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Never dated before? Try meeting more people with no expectations first, say experts

SINGAPORE — For years before she recently started swiping on dating applications, 32-year-old Rachel (not her real name) had been "passive" when it came to romantic relationships. 

Never dated before? Try meeting more people with no expectations first, say experts
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  • A recent survey by the Government showed that nearly 40 per cent of respondents who were single said that they had never dated before
  • Relationship experts and dating agencies say that they are not surprised by this figure and even believe it is on the rise
  • They cite reasons such as increasing work commitments and a lack of social skills due to overreliance on messaging apps as key factors 
  • Simply going out more with people to hone social skills is key to gaining self-confidence, they say
  • In the long term, later marriages and a fall in birth rates could be the result, if this trend persists

SINGAPORE — For years before she recently started swiping on dating applications, 32-year-old Rachel (not her real name) had been "passive" when it came to romantic relationships. 

"I might be an anomaly. In the past if I found someone, it's great and I'll see where that goes. If not, then I'm fine with that," she said. "I was a lot more passive; I wouldn't actively go out there and look for someone." 

The media advertising executive also said that her job often meant irregular hours and it took up a lot of her time and attention, thus leaving her with "no energy" to even think about dating.

As the years went by, Rachel found that she was soon past 30, without having been in a serious relationship.

Over the past three months, however, she has been using a dating application. 

"I feel like (dating) is a life experience; if I don't go through that it's like I'm missing out on something," she said.

So far, she has been on dates with five different men, and she intends to continue using the application to meet more singles. 

Singles like Rachel, who have never had any past dating experience, are not a small group. 

A recent survey by the National Population and Talent Division on marriage and parenthood, which polled more than 5,800 Singapore residents aged 21 to 45, showed that among the respondents who were singles, nearly 40 per cent of them said that they had never dated before. 

While figures from previous surveys were not shared with TODAY, dating agencies and dating coaches that TODAY reached out to said that this figure is not surprising and could in fact be on the rise. 

Ms Violet Lim, chief executive officer and co-founder of dating agency Lunch Actually, said that approximately 25 to 30 per cent of her current clients have had no relationship history prior to seeking her firm's matchmaking services. 

Ms Lim added that this figure has been rising. Back when the agency was founded in 2004, the proportion of clients who had no prior relationship experience was about 15 to 20 per cent. 

Relationships experts whom TODAY spoke to agreed that due to the proliferation of technology reducing face-to-face interactions and the many choosing to chase successful careers over relationships, this trend could continue. 

For 31-year-old Anand Kumar, who has had several relationships in the past, the amount of time that his work takes up has extinguished his hopes of getting into a serious relationship anytime soon. 

He has not dated in the past six years as he currently works about 10 hours a day in the security sector, while also pursuing a career in rapping in his free time. 

"I hardly have time for my family. For me right now, a relationship would be a heavy baggage," he said. 

While he has been on some dates, nothing serious has materialised from them, as he has had no time to follow up with potential love interests. 

Although his long-term goal is to get married and start a family, he wants to ensure that he sees success in his career first, which explains why he is not "working hard" to be in a relationship. 

"I'm working hard somewhere else (my career), as it is most important to be first successful financially. With the cost of living on the rise, it's financially dangerous to start a family," he said. 

REASONS NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER DATED COULD BE ON THE RISE 

Relationship experts said that there are several factors why people could find it challenging getting into a relationship. 

Freelance dating coach Elizabeth Ng said that like the survey suggests, about four out of 10 of her clients who come to her seeking matchmaking and relationship coaching have never been in a relationship before. 

She added that for her clients, most of whom are men, a lack of self confidence is the most common reason they are unable to attract a love interest. 

"It’s usually those who are quiet, socially awkward... they don't know how to make themselves attractive and it slowly snowballs," she said.

Ms Ng added that some of her clients had even gone on first dates wearing "sloppy" attire such as a football jersey, citing that Singapore's weather is hot. 

"It's not that women are materialistic, but it's about being groomed, clean and presentable... it's about the effort," she said. 

She added some of her clients also lack face-to-face communication skills, being more comfortable over text. 

"Don't you want to meet the person and talk? After two to three months of texting, the fire would have gone down," she said.

Agreeing, Ms Theresa Pong, counselling director at The Relationship Room, which counsels couples, said that while the advancement of technology has increased the pool of potential people to date, it has also made human interactions less intimate and personal. 

"A long time ago, we get to know each other by going on dates and meeting each other face to face, and that helps to improve our human interaction skills," she said. 

However, these days, a lot of social interactions start out over messaging applications. This means people have fewer chances to hone their social and interactive skills. 

"Many (singles) have the resources and know which channels to get to know people... but they have issues in establishing a long-term and committed relationship," she said. 

And like what Rachel and Mr Anand face, experts also said that the time taken up by work has become a big factor. 

For many singles, investing in a career will give them clearer "returns of investment" as compared to a relationship, said Ms Lim from Lunch Actually. 

"For example, they would be promoted, given an increment and earn a performance bonus, as there's a very clear KPI on what they need to achieve," she said.

"However, with relationships, there is no guarantee that even if they spend time and effort on it, there would be a positive outcome. 

"Hence, given their shortage of time, they would rather focus on their career." 

WHAT SINGLES CAN DO TO BE MORE ELIGIBLE 

Relationship experts said that finding the right match is far from an instantaneous process and requires substantial time and effort.

For starters, they advised singles who have never dated before to just simply go on dates with no expectations of any long-term outcomes. 

"Go for one-to-one dates and get to know people. As you talk to more people and meet more people, you gain better social skills and also open up your exposure and learn more things as well," Ms Pong said.

"Just go out and make a friend and don't see them as a potential husband or wife." 

She added that for those with deeper self-confidence or trust issues, it is also worth visiting a relationship counsellor or therapist to talk through these issues and address them. 

It is also important to recognise that while technology enables people to have more options, it is not wise to be obsessed with finding the "perfect fit", said the experts, but focus on striking when the iron is hot. 

Singapore Management University (SMU) Professor of Psychology Norman Li, whose research interests include mate preferences and evolutionary psychology, said that technology such as dating apps has given singles the "illusion of choice". 

While it may seem that there are a myriad of people to choose from, the truth is that the other party also has to "pick you too", he said. 

Thus, Ms Ng, the dating coach, said it is also crucial for singles to take the opportunity to express their feelings or desires for a potential love interest, rather than believe that better options are on the horizon. 

She gave an example of a female client who went out with a date and ended it after about three months because the man did not initiate any romantic gestures.

"If after three months, he did not try to get closer to her, then the girl will have this impression that 'you do not like me'," she said. 

WHAT COULD MORE SINGLES SPELL FOR SINGAPORE'S FUTURE? 

The increasing number of singles who are unable to get into relationships is a symptom of a larger societal problem, said Ms Pong. 

"Our way of communication is very much over applications, but relationships is all about the human element, the human touch," she said. 

"All these apps, they are focused on instantaneous gratification, but relationships take time to build and effort to nurture as well." 

From a longer-term perspective, the experts said that an increase in the number of singles with no dating experience could also lead to a continual decline in birth rates as people marry later, as well as a drop in the number of families, with more deciding to live on their own and have casual relationships. 

Said Prof Li from SMU: "There's a big trade-off... between economic success and productivity, and also these kinds of 'basic things' like family.

"The more prosperous a country is, the more you’re going to lose out on the basic kind of relationships, such as family, friendships." 

"This often happens when a growing number in the population are too busy with work and too focused on climbing the corporate ladder to slow down and think of starting a family. 

"Individuals face these trade-offs, and then countries as a whole face this trade-off."

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