Enslaved

I’m on my way to making the single most expensive purchase in my life – a HDB flat. And it’d be the one thing that I’d spend the rest of my life paying off. Come to think of it, it takes 18 years to raise a kid before booting him/her out of the house (if you’re angmoh). But it’s going to take me 25 years to eventually own the flat, by which time it might not be worth much, given that the flat is just three years younger than me. We’d actually grow old together, how sweet is that!

As a single, I can go on and on about how the government is not being fair to us in its housing policies and believe me, I have some pretty strong opinions on it. But I’ve come to the point where, ok, that’s the way things work in Singapore, it’s my fault for being single, so can’t blame no one else but me.

But there’s one grant which I really wished the government had opened up to singles – the housing grant for living near parents. Currently this is only available to married couples. To be honest, I’m only living in one of the most expensive districts in Singapore because my parents are there. And the reason I want to live near my parents is so that I can be close enough when they need me. And singles are increasingly taking up the bulk of caring for parents in their old age. So why shut them out of a grant that is meant to foster that inter-dependency?

I suppose the government could always retort that if I’m that serious about looking after my parents, then I should buy a resale flat and stay with them. They do give grants for that. Who cares about personal space?

In any case, grant or no grant, the HDB First Appointment is now over. Time to start thinking about renovation.

Here’s my floor plan for the fun of it!

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When the guy I almost married marries someone else

I have to state upfront that the “almost wedding” happened some 13 years ago so it’s not like I’m hurting from a recent breakup.

It was one of those ridiculous relationships that you force yourself to stick with because you think God ordained it — until common sense kicked in. By that time I already had my gown (off-shoulder and Dutch Satin) and the wedding dinner was booked. I don’t want to slag off anyone here so it suffices to say that I thought it was better to endure the short-term humiliation of calling off a wedding than to not be able to be myself for the rest of my life.

Fast forward to present day where Facebook is the best grapevine around. When I saw his happy pre-wedding photos, the familiar green monster of envy reared its head and I was flooded with totally uncharitable thoughts.

Dictionary.com defines envy as a longing to possess something awarded to or achieved by another.

For the last few days I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m envious over exactly.

Is it because he’s getting married while I’m not?

Is it because they are such a perfect match while we were not?

Or is it because she’s slim, pretty and dressy – everything that I’m not?

My competitive streak dictates that I have to be better than everyone, yes, including current wives/girlfriends of ex-boyfriends. Maybe I’m feeling out of sorts because she trumps in every department, perhaps except the brains but that’s probably me being snarky.

The antidote to envy is usually to celebrate another person’s success or achievement. And it was only when I saw how well-suited they are — he likes being adored while she loves adoring him — that it struck me what was bugging me.

I was envious over the fact that she could so unreservedly adore him, so fully place him in the centre of her universe. She calls him her sun, the one who brings colour into her life, and that she never knew how to smile until he appeared.

I don’t know what that feels like. I’ve yet to meet someone on whom I want to pour out such unmitigated adoration. Heck, I don’t even know of anyone who’s available and that I look up to. God is, of course, a different matter.

So what’s eating at me is not envy nor jealousy but the wistfulness that comes from never experiencing the total abandonment of ourselves to another, the heady joy of revolving around another person.

And the wait continues.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.
~ Proverbs 14:30

The guilt of being single

I live in two alternate universes. One is a chaotic developing country where nothing makes sense; one is a First World island where everything is clean and seems to work. I work and play in the former but come home to the latter every few months.

Home is where the heart is but it is also where the guilt lies. Each time I come home, I’m confronted with how weird I am. Most friends are married and parents by now, while I’m still happily gallivanting away (and sometimes having cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner).

But I haven’t always been so out-of-the-mould. Growing up, I did all the correct things. Aced the major exams, got into the top schools and landed a promising job. In short, while I may not have been a flaming success, I wasn’t an embarrassment to the family. Then at the age of 27, I upped and went to the land of slums to do voluntary work. Eight years later, I’m still in the same country but doing something different, which allows me to have the odd Starbucks coffee now and then.

Yet each time I come home to the land of normal people, I’m confronted with an acute sense of failure. As the elder child in the family and the oldest grandchild on my mother’s side, I have failed both my parents and my grandparents.

Because I’m single, my mum has to listen helplessly as her friends boast about their children’s lavish weddings and adorable grandkids. It’s not that my mum needs to show off, but I hate it that she’s feeling like a pariah because of me.

Or when my grandma was dangerously ill earlier this year, everyone was trying to give her something to look forward to so that she would hang on and pull through. The best by far, I thought, was when my cousin told her, “I’m going to get married next year. Do you want to be there? If so, you cannot give up.” I couldn’t think of anything to promise and bribe my grandma to live.

My grandparents can’t understand why I choose to remain overseas and berate me for not coming home to look after my parents. Because I’m not married, my mum still worries for me although I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself. Because I don’t have kids, my parents are probably deprived of a fun distraction in their retirement.

And with each passing year as the odds of me getting a husband (not looking for one) and kids (don’t want any) fade into oblivion, these feelings of guilt get suffocatingly heavy. But the fact is, even if I could turn back the clock, I’d still choose to be where I am today. I am truly happy, but there’s a price to pay for my selfish choices.

So on this last day of 2012, as I prepare to return to the other alternate universe and head into the new year, I get to lay this burden of guilt down for a bit. It can wait for when I next come home again.

How to survive a wedding

It’s going to be a big day tomorrow.

The anticipation is keeping her awake. The dress — which she has mercilessly dieted for in the last three months — is carefully hung up. The delicate heels that would show just flashes of her carefully manicured toes are already by the door. She’s kept to a strict facial regime to make sure she looks her most radiant best tomorrow. She has to go to bed soon. In just a few hours, she’d have to get her hair and make-up done by the professional beautician she’d booked in advance. 

So she sleeps and dreams of her Prince Charming… for tomorrow she attends a wedding.

I jest not. People take weddings very seriously here in Thailand, something that bemuses me no end as a foreigner. Some of the Thai girls that I know probably put as much effort into preparing for the wedding as the bride, if not more. They’d start scouting for a dress months before the wedding, start agonising over how to lose weight and begin piling on the whitening creams to become fairer (which is a national obsession).

When I first came to Thailand many years ago, I was always puzzled over why they’d keep asking me what I plan to wear about two months before the wedding. I always mumbled my way out with a whatever-I-can-find-in-my-wardrobe-that’s-ironed-and-still-fits answer.

But in the name of gaining cultural experience, I once went shopping with a Thai friend for her “wedding” dress. After about 50 dresses and the same repetitive comments from me — “No, you don’t look fat”, “Yes, it looks nice”, “No, you don’t look dark” — I really wanted to understand the need for a new dress that would cost a fifth of her salary.

“Why do you want a new dress? Can’t you just wear something from your wardrobe?”

“No, no! People will know if I wear something old.”

“So you’re buying something that you’ll just wear once…”

“It’s very important to look good, and it’s a great opportunity to dress up.”

“But why must you go to the extent of getting your hair and make-up done professionally?”

“Like I said, it’s a good excuse to dress up and look nice. And we might meet a nice guy.”

“Is it even worth it? After all, everyone will be looking at the bride and not you, right?”

To each his own, I suppose. While I may not be ecstatic going to weddings, I don’t go out of my way to avoid them, unlike some other singles that I know. Most of the time, I’m genuinely happy for the couple unless I don’t like either or both of them in which case I won’t even be attending it. 🙂 I enjoy witnessing the blessing of a union before God and seeing a new family unfold. I can even sit through the “two are better than one” sermons that nine out of ten pastors preach.

The one thing that my heart truly sinks at is when it’s time for the bride to throw her bouquet. I have no problems with this harmless piece of fun but I truly and deeply dislike being pulled out to the front to jostle with the 20-year-olds for a shot at being the next to get married. I don’t know which I resent more: being forced to do something that’s very much against my will or being slapped with the assumption that all singles want to get married. But in Thailand where everything is “just for fun”, you sometimes just have to grin and bare it — much like a barbecued dog I once saw in Hanoi.

And since I’m going to attend a wedding tomorrow (I still don’t know what I’m going to wear as my clothes forgot to grow along with my waistline), I thought I’d just list down some tongue-in-cheek tips to survive a wedding:

5. If possible, go with a friend — like a real friend, and not some guy you’ve talked into being your fake boyfriend for the day.

4. No one’s pitying you that you’re still single; it’s probably all in your head. And even if they were, you can’t really stop people from thinking what they want to think.

3. Find out when the bouquet-tossing is scheduled for and make a quick getaway to the loo before anyone can forcibly drag you into it.

2. When the pastor starts listing out the advantages of having a mate for life and that feeling of envy starts scratching at you, think of all the perks as a single. You can decide where to go and what to eat, and no one’s going to fight you for the remote.

1. Decide that you’re going to have a good time and you’re there to bless the couple and to share in their joy. Humour always helps especially when asked the when-is-it-your-turn question. I usually have a few caustic comebacks at the back of my head but since sarcasm’s not useful in building relationships in a foreign land, I tend to have to be more diplomatic like: “Oh, that’s because I can’t find someone as good as you” OR “Ah, but you’ve taken the best one already.”

But I think I’ll try a new one tomorrow, if people are not sick of asking me the same question yet. I’d shrug and say, “Don’t know yet. What about you? When did you get married? How did he propose? What was your wedding like” And just keep them talking about themselves until they forget the original question. Fingers crossed.

Excuse me, how do I date correctly?

One of the most common questions that I get asked all the time (like i’m so obviously the expert) by younger single Christian girls is: What is the correct way to date?

I’d hem and haw, uhm and ah, and after much fudging and looking wise, I’d say: I dunno. (If I’d known, I wouldn’t be single, right?)

And that’s the truth, because after trying to do all the “correct” things according to various Christian fads in the last 15 years – think X meets Y and the popular “kissed… goodbye” books – I’m more clueless and confused than ever.

Some Christians say I haven’t prayed hard enough and I needed to make a list down to very specific items like height and hair colour. 1.8m and natural hair colour please. Still no avail.

Then other well-meaning Christian friends say I need to have a sign – a secret sign that only God and I knew – to figure out which guy is the One. So I went through a phase of “if this guy sings Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are to me without me telling him, he must be the One that God has prepared for me.” The only guy whom I’ve heard sung it so far is the lounge singer. Or maybe I should have chosen a “holier” song, maybe a hymn like Just As I Am.

I’m not dissing couples who met each other based on a specs list or on blueberry-cheese-cake signs. God in His infinite mercies does answer our quirky prayers. But what comes true for some might not be the same for others. So if you’re wondering why, despite praying your List to tatters, your knight is still not appearing, you might need a rethink. Maybe that’s just not the way for you.

But whatever it is, don’t ask me for any dating advice. You’d be better off asking those who have dated… and succeeded.

This post was inspired by a brilliant piece of writing by Gina R. Dalfonzo called “The Good Christian Girl: A Fable”. Recommended reading for anyone who’s dated in the last 15 years – you’ll see a lot of yourself in it.

No country for old maids

Singles, as I’ve been told, have two big fears — the fear of loneliness and the fear of what other people think.

The first is understandable enough but the second may actually be the bigger motivator to find one’s missing half. It’s perhaps easier to endure lonely nights than the knowing looks from friends and relatives whom we think are secretly pitying us for our status of one.

And it doesn’t help that stereotypes abound of the typical career woman who works 16-hour days, has a screaming fit at the slightest provocation and eats every incompetent imbecile for breakfast. So you secretly stress over whether you’re turning into this scary old maid that you used to make fun of and never thought you’d one day become.

As your childhood friends celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary and blog about their third child’s first day at school, you become even more convinced that there must be something wrong with you. Except that you don’t really know what.

Society, by and large, favours the family unit. Take Singapore for example, young married couples get massive rebates on public housing while the single has to wait until he/she is 35 to buy a resale flat at much higher market rates. While it makes sense to give preferential treatment to the married (especially to keep the birth rate in the black), the single is sometimes caught out in no man’s land.

And as your circle of single friends get smaller, you start to feel even more displaced. That’s why I started this blog, so that perchance you might find this a safe place where you belong, and who knows, perhaps even get to know other like-minded people.

As with every good sermon, I’m ending this post with a call to action. The next time you start wondering if there’s something wrong with you for being single, look in the mirror and say, “I’m fearfully and wonderfully made, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with me (at least nothing more wrong than someone who’s married!).” Repeat that at least a hundred times and you should begin to believe it eventually.