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What Happens When Your 20s Don’t Go According to Plan

What Happens When Your 20s Don’t Go According to Plan

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Top image credit: People Magazine

Singaporeans in their 20s fall into two categories:

1. Those who are attached, in their mid-20s, and looking to BTO in time to start raising children.

2. Those who are still figuring it out.

For many of us, the public housing system in Singapore brings a reality check we never quite learn to prepare for. And whether we realise it or not, the requirements that decide our eligibility shape the lives we live.

If, like these folks in a recent Straits Times feature, you started planning early, then things pretty much work out. But sometimes, life doesn’t go the way you expect.

I laugh when I think about this now, but there was a point in my life when I believed I would be married by 23. This was long before I knew that unexpected things happen, people change, and that 4 year relationships occasionally come to an end.

But end mine did. And I found myself following in the footsteps of all the greatest cliches to have ever existed, realising that I had missed out on making the most of my youth to meet girls. By the time I was done braving the depths of Tinder, I was 26, as married as the day I was born, with no BTO in sight.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way when I say that for all the of the chaotic entanglements I put myself through, this journey has been largely a good thing.

And as I’ve gotten older, and all my questionable decisions have been put in perspective, I now feel a need to slow down, re-assess where I am, where I came from, and where I now want to go. Settling down, for me at least, is nowhere on the horizon.

if this privacy and security of home life is what marriage is all about, then surely I, an unmarried man, must be missing out

That said, I get it.

In the absence of friends’ parents in their spanking new HDB flats, I find myself getting drunk in their living rooms without fear of judgment, never afraid to laugh too loudly. In Singapore, where most of us don’t leave the nest until we get married, it’s a rare kind of joy.

I even recall thinking at one point that if this privacy and security of home life is what marriage is all about, then surely I, an unmarried man, must be missing out.

Often, however, the conversation eventually turns to kids and the BTO application process, and I end up tuning out. Soon, marriage slips from my mind, and I find myself just annoyed at the fact that CPF contributions can’t be used to pay rent.

Here in Singapore, married couples get priority access to BTOs and most end up taking 25-30 year loans to afford them. A part of me understands that this is how housing is kept relatively affordable. But the rest of me resents the fact that to reap these benefits, I need to conform to some model template of couple-hood that aligns with Singapore’s family values.

The cynical view, of course, is that this is what Singapore wants for us—to remain in a state of arrested development, living at home and dependent on our parents, and then catapulted into married life, with no time or space to consider the possibilities in between.

After all, this is what’s best for us, right?

My feelings about this are captured best in this song I heard a long time ago, in which a verse goes, ‘I find myself in need of a pause / I think it’s because of this desire to be what others want me to be / which is nothing close to me.’

It’s the kind of existential realisation that Toby Lightman first sang about in 1954, but which remains relevant to me and so many others.

At the same time, I recognise that I’m allowed to feel this way because I get to only think of myself. There is no “life together with someone else” that I need to prioritise. I get to choose self-realisation over settling down.

The irony is that it’s precisely because of this that I am, to an extent, giving up my ability to own my own home. Because this is Singapore, renting (for me) remains out of the question. The most financially viable path to home ownership is still through marriage.

So when your 20s don’t go according to plan, what generally happens is that you end up asking yourself if it was all worth it. Or, you start wondering if you’re gonna become one of those guys that people pity for being in their 30s, and still living at home with Mum.

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