What advice do you have for someone who isn’t interested in dating or marriage in general but faces lots of parental pressure to do so?

A student sent me this question:

What advice do you have for someone who isn’t interested in dating or marriage in general but faces lots of parental pressure to do so? I don’t really have any interest in dating or marriage. I had some crushes while growing up but nothing much. I’m single currently (and I’m very pessimistic about finding a partner in the future because of circumstances) and I’ve tried to talk about this to my parents many times. But I still face a lot of pressure and sometimes I feel really annoyed.

My advice is to hold your ground firmly on your position. Even if you give in to parental pressure, the annoying questions will not go away. Once you start dating, the new annoying question will then be, “When are you getting married?” And once you get married, the annoying question will be, “When are you going to produce a baby?” Once you make one, the new annoying question is, “When are you going to make another?” And when the kids grow older, your parents will have yet more annoying questions to ask you. So in the grand scheme of things, the annoying questioning and pressure won’t ever go away.

So don’t cave in to the pressure.

There are three possible reasons why parents do shit like this. (1) The biggest reason is that they are concerned about your well-being and happiness. Even if you tell them that you are happy being single, they don’t believe it (because they’re married, so they don’t understand what it means to be happy being single, and they may not understand that it could ever be possible). But more importantly, marriage is seen as the rite of passage into becoming a full grown adult. There is some truth here. And in general, you will find that people who are married are more mature in certain things than single people (let me emphasise: in general – this may not be true for some). So parents do want the best for their children, and for them, it means seeing their children grow and mature in a path that they are familiar with (i.e. marriage). If this is their motivation, you can set their minds at ease by showing/demonstrating to them in the little and big ways how you’re more responsible and how you’re more sensible in your thinking. I find that once you start becoming responsible for other people and their future, the maturity sets in a lot faster (because you don’t have the luxury of time to procrastinate on it).

(2) The second possible reason is that as you grow older and spend less time with them, there will come a point in time where your parents struggle to find common conversational topics to sustain a conversation with you. And so the only thing that they know to talk about are the default questions. So what appears to be pressuring to get married is just an attempt at striking a conversation. Remember: a lot of people are very bad at social interaction. Many parents included. If you feel socially awkward, what more your parents? So if this is one of their motivations, then you can easily resolve this by just steering the conversation to other topics. They’ll be happy to just be able to talk to you about anything about your life or whatever.

(3) The third possible motivation is annoying. Just as how students like to compare and are afraid of losing out, some parents also compare. Some don’t actually like to compare, but they are surrounded by boastful parents who brag so much that they make your parents feel inadequate (just like how some students boast on social media about their achievements making some other students feel bad about themselves – seems like people don’t really change as they grow up, yea?). In such a case, the motivation is just insecurity or feelings of inadequacy. They probably won’t tell you that this is the motivation. After all, it’s embarrassing to say something like this. Nonetheless, be aware that this shit does happen behind the scenes with your parents and their peers.

The thing is this: you should never be a pawn for someone else’s insecurity. So if they are motivated for this reason, give them something else to be proud of. Your parents may not win on your dating/marriage front, but you can give them something else to be proud of, whether it is a work achievement or academic achievement. In some ways, this will give your parents some ammunition to fend off their annoying peers, or even make these arrogant people feel bad. So in some ways you’re helping your team to score. Haha!

I have this horrible half-uncle who loves to brag and boast about his achievements and the achievements of his children. He’s the most insecure and wretched human being I’ve ever met. He does it all the time without anyone asking. And I can see how he actively makes my parents feel inadequate by his endless bragging.

Anyway, when I appeared on Channel NewsAsia, my parents finally got some ammunition to make that horrible half-uncle feel less superior about himself. After that, he tried so hard to pressure his son to study Chinese Philosophy in order to compete with me. What a loser. But at the very least, even though I’m not on good terms with my parents, I got the satisfaction for scoring one for the team.

So stand firm to what you want. And try to discern the motivation behind the pressure. It could be one of the three I mentioned above (or a combination), or there could be other reasons that I might have missed. Whatever it is, getting into a relationship and marrying won’t stop your parents from pressuring you to do things. It’s more important to get to the heart of the issue.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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