Aug 1, 2010
Love beyond borders
Long-distance relationships are now commonplace and bosses can do more to help staff nurture these bonds
So this is modern love in modern Singapore.
D, a Singaporean friend of mine, has been dating A for almost a year now. A is Taiwanese but lives and works in Seoul, Korea.
They met over the Internet years ago when D was going out with someone else. When that relationship ended messily, A moved in quickly for the kill.
It did not matter that A was almost 4,800km away. They webcammed on MSN Messenger first and, later, when the relationship blossomed, talked for hours every night on Skype.
A tries to visit D in Singapore as often as he can but his company only pays for flights home to Taiwan.
So every journey to see D is a long one - with a stopover in Taipei. At least, he gets to see his family more, he says - an unexpected bonus that came with falling in love.
Another couple I know is K, a British expat here who has been in an 11-year relationship with a Singaporean friend also named K.
The British K, who is a teacher, flies home every summer and winter to visit his family during the long school vacations.
The Singaporean K sometimes accompanies him on these trips home but these are rare occasions when work schedules permit.
Time together is precious, especially since the Singaporean K happens to work in an American company that requires him to be in Kuala Lumpur on most weekdays.
C and D are a recently married couple who spent much of their six-year courtship living on different continents. C was working in Singapore and D was overseas.
They decided that if they ever got hitched, one of them should quit and join the other.
It turns out that it was D who decided to come back to Singapore. He found work, but not in an area that he is totally comfortable with.
Unhappy, he is now considering quitting without a job. C is stressed out by this, and now wonders if she should have been the one to join him all those months ago.
If you look around, you'll find many stories like these.
Another friend of mine is dating someone partly because he is willing to drive down from Malacca to Singapore every weekend to be with his other half.
One of my colleagues agreed that her husband should take a great job in Hong Kong about a year ago, even though it could mean that their steady marriage could be entering a cold and difficult phase.
Long-distance relationships used to be so rare that the mere possibility of someone having one would spark weeks and months of intense debate among his or her friends.
That's because whoever was involved had to contemplate some pretty big changes in their lives.
I grew up in the 1980s, a time when the instantaneousness of the Internet did not exist. Communication with a loved one overseas meant writing a letter that took as long as a week to be delivered.
If you did not want to be limited by words on a page, you might have sent a cassette recording of your voice. Maybe even a video tape, if you had the money to buy a video camera.
Actually, if you loved the person enough, you would logically have spared no expense, and even paid for all those flights out there to see them.
Except all that distance between you tended to put a real dampener on love. When it's hard to see a clear path ahead, you ask if a long-distance relationship is really worth the investment.
It was no wonder then that relationships like that were extremely rare among my parents' friends and colleagues.
If you fell in love with someone overseas or your husband was posted to some far-off land, you simply dropped everything to join him and somehow dealt with the consequences.
Yet such a move was also unacceptably high-risk.
Can someone really abandon his or her career, family and friends for a new life in an unfamiliar land?
Did they know enough about this person they loved to overcome culture shock, homesickness and sheer boredom that was sure to set in once they got there?
One never wants to be the proverbial prodigal son or daughter returning to Singapore, who shows up on his or her parents' doorstep, crying and lugging suitcases.
But it was a very distinct possibility.
Today, of course, the odds of a long-distance relationship surviving are much healthier. Budget air travel means that spending time with a partner overseas has become easier and cheaper.
The Internet allows couples to see and talk to each other at any time of the day, at virtually zero cost. Some couples I know who are in long-distance relationships know so much more about each other than the average couple, right down to what they ate for lunch and dinner.
In fact, you could even argue that the distance works to their advantage.
Because they are so far away from each other, they feel more of a need to commit to daily face-time together, free from the other distractions of life.
In fact, these couples really get back to basics, often just opening up to each other about what they did or felt that day.
Just half an hour of this translates to more quality communication than many normal couples here can get on an average busy workday.
Long-distance relationships have also become something of an emerging social phenomenon as Singapore becomes more of a global city.
It is common now for international talent to ask for a stint in Singapore and in the two or three years that ensue, it is quite possible they will meet someone nice here and fall in love.
For every existing posting that ends, a new long-distance relationship potentially springs up.
At the same time, Singapore companies are spreading their wings globally. It's quite normal now for Singapore talent to be posted overseas and many see this as an essential part of career progression.
So for every new posting that begins, another new long-distance relationship also potentially springs up.
In a Singapore littered with newly blossoming or fragile long-distance relationships, more needs to be done to anticipate problems and help keep them alive.
I'd like to see company bosses become more flexible with work arrangements so that their employees can take long weekends off to be with their loved ones in Taipei or Hong Kong.
It is no different from the understanding they exhibit when parents need to attend to a child's illness or school matters.
How about allowing staff to take time off during the workday to Skype their loved ones located in awkward time zones?
And should the Government be more open, say, with granting employment passes to significant others in non-marital relationships?
If we agree that love in the Lion City is precious and increasingly knows no bounds, then let's do the best we can to kindle it in this borderless world.