My daughter just turned 31. From what I’ve seen from her generation (and the younger ones), dating today isn’t all that different from what it was like during my youth 30 years ago.
Call me ‘old-fashioned’ (I was considered liberal for my time), but—speaking as a father—there are at least three core values which I think kids today should honour for a relationship to be successful and lasting (which I’m sure many good parents would agree with).
But, first, let’s start with a little perspective…
How I dated before marriage
Life during my youth (1960s–80s) was comparatively simpler than life today. There were no smartphones or even e-mails. Our means of communication revolved around phone calls (landlines), SMS, facsimiles, and snail mails.
There were more direct personal encounters. Most of us met the opposite sex during social gatherings, travelling, or over teas or meals, and the visitations of each other’s homes. We socialised at cinemas, theatres, parties, and discos. We actively took part in various youth organisations and institutions, serving committees together.
I have always dated on my own free will, although my over-concerned parents did try to introduce the daughters of their peers to me. Even my ex boss’s wife did the same, all with the hopes I might follow through.
However, their hopes fell through; I listened to my gut feeling, for I knew what I was looking for—a partner with an accounting background to help in financial matters.
So there I was, staying far away from my family in Penang, renting a room all to myself as I was working in the Klang Valley. I was free from the supervision of my family, and was free to move about to establish my own social circles.
Now, all work and no play makes Jack—or me—a dull boy. After working hours, everyone needs to socialise. So I took part in youth organisational activities, and got to know more of the opposite sex in my work circles. This way, I gathered closer knowledge of certain female friends.
Through the constant contact in person, we could understand each other more deeply: We could observe our beliefs, likes and dislikes, as well as mutual ease and sincerity with one another—this was how we could properly learn about our prospective partners. In fact, it was through one of my hobbies via the local YMCA group that I met my current wife.
3 things to remember for a successful, lasting union:
1) You are dating, not your parents
In the traditional oriental society, the general thinking was to look for partners of your own dialect (or mother tongue), or at least your own race. This was mainly to preserve the cultural heritage, to pass down generational values to the offsprings. (Not to mention, this would also make it easier for the clan members of both spouses to communicate with each other.)
However, in a plural metropolitan society like the Klang Valley, people of different tongues, races, religions and cultures meet, work, play and stay together—and all our traditional values are put to the test.
In my case, I am a Hakka. My final date was a Hokkien. Thus, a cross-language fusion. Although it was not my parents’ initial choice of daughter-in-law, they somehow grew to accept her. They slowly began to understand they had to live in the reality of societal changes. The young couple have to lead their life and face society on their own.
If both of the couple are from the same cultural lineage, it would be a bonus for everyone, bringing two family clans together more cohesively. But, dating is essentially the bonding of two persons, so, ultimately your individual happiness matters more in the end.
2) Basic is classic
In the olden days, we were more conservative. Matchmaking by the elders was quite common. Parents back then may look for candidates of their choice to recommend to their children. Sometimes we would hear about how a date was arranged after two persons had been penpals for some time.
When you think about it, even nowadays, dating after connecting on Facebook (and other social media platforms) take on similar forms.
So the modes of social matchmaking may have evolved, with young people taking charge of their dating destinies. But what about the dating process?
30 years ago, before the onslaught of digital innovations, relationships were more organic, personal, direct, and down to earth. Yet, even though people are more open-minded today, the personal encounters of two persons still go through a similar values evaluation process.
Practically speaking, every human being seeks companionship. But for a partnership to be authentic and fruitful, we need to create a strong foundation from the basic level: This means we need to meet physically.
Only by establishing our commonalities organically, orally (not just digitally), can we move from the superficial to the things that really matter in life.
3.) The importance of face time
Sure, digital devices make it very convenient to speed up mutual communications. However, I think people in the digital age rely too much on the convenience of push buttons and touch-screens. The immediacy of technological feedback has fed us with the illusion of human intimacy. How often do we see or hear of couples, friends or families who fail to have lively, meaningful conversations with each other in person nowadays? Or at least enjoy each other’s company without looking at their phones or computers?
The fact is, none of us can truly know another person through a computer screen. True quality time is made by spending it in person.
So spend less time on the screens. Reliance on virtual interactions will cause us to lose the personal touch of verbal, visual and physical communications. From this, we will end up with impersonal, shallow and superficial relationships.
The older media of communication (phone calls, letter writing, etc.) are still applicable today. The electronic screen devices should just be an aid to direct face-to-face personal dates.
So get off the phone and computers: To live holistically, we must constantly reach out to others and the outside world. Cultivate a broader outlook on life. Take things one step at a time. Try to look beyond the superficial values of the people you meet. Improve your social soft-skills, so to enhance your personality.
Remember: When dating, the both of you are assessing each other. Ultimately, your physical meetings with each other will best tell if you two may eventually end up as life partners.
About Uncle Wong
Uncle Wong is a 65-year-old Thai-born Chinese Malaysian who is ever-open to the transformation of human development in the ever-changing world today.
For more articles on Dating & Relationships, read Is Facebook making you insecure about your relationship? and 4 Mistakes You Shouldn’t Make on the First Date, According to Malaysian Girls.