Matriculated and married

15 Oct 2018

By Megan-Nicole Lye

On the first day of 2017, when the clock struck midnight, beer glasses clinked together and cheers erupted from all around. This was how many celebrated their New Year’s Day last year. In contrast, Darius Li sat in silence across his then-girlfriend, fingers nervously fumbling the plush surface of a tiny square jewelry box.

The third-year Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) student was about to propose to her at a Japanese sake bar.

“I was nervous the whole time as I was trying to find an opening during our conversation,” said the 25-year-old.

“The moment it was quiet, I got down on one knee and popped the question.”

Li and his wife are among the people who have bucked the trend of Singaporeans choosing to get married later. Last year, data from the Singapore Department of Statistics showed that the median age at first marriage was 30.3 years and 28.3 years for grooms and brides respectively.

A long time coming

Darius Li, 25, and Ms Carol Liang, 26, dated for seven years before tying the knot last year.

Li and his wife, Carol Liang, 26, first met when they were members of their junior college’s shooting club. Eight years later, the pair is happily married.

Li says that their marriage did not come as a surprise to their families, even though he and his wife are still in university.

Liang is pursuing a Masters in Business Administration at a private university.

“I think we dated for the same period of time as other couples, but others probably think it’s long,” he said.

The couple had intentions to settle down years before Li proposed to his wife, he said. They applied for a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat in 2014 when they viewed an apartment in Choa Chu Kang which they both liked and was in close proximity to where their parents lived.

“We talked about what we wanted in the relationship then, and we really wanted to settle down together,” he said.

At the end of 2016, the couple could not delay the marriage any further as they needed to collect the keys to their flat in two weeks, said Li.

Li spontaneously decided to propose on New Year’s Day, he added.

Due to the short time frame, the custom engagement ring he ordered was not ready yet, as it was being shipped to Japan for the setting process. The diamond was also too large and needed further adjustments.

“I had to borrow a ring from the shop,” he said. “It was smaller and had a simple and basic design.”

Twelve days after he proposed, they registered their marriage, collected the key, and moved into their new home.

“We are holding a traditional Chinese ceremony and a small banquet because it’s our moment. We want to share it with people we care about, and it’s much cheaper that way,” he said.

To fund their wedding banquet and monthly household expenses, Li and Liang both work as freelance photographers. Li also gives tuition to primary school students.

So far, their marriage is smooth-sailing as he and his wife work as a team, Li said.

“I don’t really have to support the marriage because we always do things together,” he said.

Li and Liang had planned to get married for a long time, and knew what they were getting themselves into. Their family and friends were supportive of the union, Li added.

“They saw it coming because we were in a very stable relationship. They said it was about time,” he said.

Campus couple

When they are not in school, Muhammad 'Arif Khairul Tan, 26, and his wife Nurul Raihana Abdul Razak, 23, take care of their two month-old baby girl.

Muhammad ’Arif Khairul Tan, 26, a final-year School of Humanities student, met his wife, Nurul Raihana Abdul Razak, 23, in January 2016 when he was leading a team of undergraduates for an Overseas Community Involvement Project under the NTU Muslim Society.

His wife, now a final-year EEE student, stood out to him.

“I thought she was mature, and we were keen to improve ourselves together,” he said.

He was so smitten by her that he proposed to her in December, 11 months after they first met. In January the next year, they tied the knot.

’Arif’s religious beliefs also played a role in his proposal.

“I didn’t think it’s healthy for us to just be dating,” he said.

“It’s not just about hanging around each other because you can spend years together and have the relationship go nowhere. I didn’t want that.”

Getting engaged is a step towards getting to know the other person and his or her family, and in Islam, this is honourable and dignified, he added.

Raihana initially had no intention to get married before graduating from university, and was speechless when ’Arif proposed.

“I didn't know what my parents would say. But at the same time, I was willing and ready to be on board because I wanted a proper relationship," she said.

’Arif’s sound character also changed her mind, she added.

“He was very determined and I saw how serious he was about marriage.”

In the months leading up to their engagement, ’Arif got to know Raihana and her family members better by visiting her home and chatting with them, he said.

Although Raihana’s parents initially had concerns about the marriage since their daughter and ’Arif are still students, they eventually agreed.

“They wanted what was good and right for us, so we managed to agree on the idea of getting married.”

The couple had a solemnization ceremony and a simple wedding in Raihana’s home. They invited only their family and closest friends.

In an unexpected twist of fate, ’Arif’s best friend married Raihana’s twin sister at the end of 2017, and the two couples had a slightly larger joint ceremony.

“It was completely unplanned,” ’Arif said.

Now, their family has also expanded, and the couple welcomed a baby girl two months ago. While the arrival of their first child brought them great joy, it also came with its fair share of struggles.

“In the first few weeks after she was born, we had to wake up every hour or two to feed the baby or change her diapers. Sometimes she would be crying for half the night,” ’Arif said.

But the couple is ready to tackle the hardships that come their way.

“We’re excited. It’s definitely not a breeze, but juggling our final-year projects and the baby is a challenge we take in our stride,” he said.

Although the couple is still studying, ’Arif’s earnings from over seven years of giving tuition and the cash grant from the government’s Baby Bonus scheme have allowed them to be financially independent for now.

“We’re not financially stable yet but that’s fine. I just have to ensure that we have shelter, savings for our baby and food to eat,” he said.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future, but at least you know enough to take the leap of faith together.”

The right one

Teo Tian Cheng, 25, and Ms Liw Kia Chee, 26, spend their weekends going on dates.

Many people regard a night out at Zouk as something they would like to forget the next morning. However, it has a different meaning for final-year Nanyang Business School student Teo Tian Cheng, 25, and his wife, Ms Liw Kia Chee, 26. They met at Zouk in January 2016.

Two and a half years into their relationship, the couple had a serious discussion about their future together. They found that they both wanted to settle down and live together, said Teo.

The talk spurred the two to take the next step in their relationship. In May this year, the couple registered their marriage and applied for a BTO flat.

They also chose to register their marriage before Teo’s graduation as they would be eligible for a higher grant for their flat, due to Teo’s unemployed status as an undergraduate, Teo said.

Currently, the couple lives separately as they await the completion of their flat.

“I’m in a family of five and we live in a four-room HDB. I share a room with my parents, so it would be inappropriate and inconvenient for my wife to move in,” he said.

Renting a flat is also not an option, due to the high costs involved, he added.

“I’m still looking for a job and I hope to secure interviews at some companies I applied to,” he said. “Also, if I can’t get a job, we can’t afford the BTO.”

Their wedding banquet is also postponed until Teo graduates and the couple is more “financially stable”.

Although Teo and Liw were certain of their decision to marry, their marriage was initially met with opposition from Teo’s parents.

“My mum was worried that I wasn’t ready for a marriage financially, mentally and emotionally because I still have my studies to manage,” he said.

She was also concerned about whether Teo was absolutely certain that his wife was the right one for him, he added.

However, Teo maintained firm belief in his relationship and finally persuaded his parents to give the couple their blessing. The couple is also determined to make their relationship work, he added.

Teo said: “My wife and I have this degree of understanding. We know that we love each other.”