Monday, February 06, 2006

Marriage and the Postmodern Single

Having just read an article about why more and more Malaysian women are staying single well into their 30s and 40s, I've come to a few sad conclusions about the Malaysian Single of the Noughties. I think it applies to the men just as much as the women. Here goes.

Disclaimer: The following piece is a representation of a large number of Malaysian Singles. It is by no means a description of any one individual, nor a sweeping statement about the whole group. I have the greatest respect for people who are single for reasons other than those stated here. Whoa momma, maybe I should have studied law, after all.

He/she is selfish. Life has been kind to him/her. He/she has the time, money and energy to spend all day working and all night shopping, partying, working out and hanging out with friends. Plus, without a family to support or contribute to, there's plenty of cash left over for overseas holidays. Why would anyone want to take on a life partner who would have problems with one's weekly bowling junkets with the boys/girls? Worse still, there might even be... children in the future! Nasty little helpless dependents; what kind of maniac would trade a fat wallet and sunshine-filled days for a lifetime of being concerned for, just imagine, someone else?

He/she has illusions of immortality. A common thread among the interviewees is, "Maybe when I'm older..." I wonder if it's occurred to any of them that it may not be so easy becoming a first-time parent when one's body, mind and soul have had the benefit of a few decades' living? Besides the ubiquitous biological clock every woman is supposedly equipped with, 30 years on Earth is enough to turn one into a hardened, cynical bag 'o dust. Hardly ideal parenting material. Or life partner material, for that matter.

On top of that, who ever guaranteed that "older" would even happen? True, barring the odd car accident or terminal illness, today's young adults can expect to live to at least 80 or so. But having made the choice to stay single and pursue the god of expensive things, will they enjoy their old age so much? At age 60, will they find themselves desperately lonely and longing for the company of the young adults who would have been their children if they'd made different choices in their 30s? Or, having left youth behind so long ago, will they find themselves unable to communicate with the children they finally had when they were pushing 50? I think Solomon, who's been pushing up daisies (or whatever vegetation there is in Bethlehem) for millennia now, had good reason to say, "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth." (Psalm 127:4)

His/her priorities are way off the mark. Career? Travel? Fame? Independence? In moderate doses, they're all good things to work for. But at the end of the day, you can't take it with you. Old age, illness, injury or infirmity can end a promising career in less time than it takes to whistle Dixie. Memories of sailing on the sparkling Mediterranean, backpacking over the Andes and seeing the sun rise on Angkor Wat will fade faster than a dream the day Alzheimer's moves in. As for fame, whether one gets Warhol's predicted 15 minutes or much, much more, it's not likely to last longer than a decade to a century after one's death. Is 10 to 100 years of fame really worth exchanging for the living legacy of a close-knit family?

Finally, he/she has a Thing against the Opposite Sex. It's as if the Men and the Women have each erected a fort. Messengers steal between the two, trying to see what the Other Side is really after. Sometimes, the Messengers realise that they're really after pretty much the same thing after all, and both defect to the land called Marriage.

Back at the forts, things are getting less and less civil. At Fort Femme, the women are up in arms over the porcine species yet to be recognised by Science, namely, the Male Chauvinist Pig. Based on true stories that happened a long, long time ago, the myths told in the fort get thicker and thicker. "You'll never have a life to call your own!" "He'll expect you to cook, clean, take care of the kids, and pick up after him!" "He won't want you to have your own career. He'll resent it if you earn more." "Even if you could work outside the home, you'd still have to do all the housework." Before long, isolated incidents get passed off as the norm. Variables are mistaken for constants. Flaws that can either be talked through or overlooked are now assumed to be as vital a part of the Man as his... uh... lungs.

Over on the Men's side, meanwhile, words are flying even thicker. "You'll never have a life to call your own!" "She'll expect you to bring home the bacon... and the Tiffany's." "She won't want you to stay in touch with your friends. Every second, morning, noon and night, will have to be accounted for; Heaven help you if forget who you ate lunch with last Saturday."

Both sides have their points. Malaysian men are, on the whole, still carrying around a large portion of their forefathers' misogynistic baggage. Many women are also living with the legacy of grandmas, mothers and sisters whom they wouldn't recognise out on the street because they haven't been out of the house since the wedding.

Nevertheless, it doesn't have to be this way. I may have heard of a woman who choked to death on chocolate but if you think that'll make me stop eating the stuff, think again. Similarly, you'd think that today's yuppies — women and men alike — would have the good sense to tell apart the exception from the norm, to weigh the total benefits against the total cost and to make a decision not only for their own good, but for their families, for society and for posterity.

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