Single in the city – why are record numbers of Singaporeans still looking for love?

With the spread of dating apps such as Tinder, which has lost much of its social stigma, shouldn’t it be easier than ever to meet that special someone? Not so, say some Singaporeans. (Photo: Shutterstock)

By Philip Fenton

There are more singles in Singapore than ever before.

According to The Straits Times, the number of singles increased by 25 per cent from 2004 to 1, 048, 100 last year (2014). Meanwhile,  the average age of first-time grooms rose from 29.1 in 2003 to 30.2 in 2013. As for brides, it rose from 26.6 years to 28.1 years.

The main reasons are fairly obvious, says Wendy Tse, who runs elite matchmaking service Society W.

“The number one reason is that there are a lot of eligible people who are so caught up in their careers that they put everything else on hold and only start thinking about marriage and kids when they’re in their 30s. I work with some guys who don’t think about it until their 40s.

“Singapore is so expensive now that people feel they need to focus on their careers first.”

But there’s also the ‘Hollywood effect’ – a romanticised and often unrealistic idea of what a marriage should be.

“Some of the old reasons for marriage – things like financial stability – are less important, particularly now that women tend to be more financially independent,” says Tse. “People think ‘unless I find the perfect person, I’d rather be alone’. The problem is it’s not always a realistic view.”

But with the spread of dating apps such as Tinder, which has lost much of its social stigma, shouldn’t it be easier than ever to meet that special someone? Especially given that there are so many singles in Singapore? Or is the technology part of the problem?

Dating in the digital age is completely different to even a few years ago, with pretty much any information you could want on a potential date available at the click of a button. Aside from removing some of the mystery, an expat who only wanted to be known as Kris argues that it makes it easier to dismiss those who don’t tick the right boxes without ever having spoken to them, which is not necessarily a good thing. “It’s easy to go after people you think you want. If you only want a doctor who is six feet tall, you can do that,” she says. “But it means you’ll never meet that random person who takes you by surprise.”

And as she points out when it comes to dating in general – and on Tinder in particular – just because someone claims to be a doctor doesn’t mean they’ve actually been anywhere near a medical school. “In fact I’ve met people who pretend to be unemployed when it turns out they work as neurosurgeons. They just don’t want to be targeted for that reason.”

Wendy Tse (above), CEO and founder of matchmaking service Society W.

Criticism

The main criticism of dating apps is that they make people less likely to commit, with users ending up spoiled for choice. Kris though argues that you get out of it what you put in. “Yes there are lots of people looking for hookups, but that’s not that different to going to Clarke Quay.

“I don’t think it makes you take it less seriously. People are busy and if you don’t meet people through work, then where do you meet them?”

Whatever the impact it may have on commitment, there’s no doubting the fact that apps such as Tinder make it easier for socially awkward men and women to meet people.

“I am happier to use apps too as I don’t approach women socially,” says a Singaporean who only wanted to be known as Adam. “I’m too embarrassed to do that and then be rejected.”

Fear of rejection is not unique to Singapore but is it more common here? Tse thinks so. “Yes I think it’s more prevalent in Singapore and it’s a shame, it’s a shame people don’t do it [approach strangers] more.”

So what’s the secret to approaching someone in public? “Forget the canned pickup lines: they don’t work,” says Tse. “Women I speak to appreciate it when guys approach them normally.”

Kris agrees. “Honestly I think it would be a bit weird if someone approached me in public – it just doesn’t happen now – but weird in a good way. He’d certainly stand out.”

That differs from the experience of British filmmaker Samuel Abrahams and his friend Tom Greaves, who approached women in public in London for the short film Offline Dating. Most of the women seemed surprised that anyone would even try such an old fashioned approach.

Zak, a 28-year-old media professional, uses Tinder to get around his shyness, but even that is no guarantee of success. “It’s purely base on looks. As for being spoiled for choice, no, I still think it’s a numbers game which I’m not that successful at.”