Like most men in Singapore, I knew that I wanted to find a nice girl, apply for HDB flat, get married and perhaps have 2 kids (2 children seems ideal for most Singaporean families). Growing up, finding that right girl to be my soul mate constantly filled my mind. I thought that getting attached to the right one would be the happiest thing in the world and life will be perfect bliss thereafter.
During my undergraduate days, I did find the right girl. Rachel and I got to know each other through volunteering for a camp for abused and abandoned children. In one another, we saw compatibility and had deep admiration for each other’s qualities – I liked her because she was gentle, spoke well and had a soft heart for the marginalized in society; she was drawn to me because she saw me as a leader, found me engaging to talk to and appreciated my musical skills.
When we were finally “boyfriend and girlfriend”, it seemed like I had found happiness. We experienced a honeymoon phase where we were content to simply be in each other’s company. In fact, during that phase, we remarked to a friend that we never seemed to quarrel nor disagree about anything. Wonderful as it was, the conflict-free period did not last forever. It was not long before we found things to disagree on.
It started with our own families. As potential in-laws got to know Rachel and I, we discovered that we did not fit their image of the ideal son/daughter in-law. (Don’t get me wrong: our parents have accepted the both of us wholeheartedly.)
Too skinny! My mum said to me after Rachel had dinner with my family one day. You must make sure she doesn’t just eat tofu and rice! How to have healthy grandchildren like that?
He asked you to limit your clothing budget?! How can he do that? Rachel’s mum exclaimed after discovering that I had asked Rachel to cap her spending on clothes. Imagine what he would do when you both are married!
Of course, when our parents said these things, they did it out of love. It did, however, add to our expectations for each other. As the relationship progressed towards preparation for marriage, there were other things to disagree about. We couldn’t agree whether to accept the HDB flat that we had successfully balloted for, we couldn’t agree on every item on the renovation list, the wedding venue and so on. In this transition from courtship to marriage, there was everything to disagree about!
There are 3 lessons that Rachel and I have learnt during this period of transition.
- Differences will always arise. Mutual respect is key.
No matter how compatible we think we are, Rachel and I are still two uniquely and wonderfully made individuals. As a woman, she is more emotionally sensitive in certain situations. Instead of being critical at her responses, I am learning how to understand her reactions and try to empathize with her. Getting to know Rachel’s family and upbringing has also been important for me to understand why she would like certain things to be done in a certain way.
- Differences will always arise. Learn to bend for your partner.
As Rachel and I drew closer to marriage, there were many decisions for which we’ve had to meet at halfway. For example, Rachel was very clear on what she wanted for the renovation of our flat; I was more concerned about keeping the costs low. Eventually, we agreed to forego certain things in order to meet our slim budget. Recognizing that we can’t always meet 100% of our individual goals and making the necessary concessions is important in a committed relationship.
- Differences will always arise. Communicate them to your partner!
I’ve learnt that communication with my better half was an art. It is oft said that when a woman declines a gentlemanly gesture from her boyfriend/husband, she does not necessarily mean it. In reality, she is hoping the guy would really perform that gesture. Woe to the man who does not see through that expectation!
There were times where Rachel and I got upset because of unmet expectations. But you didn’t tell me you wanted this! We often said to one another, each time a little disappointed and frustrated that our expectations were not met. Since then, we are learning how to share our expectations with one another and communicate why we felt that need was not met.
Communication is not just one-way. In this case, it is not sufficient to express why your need is unmet. It is also important for the partner to give feedback on why the expectation was not able to be met and whether it was a reasonable expectation.
We are still on the journey and we know it will not be all easy. But we are committed to each other and will not choose life any other way.
– Post by Eugene Tan
Eugene is a civil servant who was recently engaged to his university sweetheart. When he is not travelling to a developing country for work or preparing for marriage, he enjoys playing games on his iPad, strumming his guitar or enjoying food with friends in Little India.