Notes From The Underground: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Dating in JC

by Marcus Tan (15A01A), Katrina Jacinto (15A13A) and Celine Liu (15A01E)
Image from Corbis Images

Couple Holding Hands

This is the final installment in this year’s termly series featuring advice from the team of counselors at the Raffles Guidance Centre. This time, we bring to you FAQs regarding romantic relationships and dating in Raffles. Click to read part onepart two and part three. For a student’s perspective on dating, read our Guide to Dating Models.

Press: Should I make my relationship public or should I keep it discreet?

Liren: A lot of it depends on the context, doesn’t it? It depends on your family – your parents and how they might respond or react, and what kind of reasons you have for keeping it discreet. It’s very contextual and hard to answer.

Kah Hwee: That’s actually a disturbing question – I would be thinking, “What does it convey to the other party about your commitment or your seriousness about this relationship?” by keeping it discreet. If It’s a relationship you can’t be open about, what kind of a relationship is that then?

P: What should I do if my parents disapprove of the person I am in a relationship with?

KH: I think everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions. Even your friends can say “No, I don’t think he’s good for you,” or “No, I don’t think she’s good for you.” If there’s disapproval, how do you deal with it? I’d take a step back and talk it out with them. In general, talk it out with your parents and help them to understand your point of view. When you seek that path, try to seek to understand your parents’ viewpoints: “Let’s be fair about it. If we’re going to be like adults about this – sit down, have a chitchat, it goes both ways. I’m seeking to understand your viewpoint, I’d like you to be open to understanding my viewpoint about this as well.” and see whether you can negotiate a middle ground out of that. It’s all about taking responsibility for your own actions at the end of the day. And if you’re really determined and you’re going to look at marriage in the near future – so what do you do about it? If you consider your parents your loved ones, whose blessing are you going to seek? Then, do the adult thing, talk about it.

P: So it ever justified to defy your parents in your relationship choices?

KH: Would you want your kids to go against you?

L: I think as cliché as it sounds, or as cheesy or as irritating as it sounds, all parents do have the interests of their children at heart. You may not be on the same page with regards to certain choices about your partner, you may not have the same beliefs or ideas about relationships; but at the heart of it, parents have certain legitimate reasons to be concerned about the partners that you choose. The key thing is really talking it out. In some ways, it is also about allaying their concerns, showing that you’re mature enough, responsible enough to handle things. My own example is that when I first started dating my wife, my mother-in-law was quite a personality. My wife is an extremely kind person and my mother-in-law is someone who has seen quite a bit of the world. She knows that there are bad people out there and bad people who do bad things. So when I first started dating my wife, my mother-in-law was very, should I say, careful about me – “Who’s this guy? Who’s dating my daughter? Who is he? If he wants to date her, he’s got to prove he’s serious, got to prove he’s a good man and has a good character and that he will take care of my daughter.” The first few months, oh my goodness, it was tough.  But it doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time to convince others and to show your sincerity in your actions and your words.

P: How do I know if I’m ready to get together with someone? (Ready would mean being ready to commit to the other person, time-wise and emotionally, and committing to solving problems with that person if things come up, and with half an eye on one’s partner becoming one’s spouse eventually.)

L: Kah Hwee and myself think you must at least have half an eye on this person eventually becoming your spouse. Of course there is a really long way to go between now and then, and you will go through very many different changes and stages in life: you’re going to go through NS (for the boys) and universities, travel overseas to study, start your career… maybe you’ll only get married after 3 or 4 years into your career. So if you don’t have at least half an eye on wanting to at least make things work out,  it’ll really be very difficult when you have problems that come up. It’s very difficult to resolve problems when there isn’t the commitment to stay together. So that’s one question you can ask yourself:  ‘am I ready to consider sticking to this person for life?’ Another question to think about is if you are mature enough to be responsible for yourself first. I know none of you are financially independent, but life is about a lot more than just money. So are you able to be responsible for your studies, for your friendships, for your family relationships…are you already being able to take certain responsibilities slowly? Because if you can’t, then it’s very difficult to be in a relationship where you have to be responsible for somebody else. Are you ready to learn to serve each other as well? Because a lot of times people enter a relationship because they feel lonely, because the feeling of being in love is something that’s actually quite natural and very exciting. In reality, a lot of times, you’ll feel certain needs aren’t met, but when you’re looking for a long-term, stable relationship, it’s a lot of commitment, it’s an act of your will. It’s really making choices through the ups and downs to stay together. So the question is:  ‘are you really ready to be making choices to put the needs of the other person before our own?’ When you think about readiness, there’s some decisions that you have to make and these are not questions that have a yes no answer.

KH: I think you’re ready when you’re secure in yourself. I think that’s very important. When you actually don’t need other people to give you assurance of who you are, and you find that in yourself, I think then you’re ready to get together with someone. Because then you have much more of yourself to give, and you’re much more ready to receive others into your life. So what are the foundations where a good solid relationship is? When you can get by yourself, to build up your own life in terms of getting good with friends and family, with loved ones. Maybe not family at this stage, since they probably don’t matter to you guys. But getting good with friends, just stay connected with a group of friends, close friends. So when you get into a relationship it’s not so much about him and me and her and me; there’s also friends, and friendship is important as well. Getting grounded in your own interests, your passions, in your faith. That helps you to know who you are, and these are things that you can always fall back on in your own free time. And that’s an extension of yourself around you. Get goal oriented: find a goal that you’re willing to work towards. And I’ve heard this saying before: that a goal oriented person, a person who’s very passionate about a certain thing in life, is a very sexy person. If you think about it, we tend to be attracted to people who seem to know what they want in life. There’s a very peculiar attraction about that kind of people. Yeah, so get goal oriented, keep growing and make sure you ensure your own development as a person. Basically, invest in building up yourself and in that process you will become very attractive to others and you will be ready to get together with somebody, people will just come to you you won’t even have to look.

P: One of the struggles people involved in relationships have is balancing between their partner and their friends. How do you find that balance, and more importantly how do you get your partner to allow you to balance, especially in the earlier stages of the relationship?

L: I think in the earlier stages it’s quite natural to be more sticky with each other, be more exclusive, just kind of want to get to know this person. That’s quite natural. But I think in general, relationships that are very very highly exclusive tend to also burn out quite fast because there are no other aspects of life, no other people or mutual friends that can enrich the relationship as well. If you just focus on each other all the time after awhile you just start picking on the small things, and the small things blow up. I would say if there is a good level of commitment in the relationship, then one possible thing to think about is to become friends with your partner’s friends and let your partner’s friends become your friends. So be open. And actually that helps in the sense that you can also spend time in a group, and yet at the same time have your partner with you. The community is very important because then you don’t just keep focusing on each other, you as a couple look out for the needs of other people, support other people along.

KH: And I’m sure you’ve heard people say that when you’re in groups it’s a good place to observe your partner’s behaviour. Because in one-to-one you can usually put on a certain front, a certain type of persona, and you’re only limited to that part of your partner. So when you’re in a group you can actually see different parts of him or her coming out. And in assessing whether this person is suitable for you for life, that actually helps.

L: Or just kind of ‘doing life’ together, whether it’s volunteering, or getting involved in organizing something together, because then you can sort of see their real self. Because it’s a bit hard to fake, versus when you’re one-to-one and you tend to put on your biggest smile, psych yourself in the best mood. Then, it’s quite a bit different, it lacks the context of life.

KH: And I think in extreme cases, if your partner is one who totally doesn’t like you hanging out with your friends and needs your life hundred percent of the time, I say dump him or her. Seriously, in the long run a possessive partner is not going to be very good.

P: What about the other way?

KH: If you are the possessive one? Get ready to be dumped! Hahaha. Probably you need to be a bit reflective about why you have this need to just hold on to that person and to be aware of where he or she is at any time, what he or she is doing, cannot let him or her out of my sight… If you are the kind of person that start looking inward and see what caused that.

L: I think another aspect is to think about is: what is it in the relationship that makes one of you feel insecure and thus possessive? There could be certain things that are discreet, not in the open, or some issues that are unresolved. You have to look at what causes those feelings and then looking at what’s happening at this relationship that’s making you feel like this.

P: What do I do if I think my partner is abusive or unhealthy?

L: Get out man. I mean honestly, as straightforward as it is. Nobody deserves abuse whether it’s emotional abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse. So if you have an abusive partner then love yourself enough to get out of it. Check in if you don’t know whether that is the situation.

P: I guess there are a number of ways abusers can alter the situation to make the victim want to stay, like turning the blame on them, or making them feel like they’re the one at fault and should stay in the relationship. What happens if the abusive partner just says no and you’re not really in a position of confidence or power to say no back to them; or if you see them frequently and it’s hard to distance yourselves from them?

KH: We had a case a few years ago, where the parents of a student stepped into a relationship and told their child to keep away from this person during school time. The student tried as much as possible to do it. So you can do that by hanging around with friends, having people to keep you company and to cut off all possible contact with the abuser and not let the abuser come in and interact etc. In this case, the parents came to pick up and send home the child, and guarded the student. There is nothing to be ashamed of of being in a abusive relationship, I don’t think people will judge you and think you were stupid. Choose a couple of close friends who you trust and ask them to help you in the school context to keep you away from that person, because if you’re in a group the person probably won’t approach you. Change your social media, block numbers, block them on social media etc. There’s also always counselling help so you always can come to us for help, or go to the teachers.

P: What if you’re with someone but you start having second thoughts, and you don’t know about whether you should have a cool-off period or break up? How do you break up nicely and how do you know when it is no longer going to work out despite trying again and again to solve differences?

KH: These are pretty much the options you have: cool-off and clean break.

L: So you can talk about it, broach the topic a bit, talk about it a few times over a period of time, so it helps to cushion the blow a bit and the partner knows there are things to be dealt with, and if it’s dealt with then it is, if it’s not then…there’s no such thing as a painless breakup. It just doesn’t happen because there are emotions involved, emotional investment involved. When people are connected to each other, even when loved ones pass on, go overseas to study etc; whenever there is a relationship and there is a pausing or stopping of relationship, there is pain. All you can do is to do it in a way that at least minimizes the pain. Not all the pain is caused by the person doing the breakup; it’s the natural consequence of the ending of a relationship. And it’s also a myth that the person being dumped experiences more pain than the person dumping. A lot of times, it’s also very difficult for the person who is breaking up.

KH: If you’re not sure, have a cooling-off period. Talk about it, discuss and let the other party know about the things you’re not comfortable with, and the different aspects of the relationship you are having second thoughts about. Agree to work at it for a period of time, maybe negotiate a period of time to cool-off, 3 weeks, 6 weeks maybe for working something out, especially because you need 3-6 weeks to form new habits. After that you can come back and decide whether you want to continue, or to split. Also, if you’ve decided to break up, REALLY break up. Don’t drag the whole process. It’s like the Band-Aid rip; the best way to remove it is to strip it quickly. The slower you do it, the more painful it is. Rip it fast, and then the pain goes away faster.

P: If I break up with someone, should I still be friends with them afterwards? Is it ever possible to be friends with your ex?

L: I think so! The question is about whether you can still be friends with your ex without causing yourself more emotional stress. Sometimes the “not here, not there” and being not sure about where the boundaries are can be quite stressful. Can you still be friends with that person without it turning toxic or without there being blackmail? That is the bigger question. I know lots of people who are still friends with their exes.

KH: I do keep in touch with my ex! But I guess you need a cooling-off period after your breakup too. The residual emotions are still there and you have to give time to handle that, so both parties cool off and move on with their lives first before becoming friends again. And of course it’s best not to go out one-to-one anymore, at least not until you’ve moved on with life.

P: If you had to give dating advice to your 17 year self?

L: For me, I’d say to my 17 year old self: Be who you really are, and grow yourself as much as you can. Go find out as much about yourself. Grow your hobbies, your skills, get to know as many people from different fields and areas. You never know what will come by

KH: I’d tell my 17 year old self to take a long term perspective, to take dating seriously with the perspective of marriage.

L: Don’t enter a relationship in the heat of the moment, because at the end of the day it’s not worth it. Think long-term.

P: What do you do if you feel unwanted, especially when everyone around you is getting attached? What if you’re a perpetual third wheel?

KH: Sometimes there’s a lot of pressure, but if you feel lonely when alone with yourself, then that’s a very big signal to you you shouldn’t be getting into a relationship. When you are comfortable with your lone self, and alone, then you are comfortable with who you are and you can reach out to others and be with others. Loneliness has to be dealt with on your own; if you’re waiting for someone to come in and fill your loneliness, life doesn’t work that way. Even in relationships and marriages, there are always times when you have to be alone.

You can reach the RGC team at  6354 9105, or simply email them at  rgc@ri.edu.sg. Students can also come by the Underground for a chat with the counsellors without prior appointment (or leave a note at the little mailbox outside and they will get back to you as soon as possible).

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