat purchase is because they break up before collecting their keys.
Singapore is great economically. I have nothing wrong with that, however, when economics is seen as a means to relationships, that’s where people make decisions they are not ready to make.
If you are more interested and worried about public housing instead of the quality of the relationships when it comes to marriage, then you’re dug your own grave from the start. The purchase of public housing (or anything for that matter) should not be a determinant of whether or not you should stay in relationship.
More often than not, relationships are treated as economical assets in Asian culture. Namely: Guan Xi in Chinese.
If you’re only loved for some extrinsic benefit you provide to someone else instead of mutual support and affection. (and at times, your parents) then you’ll always base your self worth on the things you can provide to others, and not who you actually are as a person.
- You’re only accepted and loved if you’re getting full marks for your Science examinations.
- You’re only accepted and loved if you attend piano classes.
Not this is a conditional form of relationship, it also fucks with your self esteem. It also screws up your perception of love and intimacy.
Ultimately, the healthy ingredients of a relationship shouldn’t be solely measured by externals like achievements or social status. If you sacrificed your personal values, just to be with someone, then there’s actually really no relationship at all.
In Singapore culture, it’s a cultural norm to stay with Mum and Dad all the way till 35 or till you are married. Look, I’m not against staying with your parents, however, there are tons of benefits from gaining independence from your parents.
However, our emotional dependence on our parents often lead to issues in our dating lives.
It’s also common to hear the phrase: you’re not marrying the girl, you’re marrying the family.
I’ve dated girls that are always worried about what Mum and Dad thought of her. This is despite reminding her constantly: “Hey look, I’m dating you, and I’m not dating your parents.”
I completely disagree. It’s an outdated traditional belief that shouldn’t hold true today. It’s a piss poor form of boundaries. In any long term commited relationship, including marriage, you and your partner are going to start a life together. Your life choices should be independent of what your parents expect of you.
Healthy relationships are are two independent individual support each other unconditionally.
Our Metrics of Success
In my experience, many Singaporeans are afraid of making independent valued judgments of their own, especially when it comes to career choices. The alternative media in Singapore often states that Singaporeans are mostly politically silenced and generally are afraid to express their opinions.
Whether that’s true or not, I think there’s a difference between harmony and conformity.
Whilst many may think that NOT out rightly or directly expressing their opinions help with harmony, it may not be. Through the years, I often had friends and family criticizing me for voicing out my personal opinions or feelings. However, it was these opinions that actually needed to be said or generated trust and meaning in my relationships.
Secondly, you afraid of what others might think of them. Hence, you go through life year after year, never really looking into their own behaviours, and what’s driving them. You find yourself in the same lacklustre relationships, the same heartbreaks, and the same mediocre jobs that you don’t really feel anything.
For the sake of ‘normality’. Perhaps a false sense of acceptance.
Yes, you want to be secure. Yes, your Mum and Dad wants you to be ‘successful’. Society arguably also always gives you a pat on the back when you earned that degree, that house or that pay raise.
However, don’t just slave away at some career that you aren’t interested in. Yes, you might do what you have to do in order to pay the bills. That’s perfectly fine, and required. However, unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. You have to be willing to fail and try different life choices.
I’m no different from you. I was shit scared of not finishing my accounting degree. I’m shit scared of failing financially in life. Hell no, I am even more afraid than you are. I was brought up to think that I was an absolute failure if I didn’t achieve these things. I was brought up to believe that only a ‘well respected job’ meant ‘success’.
There’s also societal pressure of financial success as an over used metric of success in Singaporean culture. If you’re rich, that meant you’re successful. Forget the fact that you are constantly stressed out, sacrificing the best times in your life (your 20s or 30s) or visiting hookers on the weekends to drown out your emotions.
Why is academics and wealth such a huge metric of success in Singaporean society? What happened to connection and any sense of meaning?
The Traditional Metric of Success Is Not Helpful Anymore
I’m the LAST to say not to focus on your financial well being, after all I’m partially obsessed with personal finance and one of my first investment was in an investment course.
However, these cultural narratives that are instilled in us growing up in Singapore are no longer helpful anymore.
There’s no particular party to be blamed here, I think it’s merely an evolution of economics and culture. Here’s my theory: back then Singapore needed rapid economic growth, hence the government pushed for it. That was required in my parent’s generation. However, things are different now. Singapore is a wealthy country and we’re still measuring success in the same way as we did back then.
The meaningless pursuit of financial success for the sake of ‘survival’.
Countless reports and cases have stated that Singaporeans are one of the unhappiest people in the world. Our Singaporean forefathers focused heavily on economic growth for the last 50 years. It’s also researched that Singaporean workers are constantly the highest worked, workers in the world, beating even the industrious South Koreans. Singapore is also reported to have low fertility rates. Research shows that economic growth in a competitive capitalistic economy is related to this low fertility rate. There’s a popular argument that suggests when people have more disposable income, people are more willing to put off marriages and courtships.
Have you sacrificed the other aspects of life in this mad chase for economics?
Have you dug a hole so deep economically that you have to constantly pile up on it to keep it going?
Health, I. o. (2016, September 23). Latest study sheds light on the state of mental health in Singapore.Retrieved May 29, 2018, from Institute of Mental Health: https://www.imh.com.sg/uploadedFiles/Newsroom/News_Releases/SMHS%20news%20release.pdf