By NASA MARIA ENTABAN
JANET Chin watched her parents go through a messy divorce when she was a teenager, and for a while vowed she would never get married.
For years, she believed that marrying young, pressure from family members and conforming to the norms of their generation were the root of her parents’ problems.
She changed her mind recently as she has watched many of her friends tie the knot and appear to be happily married. The 29-year-old marketing executive, too, went down that path and is now trying to start a family.
Young people today are exposed to so many different views on marriage – so much so that “old school” views on the subject are beginning to wane. Not too long ago, refusing to marry or choosing to “live in sin” were unheard of, but now it has become common practice among many young people.
According to the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN), 166,973 couples divorced last year; 19,400 of them were under 29.
Those under 29 accounted for more than 11% of divorces in Malaysia last year. More couples are getting married later, but many do not survive past the third year. In 2009, 33.9% of Malaysians who married divorced within the first five years.
With statistics like these it would appear the odds are against marriage, especially when it comes to people in their 20s.
For Janet, her initial reluctance to “formally” settle down is mostly attributed to her parents’ situation, and also the belief that modern living was more appealing.
“Of course, things were different then, but society has progressed so much that it is now acceptable to start a family without being married, and to lead life having open relationships with no serious commitment,” says Janet, 30.
“For the longest time I believed that my marriage would end like my parents’ did, and I even tried to talk my friends out of going through with it in favour of leading a free and easy life.”
Many young people share Janet’s perception of marriage, but at the end of the day, still want to have that legal bond.
While divorce statistics may serve as a deterrent to young people’s desire to wed, it can also strengthen their resolve to not add to the statistics.
Chemical engineering student Lionel Ling, 22, believes that marriages are meant for life and is saddened by the divorce rates.
“I do have one relative who is divorced, and maybe that has strengthened my opinion that divorce should never be an option,” he says.
Masters student Ruzaini Fikri Mohd Azman, 24, thinks divorce doesn’t symbolise the failure of the institution of marriage as a whole.
“I don’t think the rise of divorce in the world should itself be an argument against marriage. Perhaps it suggests that women today have a voice to demand for divorce if she wishes to escape a terrible marriage, as opposed to having no voice and staying in a loveless union,” he opines.
Making it official
Part of the reason why young people may feel apprehensive about marriage is the sense of finality that comes with signing any sort of agreement.
After all, it has become the norm that youths jump from one job to another, have relationships with different people and basically feel the need to “change things up” every once in a while.
The idea of binding yourself legally to someone forever casts doubt in the hearts of many a youth, and yet most of them look forward to the day they formalise their union.
“I don’t see why two people cannot be together without getting married – it is after all, just a piece of paper to state that you’re both married in the eyes of the law,” shares Jessica Tan, a 24-year-old journalism student.
“But on the other hand, as cliched as it may sound, it’s also pretty nice to go through a fairytale wedding or fuss about the preparations with someone you love. Then again, it isn’t really necessary unless you feel the need to be acknowledged as husband and wife by society,” she adds.
Journalism student Ivy Chin is all for marriage, despite the various options for lifestyle choices.
“I’m a traditional woman and I believe marriage is not just a certificate to formalise a union,” says Ivy, 20.
For her, the certificate makes all the difference.
“Being in a relationship and enrolling yourself in a marriage is different. When you’re unmarried, you don’t have that big responsibility of being in a relationship. You don’t have to think much, your life can still go on,” she continues. “With marriage, it feels like it makes you a little more accountable for your actions.”
Piano teacher Jasmine Ang, 20, believes that marriage has to be for the right reasons, and while it is a part of life, not everyone needs to go through it.
Most of her friends who are married did so because they got pregnant, or got someone pregnant.
“I don’t think that’s the right reason for getting married, but they don’t have any choice. It’s too young for them to get married, they should explore more. There are so many wonderful things that they really need to experience,” says Jasmine.
The pressure to get married is still prevalent in many families, but most young people see the reason behind it.
Family reunions are tough for people in their late 20s, as they begin to go through the usual song and dance about marriage and grandchildren.
For Jaya, this happens almost every day.
“My mother and aunties are pressuring me to meet a suitor they have selected as a potential husband, as I am the youngest in the family and the only unmarried one,” says the 28-year-old sales manager. “It’s really annoying and a lot of my friends, especially the girls, are going through it too.”
However, the intense pressure hasn’t put her off the idea of marriage completely.
“Divorce happens because the couple were never meant to be in the first place,” she says. “Due to pressure from relatives they feel they need to settle down before they are ready to appease their parents.”
Ruzaini has quite a number of friends who, in their mid-20s, are already married.
“It’s probably due to parental pressure for them to be hitched the moment they graduate from university,” he reveals.
Janet went through the same process as Jaya, but was adamant about waiting until she was sure.
“The questions became almost unbearable at one point, but I just had to grin and bear it without telling them that, at the time, I was unsure about ever getting married,” she notes.
Footloose and fancy free
While casual relationships and one-night-stands are still frowned upon in more conservative societies like Malaysia, there’s no denying that these types of relationships are on the rise, especially among the young.
“I’m definitely casting judgment here, but I don’t believe in casual sex. If people plan to get married based on the goal of starting a family, or sharing responsibilities with the person they love, the whole lack of prior sexual experience shouldn’t be an issue,” says Ruzaini.
Jessica has a different opinion on the matter, as she thinks it is better for people to sow their wild oats before marriage as opposed to wondering about it later on in life.
“It’s all in the name of fun. When else is the best time to? I believe one should live life to the fullest before they settle down for good with that one person,” says Jessica.
“I don’t think it is right to engage in casual sex or on-off relationships with others when they’re married. Seize the chance while you still have it. But if one thinks that they have already found their soulmate, be faithful and loyal.”
Janet, whose views on relationships were pretty liberal prior to this, knows from experience that casual relationships become rather meaningless after a while.
“After a while the novelty wears off, and you want nothing more than to have someone to come home to who is as committed as you are to the relationship,” says Janet. “The act of marriage makes you accountable for your actions, and gives you a bigger sense of responsibility than if you had no legal ties at all.”
Having a plan
Some people want to get married because they want to have children. Janet begun trying for a family immediately after she got married last year.
“By the time I decided I wanted to start a family, I was in my late twenties,” she explains. “I am now well aware of the risks of having children so late in life, so I sort of have to ‘hurry up’ right now if I want a big family.”
Ruzaini thinks that the ideal age for marriage is when people are in their late 20s.
“I think by 30, if one starts earning wages immediately after leaving university, one should already in a stable relationship with their partner for a number of years, and more importantly be financially stable by then. Raising a family is one important goal of marriage, and one should be financially stable,” he says.
Ivy, however, feels that the mid-20s are a better time to get hitched and start a family, so that the parents will still have the energy and health to raise their children.
“I’m afraid of advanced maternal age. I don’t want to be an ‘old’ parent,” she shares.
However, rushing into marriage just because you’re running out of time isn’t the solution either.
Jaya believes that being sure about what you want is more important than rushing into something just become you’re running out of time.
“There’s no point rushing into something you’re unsure about. It’s alright to take your time so that when you make that decision, you’re sure of it.”
Jessica thinks the ideal age to get married is at 30, when one is in a steady relationship and are financially prepared and have stable jobs.
“For those that married young, some of them still in college or university but decided to get married. I am flabbergasted, to be honest. Who is going to support them when neither of them are working?