Recently, I found myself seated next to two Singaporean guys on a flight from Thailand to Singapore. They were having a very loud two hour-long conversation, and after trying in vain to read a book I’d brought I gave up trying to block out their voices.
Guy A was distraught about the fact that he was unable to upkeep his materialistic girlfriend. Despite the fact that she had quit her job and expected him to give her an allowance, he was determined to keep the relationship going. Guy B shook his head sadly and agreed that in Singapore, you need money to solve all your problems. He then helped his friend to think of a speech to rattle off to his girlfriend in order to placate her.
I’ll admit that this conversation made me lose a little bit more of my faith in Singapore society. Are relationships here nothing more than a pragmatic calculation of dollars and cents? Here are some reasons why it often seems that way.
Singaporeans are relentlessly goal-oriented. Few people these days do anything without first asking what’s in it for them. Blame it on a cut-throat education system where students only take subjects they know they can score in, or the exhausting rat race people constantly run so they can afford their Chanels and Audis, and it’s easy to see why there’s simply no time to sit back and enjoy things for what they are.
The same thing happens in many relationships here. Guy B cheerfully informed Guy A that his wife had charted out a plan for them early in the relationship—ballot for a flat, get married by 28 and have the first kid by 30. Her next goal was to become a housewife by 40.
Our goal-driven mentalities leave little room for the flexibility to simply experience or feel out a relationship. Instead, people constantly ask themselves what goals they can achieve with a potential relationship. I’ve had friends who were grilled about their desire for childrearing on a first date. If you’re already going to have a list of boxes to tick, why not just stipulate a minimum salary for your future spouse, and throw in a car and condo to go with it?
People are desperate to move out of their parents’ homes
There are few developed countries in the world where one’s living situation is so closely tied to when and whom they marry. Thanks to the rule that only singles aged 35 and above are allowed to purchase HDB property and the astronomical prices of private property and rent here, many couples see marriage as the only way to move out of their parents’ homes.
In addition, couples who have already downpaid or collected the keys to their property are given 6 months to tie the knot or face a big monetary loss if they decide to bow out of the relationship. I have several friends who broke up and lost their deposits. Many others decide to go ahead with the marriage because they’ve already invested so much in it financially, even if they are no longer emotionally invested in their partners.
Traditional gender roles
Despite the fact that Singapore’s female workforce participation is very high, and there isn’t a terribly huge discrepancy in wages, we are still by and large a very conservative society.
Long working hours and a work culture that is generally family unfriendly makes it increasingly difficult for women to get ahead in their careers and look after the family at the same time. It doesn’t help that men are still not pulling their weight in the child-rearing and housekeeping department.
Conversely, many women still believe that the man should be earning more than them, and many men reciprocate by being overly defensive when their earning power is challenged or when faced with women who earn more than them. Of course not everybody is like that, but it’s not an uncommon phenomenon.
With outmoded values like the above, it’s no wonder women continue to look to men as being the providers.
No social safety net
While we’re not as bad as Hong Kong (yet), there’s no denying that it’s tough surviving in Singapore if you don’t make much money. With a weak social safety net, those unlucky enough to fall through the cracks find themselves struggling to feed themselves and pay their medical bills in old age.
This weak social safety net incentivises people to marrying for money. It’s easy for people in Scandinavian countries to marry for love when they know all their needs will be taken care of in future.
We might not be a third world country where women are left with no choice but to see marriage as a ticket out of starvation. But thanks to the feelings of fear and insecurity society here breeds, we might as well be.
Do you think marrying for money is acceptable? Tell us in the comments!