Sunday, September 03, 2006

It's a date!

I personally don’t remember this – I’m too young – but I’m told by unreliable sources such as my Mother that back in her day, people didn’t go on dates with random people they met on the dance-floor of clubs or in the jam section of their local Cold Storage.

“They were match-made!” my Mother says with the enormous satisfaction of a goose that’s just laid a perfect egg. “They didn’t know who they were marrying till the actual day of the marriage. I'm telling you, those marriages lasted! Not like today when people divorce after a few badly cooked dinners!”

My Mother’s edgy, modern world-view eventually caused my sister Michelle – who loved Barbie dolls and had fantasies of a white wedding gown from the age of three – to grow up in horror at the idea that one day she might be shuttled off to just such a marriage. She moved out of home at the first available opportunity.

“It’s a wonder I didn’t develop an eating disorder!” Michelle now recalls.

“I don’t know why people aren’t match-made anymore,” my Mother said the other day during a long distance call all the way from New Zealand where she and my father are spending their days milking cows at a farm-stay. She was completely oblivious to the fact that she herself had married Father over the furious objections of their respective parents. Her father promptly had a heart attack during the tea-pouring ceremony.

“Let the experts do all the work and background checks first,” Mother added with the firmness of a seasoned field agent. “These days, so many people who are just not meant to get married get married. Like your cousin Ai-chun. I give that marriage one year! Her mother and I never trusted that husband of her’s!”

In the little apartment I share with Saffy, Amanda and my beloved adopted mongrel dog, Pooch, the dating issue has reached a new fever pitch.

One breakfast recently, Saffy suddenly announced that she was going to try a dating service.

“My friend Valerie just signed up with Lunch Actually,” she said. “Apparently, they screen the candidates and then send them out on a series of lunch dates. It’s a fabulous idea!”

“They’re here in Singapore?” Amanda piped up. “I saw them once on Oprah! I want! I want!”

“I’m so sick of this whole dating thing!” Saffy puffed, her legendary bosom shifting in its own gravitational field. “Every one of my last five dates has been a complete loser. What a waste of my time! From now on, my motto is ‘Let someone else do the dirty work!’”

According to the girls, the new millennium is all about outsourcing. Why struggle with something when there are plenty of experts who do this sort of thing every day? After all, as Amanda – the original Material Girl – pointed out with such penetrating insight, you wouldn’t clean a toilet by yourself, would you? You pay a maid to do it. Ditto dry cleaning, catering, facials, massages and telephone directories. So, the logic goes, why try to find the perfect man by yourself? Just pay someone like Lunch Actually to lead you down the rose-petal strewn garden path.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the dating spectrum, in a world where boys like boys, my friend Barney Chen prefers to meet his dates on-line.

“It’s a lot easier,” he once told me. “All the candidates’ pictures are up on display with vital statistics. You just pick and choose. It’s a smorgasbord!”

“And that works?” I asked, ever the dedicated journalist.

“Well, there are some losers out there,” Barney admitted, “but it’s just like going grocery shopping. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, just don’t put it in your basket! As it were. Heh!”

Saffy said that she tried on-line dating once. “It was a disaster! They all want to see your picture and in every one of my pictures, I look fat! There was this one time,” she said, shuddering at the memory, “I came across a picture of a guy that I thought looked cute. So I e-mailed him. ‘Nice profile!’ I said and the next day, he replied, ‘Thanks. But you’re not my type!’ I was crushed for days!” Saffy sighed. “Men can be so cruel.”

Amanda says that the dating scene is traumatic and humiliating enough without having to go through the indignity of posting a picture up on the web. “It’s like you’re at a meat market!”

“But paying someone to set up a date with you at a restaurant isn’t?” I asked.

“Well, you have to eat, right?” Amanda said reasonably. “If Valerie gets married within a year, I’m so signing up!” she murmured even as she uploaded a touched-up picture of herself onto the Net.

My Mother would die.

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