The Dating Rat Race

What’s more terrifying than over-stuffing myself with discounted Christmas puddings during the holidays and more threatening than the black hole in my wallet from the impulsive end-of-year shopping? Being single on Christmas day. Christmas is the season -- the cuffing season: a fraction of the year (between Christmas to Valentines’) where single friends start searching for companionships to combat the holiday loneliness and to spend New Years with. Mariah Carey sings about getting kissed under a mistletoe and Frank Sinatra cooes about romantic winter fairgrounds. Netflix starts releasing their line-up of Christmas rom-coms and Instagram seems to be saturated with saccharine too-cute lovers wrapped in fairy lights. The cultural pressures to be in a relationship -- be it short or long-term -- settles under my skin, a cold and sticky feeling that preys on your innermost fears of being alone and unwanted, like the forgotten baggage on the baggage carousel. 

While the holiday season exacerbates this “extra single” feeling, it isn’t the only time we feel the desperation of pursuing a short-term relationship for the sake of filling up a lonely crater in our hearts. On a mundane Wednesday, we still cross the sea of dating apps, drafting up unique OkCupid bios that don’t contain “bubble tea” or “travelling” and champion swiping on Tinder, only to go through awkward first-dates and ghosting John the next day. I unravel a term that we don’t usually associate with dating: a Rat Race; an endless self-defeating pursuit. Here’s why:

This Dating Rat Race is not a Marxian battle of social class or a strata scuffle of academic accolades, it is the “numbers game”. Your worth in the dating market is ostensibly determined by how many exes you have, the sum of tinder matches landed and the number of likes your couple photo gets. If one relationship goes kaput, you have about fifteen other lovers at your beck. This Race is self-defeating because we can never come to terms with being happy with ourselves; it is endless because we go into relationships following another, rebound after rebound and infatuation after infatuations. The anxiety which seems to be programmed within us to never be left alone manifests itself in the oft-quoted sentiment, “It’s harder to find a partner when you leave University and enter the working world.” and many of us have taken it as some unbending truth. Suddenly, the campus becomes a battleground for finding new love, having a “strong relationship game,” and a search for instant gratuitous affection instead of an introspective look within ourselves and what we truly want. 

In humanity’s defense, it is not entirely our fault that most of us have adopted this warped perspective of singlehood. Cultural pressures from romantic comedies, magazines and celebrities have normalized the notion that being single means accruing less happiness. Dating apps have capitalized on our intrinsic need for human connection and physical touch by bringing it to your fingertips (and with an elaborate subscription plan to get you out the ‘single rut’). With emotionally available people so easily accessible, it feels as if there’s no excuse to explain why you’re still unattached other than the fact that you are unattractive or off the grid. 

We don’t need Oprah or self-help books to tell us that this repetitive, exhausting cycle of Swipe-Date-Ghost needs to be vanquished. After all, spending quality time with yourself nourishes your heart and empowers your unique voice: What do you want? What do you value? What do you appreciate and adore about yourself? There is no better time than now for a cultural reset on the perceptions of being single and tap into your inner wellspring of love. The real question is: How? It is impossible to eradicate all fluttering butterflies, especially when you make eye contact with that hot guy on the MRT or fantasize about a meet-cute with a barista at a cafe on Beach Road. The aim is not to condemn love and efface any semblance of it within us.

The first step is to be comfortable with your own company, schedule a regular hang-out with yourself and be content in your own skin. A week ago, I took myself out on a day-trip to the National Gallery and found myself selfishly getting lost in paintings for three, four hours. Without having to worry about whether my partner was getting bored, I listened to my mind ramble and let my thoughts fester and ideas gestate. Writing it all down in a journal, I realised how much I revelled in the strange feeling when I  said “a ticket for one.” or “a table for one.” Maybe it was the liberation of being a lone dweller, maybe it was a self-serving narcissism of being a ‘unique’ individual, but I knew that I’ve taken a step towards self-trust. By concentrating on my own voice, needs and abilities, I no longer look to others for appreciation or recognition. I have myself and that is enough.

Dating and being single are incredibly complex reactions of dopamine and adrenaline is unique within each of us. How you run the dating rat race is different from your friends and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this vicious cycle of pursuing unattainable relationships. Nonetheless, here are some reminders to get you excited about ditching the apps and treating yourself (and your gals) this holiday season:

1) Gather your girls (less than five, of course) and have a boot-kicking sleepover

Participate in a bake-off with easy but fun recipes, watch the best Christmas horrors on Netflix, belt your lungs out with a sing-a-long (on Tik Tok). Forget about the simping, the players and the cliche kisses under a mistletoe. Slip on your terry cloth robes, pop the champagne with your friends and celebrate the season of friendship instead!

2) Turn your dream date into a solo trip

Always wanted to go on a date to Singapore Zoo or bird-feeding at Jurong Bird Park? Put on that mask and do it yourself! I’ve always wanted to hop on a bus and let it take me anywhere, whether it was an Industrial Park or a quaint cafe-peppered area in Jalan Besar. What better time to do it now without having to worry about safe-distancing with my partner?

3) Buy yourself a Christmas gift, wrap it and open it on Christmas day

Just like buying yourself flowers on Valentines’, celebrate yourself for going through gruelling semesters, for getting through all-nighters and never giving up! 

4) Do something good, spread the cheer!

Participate in an online Secret Santa, join a postcard writing Facebook group, donate to BeTheirSanta. What better way to feel the love than to spread the love to people who need it? 

I will be spending Christmas at home this year. No sumptuous resplendent parties or kitschy, gold-tinted helium balloons. Most importantly, no boyfriends. I think I will like the quietude this way; just a few Zoom calls with my closest friends and sharing a black-forest gâteau with my family. ‘Tis the season to celebrate Yourself.