Thursday, August 1, 2013


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I remember sitting down to dinner one night in Malaysia next to this Chinese family. There were two kids there - a self-assured fifteen-year-old boy, his nine-or-ten-year-old sister, their parents and their Auntie.

I was trying to mind my own business and focus on my kangkung belacan but I couldn't help overhearing the feisty conversation going on at the next table.

"Eh, got any girl you like in class ah?" the (I'm certain she's unmarried) Auntie probed.

"No lah, I'm still fifteen only, Auntie. No girl yet," proclaimed the boy.

"What about this girl V-?" asked the Auntie.

"Aiyah, I don't like her. She's not my type - stuck up."

"Her family very rich one, you know," the Auntie started, after a considered silence. "Her father, ah -"

This seemed to incense the boy.

"I don't care if she's rich or not. If I don't like her, I don't like her lah."

"No, listen, you have to think about these things early," she persisted. "Her father's got a good business, big house, nice car - you should give her a chance. Go after her."

"I'm too young to be thinking about these things," his voice started to raise. "And anyway, if I chase a girl, it should be because I love her, not because she is rich."

"Aiyah, young man, what do you know? What is love - love won't put food on the table one, you know?" she sneers in disgust. "Love, hmph."

 "You want so much, you go and marry her lah!" he says in exasperation, shocking her into a sullen silence.

At this point, I wanted to stand up and give this fifteen year old a standing ovation, pat him on his back and high-five him in front of his Auntie's face.


Let's face it - your parents will always be your parents. The road of parenting is strewn with good, and sometimes, mistaken intentions. In their eyes, you will always be their child, and they will always know, and want, what's best for their children.

One extreme of this is arranged marriages - in Sri Lanka, a friend tells me that 30% of marriages are still arranged marriages - people are matched according to careers, highest education qualifications, caste, family background with looks and interests coming a paltry second place.

He barely met his wife before the dowry was paid (a higher one because he was a doctor) and before he knew it, he was married to this almost complete stranger. Two people who have never met before, now needed to chart out a new road ahead together based on what the parents thought was best for them.

The first year of marriage was spent just finding out about his wife - understanding and accommodating her quirks and habits, her likes and dislikes, what she values. He has found it a little bemusing (in his traditional mindset) to discover that this modern, independent girl was not going to be told by her husband what to do, and he has had to do a lot of the compromising.  

Don't get me wrong, a lot of these marriages seem to work out, or at least they are still together after many years. Obligation, perhaps, or maybe there was some wisdom in the parent's choices, after all who knows us better than they do?


What Do You Want From Me?!

When we were fourteen or fifteen and foraying into this new hormone-hazed area of relationships - suddenly we find ourselves attracted to guys or girls, spending numerous hours sprawled out over phone conversations, believing in every love song we've ever sung, conjuring up our Prince Charmings and Princess Jasmines. (I blame Walt Disney solely for my delusions of perfect romantic relationships).

We try and tell our parents excitedly about this new guy or girl we have a crush on, and expect a similar excitement from them - to share in this newfound secret joy in our lives, our new reasons to be living. Instead, we are greeted with dead-eyed "Fat haw ah? Took shi!" (What's all this love nonsense? Go back to your books!)

And so we deaden our hearts, study hard and make it to university - and then suddenly our parents do a 180 degree turn and ask "Eh, why you so long still got no girlfriend yet?" which, with year after year of persistent singleness, leads to the inevitable worried question - "Eh, you gay is it?"

No, Mum and Dad, I have been scarred by your pragmatic suggestions that I should not entertain any romantic notions in my head growing up, and now, finally, I am rewarded by you questioning my sexuality.

What do you want from me?!!!


In all fairness, we were dependent on our parents for a lot of our choices growing up - we had no say of which milk formula we drank, what brand of diapers we wore, which kindergarten and school we went to, which tuition classes and extracurricular activity we were signed up for - all these things were decided in our best interests.

It is during our formative years, however - our teenage and young adult years - when we come to develop and test opinions of our own, that we take exception to them trying to interfere in a very personal part of our lives - our love lives. Often it is a clash of their mature pragmatism and our youthful romanticism that grates us the most.

They have seen that love is not enough reason to be married, that financial stresses can sometimes overwhelm even the most dewy-eyed romantics, that family background shapes a person, and a university education means a certain level of discipline, diligence and intelligence.

We see it, on the other hand that a person should not be judged by any other measure than who they are, what their hearts are like and whether or not we like them. We know that money can buy a sense of entitlement and arrogance in some people, and that a university qualification alone does not make you wise or interesting.

Take an even deeper issue, like age, race, religion and sexuality and throw it into the mix, and add even more to the confusion. These are often very emotional subjects, with threats of being disowned by our parents if we ever dared to bring home a so-and-so or a such-and such.

And so we get confused by the messages:-

Marry a white guy. Your kids will come out looking so cute, you know!

Don't you dare bring home anyone other than a Chinese guy.

Don't marry a Hakka girl. They are very loud and will hen-peck you.

Don't be unequally yoked. 

I can't date an older guy. I can't stand the thought that he might die before me. 

Younger men are so terribly immature.

If you marry a Muslim guy, I will lose you forever. I won't be able to eat pork, and I love it too much.

I'm okay with people being in same-sex relationships. Except for my own children. There are no gays, and there will never be gays, in our family. 

Like it or not, we do seek our family's approval when it comes to choosing a partner, and we often carry these messages around with us, either consciously or subconsciously.

Fortunately, at the end of the day, when we finally make our decisions about our life partners (after some disastrous early relationships, which are normal), we will find that there are the things that really matter, and things that don't, to us.

Do we feel cared for, respected, loved, protected, understood? Do we share the same values and beliefs, or if we don't, are our lives enriched by the differences? Are they someone we can talk to, share our problems and multiply our joy with? Can we put up with their habits and weaknesses? Do we believe and love the person enough to have the grace and strength to give and take?

And then the other things - the opinions of people, including our well-meaning parents, will start to quieten into the background as we gain more and more clarity about who we love, and what we want from our partners.

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