Love is a necessary but not sufficient condition to sustain a relationship, says an increasingly cynical Denise.
I had a very interesting conversation with a female friend the other day. She’s in her late 30s, and she got married just a few years ago. We started talking about relationships as she’d just found out that I was in a long-distance relationship.
She very candidly told me that she married her husband largely out of practical considerations. Not that she was completely devoid of feelings for him altogether (she says she enjoys his company); but she had other priorities in life besides “butterflies in the stomach and fluttery feelings of love”, and it was those – rather than the promise of everlasting love – that sealed the decision for her to get married. For her, being comfortable, and having someone share the financial burden of living in a place like Singapore was more important than being head over heels in love.
Now, if the 27-year-old me had heard this argument, I would have been very appalled. Her point of view would have been antithetical to everything I believed in back then.
Getting married “for practical reasons” was something that people of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation did, especially if you were a woman. Back then, gender roles were clearly delineated: Men brought home the bacon, women kept house. It was an economic decision that made sense.
These days, women are more independent and able to take care of themselves financially – surely that puts us in a better position to choose a mate based on our feelings for him rather than whether he’s able to help contribute to the mortgage?
But as I listened to what my new friend had to say, I realised that she had a point. We’ve all been fed a diet of Disney and rom-com happily-ever-afters to the point many of us fail to see that it takes a whole lot more than butterflies in the stomach to make a relationship work out in the long run.
Because – let’s face it – those butterflies don’t exactly stick around for long, don’t they? How long can you “close one eye’ when your partner leaves his dirty socks on the floor for the nth time? And can you say, in the name of true love, that you’re really willing to support him for months on end should he lose his job?
In a way, I think many women in Singapore are more ahead than me on the curve. As a collective species, we’ve been labelled “materialistic” for wanting to live the good life, and wanting to marry a partner with the same goals, but look, it’s not like we’re looking for a man who will be able to pay for our weekly manicures and spa treatments. We’re on the lookout for someone who can share the burden of living in a prohibitively expensive place like Singapore and I wouldn’t call that materialistic. I’d call it having two feet firmly planted on the ground. After all, it’s a sad fact of life that to be able to retire comfortably is not a luxury many of us will enjoy in the future.
No, I haven’t done a complete about turn. Blame it on one too many re-watchings of The Little Mermaid when I was 9 … there is a part of me that believes in the whole mind-body connection, the idea of a single soul inhabiting two bodies, and all that. Hell, if I didn’t believe in true love, I wouldn’t even be in a long-distance relationship in the first place.
But after four straight years of being in a long-distance relationship, you can’t blame me for being fed up, can you? My feelings for Alain haven’t changed but the situation is starting to annoy the hell out of me. Trust me, we’ve explored every option under the sun till its rational conclusion. Still … nothing. Why? For the simple reason that neither of us is financially equipped to make The Big Move. Quips about one of us striking lottery to make relocation possible are no longer just brushed off as jokes but actually being considered as a serious option (I’ve always hated gambling but am now seriously considering buying a 4D ticket every week.)
It’s after being in a highly impractical situation that I have come to appreciate the practical considerations of a relationship. No, of course I’m not thinking of breaking up with Alain, but I think I have gained newfound perspective and won’t be so quick to judge if a woman were to base her decision to marry primarily for pragmatic reasons rather than the promise of a happily-ever-after.
No Money, No Honey?
Our 20s is likely the time when we’ll experience more than our fair share of dizzying relationships and devastating heartbreak. Some of us may decide, as we get older, that we want to opt out of this “emotional contract” for a more stable life, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In between trying to climb the corporate ladder, maintaining a social life, and doing everything else that needs to be done, I can understand why some women would choose to be in a relationship that’s fuss-free and that fits in seamlessly with their other life goals.
Anyway, who’s to say that relationships based on pragmatic needs can’t be fulfilling in their own right? When a couple sits down to work out the financial cost of their union and find a way to make it work, that’s one big potential bugbear and relationship-destroyer out of the way, leaving more room for the fun bits.
But I’m not completely devoid of hope. Even my practical friend admits that “some couples are lucky enough to have the best of both worlds. They can be completely in love and also able to work towards their life goals together”.
I believe with all my heart that Alain and I will be one of those fortunate couples. Alain and I have invested four good years in this relationship and we’re not ready to give up just yet. But we recognise – as I approach my 31st birthday, and Alain, his 35th – that love and fresh air are not going to keep us going. The urgency of getting ourselves financially on track has hit home, and that means coming to terms to the fact that we might need to lead separate lives for awhile as we focus on being individually successful. Practical considerations are going to be the true test of our relationship and I have a feeling that it will be harder than anything we’ve had to endure the past four years.
But if there’s one thing we both have in common, we can be extremely stubborn and tenacious when push comes to shove. Tough times lie ahead, and we’ll probably be seeing each other less often than we do now, but he reassures me time and time again that we’ll get through this.
Who knows what the future will bring? But in the end, we’re hedging our bets on practicality, tempered with a lot of love and faith.
About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.
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