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Alexis Ong: The problem with Singapore men
Where are all the real Singapore men? Alexis Ong laments the rise of the 'manscaped,' handbag-carrying, conversation-less local male
Sometimes a friend and I play a little game whose main objective requires us to guess whether androgynous-looking guys are gay or just your garden-variety metrosexual.
It’s pretty hard to tell these days, what with tight jeans, “manscaping” and stores that specialize in making the average Singaporean dude look like a lubricated human glowstick.
The most recent objects of our attention were two guys in a restaurant booth next to ours, heads bent over the table, giggling over something on an iPhone, and basically acting like a pair of teenage girls. For healthy, straight girls, I’m going to go ahead and say this kind of sucks.
Sadly, guys like these aren’t anomalies in Singapore -- they’re the rule.
To be fair, survivors of the post-apocalyptic desert that is the local dating scene might think me unnecessarily harsh, but after a lifetime living overseas, a girl can get pretty accustomed to some good chat. This elusive creature is almost non-existent in Singapore, save for a specific demographic of guys who know how to make a conversation tick.
Even worse, guys here don’t really like girls who can. Case in point: at a friend’s birthday party, the debate-happy side of me got slightly carried away in a conversation about music, and a guy actually said: “Um … are you just like this? All the time?”
Uh, yes. It’s called talking, and besides being a very telling extension of your personality, the rest of the civilized world seems to think it’s a great way of getting to know someone.
The reality of the situation is, guys here just aren’t used to dealing with a little spunk. Whether this is because of society’s more conservative inclinations or a very Singaporean aversion to healthy conflict, studies have shown that people here are content to marry someone they don’t even like.
Retired professor and relationship expert David Olson explained that people here are “afraid to say what they think and are afraid to disagree.” A 2005 survey revealed that only 14 percent of Singaporean couples claimed to be “very happy” in their relationships -- within the “unhappy” camp, reasons included disliking a partner’s personality or communication problems.
Personally, I blame the men. There are plenty of traditional old Chinese men in my family who just can’t compute when it comes to dealing with a modern career-minded woman, much less a woman who speaks her mind.
There are a few perks to shopping at the local guy market. There’s still an archaic sense of chivalry here that involves a lot of hand-holding, constant accompaniment, and this weird phenomenon of couples collapsed on each other in public places, as if they’re both asleep.
The latter is a particularly fascinating physical example of the tragicomically codependent dynamic that defines many local relationships.
Guys here are either alpha-male dominant and aggressive (hello, CBD business crowd) or totally whipped -- there’s hardly a visible demographic in between.
Okay, fine, so it’s not exactly easy to be a guy in Singapore. Women expect a lot of you these days … having your own place, preferably with a car and a couple of credit cards thrown in.
I’m a little hesitant to bring up the 5Cs (condo, career, credit card, car, country club) because I feel like they’re slightly outdated. These days, depending on the circles you travel in, there’s a lot of cultural capital and fashion savvy required, too.
Not to mention it’s tough trying to get the whole "true romance" mindset going here when people look to government agencies for dating initiatives.
Even after all my bitching, it’s not actually hard for a guy to be a “man” in Singapore by current standards; if you’re a girl who likes being in a committed relationship with someone safe, ready, willing and able to play house with you.
These are generally the sort of people who carry their girlfriends’ purses and wear matchy-matchy clothes with their partner. But these aren’t the droids I'm looking for, are you?
The sad fact is that many guys here still can’t come to terms with gender equality. From experience, the hyper-masculine set still don’t take a woman’s view seriously. And for the submissive man-wife, the message here is: grow a pair. Don’t wait for someone to grow them for you.
The opinions of this commentary are solely those of Alexis Ong.
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Alexis Ong has a degree she doesn't use, but can read, write, and do some arithmetic. She's spent the last few years in Singapore and previously lived in New York and Boston.