For almost 30 years I have talked to Malaysians about dating and marriage. My wife and I have conducted hundreds of marriage seminars, taught family life courses for colleges, and counselled many couples as well. We also do pre-marriage counselling using materials that we developed in the Malaysian context.
Malaysians are smart. They want some clear answers, not just general principles. Instinctively they know that this a vitally important topic, something with life-long effects. They have watched their parents’ and associates’ marriages, evaluating whether a marriage like that is what they really want. As one young woman wrote to us in an email:
“I’m starting to feel slightly disillusioned about marriages. As it is, I can hardly muster excitement for my friends who are getting married. It’s just hard to be where they are when in my own life and relationship, I feel like a girl trying to wade to the other bank in a river of clay.”
It is even harder to know what to do about dating and marriage now than it was 25 years ago. Malaysian culture is changing rapidly, and much of that change is fuelled by an almost unlimited flow of ideas and concepts.
Ideas are powerful. They can change our beliefs, our values, our assumptions, and ultimately, our choices. Ideas come to us in messages, and we see or hear thousands everyday. Some come from media – in programmes, movies, music, yes, but also in advertisements. Some reach us through social networking. Our parents have their ideas and so do our spiritual leaders. We get some ideas by observing our world. Combining our observations with other messages we get from other channels, and we form opinions about life, including marriage.
So we really have no choice. Since we cannot live in a cave (and who would want to?), we have to find a way to evaluate messages and the ideas they contain.
This avalanche of conflicting messages and ideas may be one reason more young adults are delaying marriage.
A generation or two ago young people looked forward to marriage. They actually assumed that they would marry, once for life, sometime in their early to mid-twenties. Now those assumptions have changed:
“Today’s young adults often leave their parents’ home later, or return more often, extend their education longer, delay marriage, and change jobs more frequently than their parents’ generation. The factors affecting these changes range from economic conditions, to changing views and norms, to a changing portrait of this generation … ” (The Network to Transitions in Adulthood, (transad.pop.upenn.edu/about/whatweknow.html)
The same website continues:
“Nowhere do we see such a fundamental shift than in this generation’s views on marriage and family. Youth today are delaying marriage and family longer, and often believe it’s necessary to have all one’s ducks in a row (education completed, career well established, money saved for a house, etc.) before marrying.
“They also view potential partners in a much more romantic ideal. They are looking for that soulmate, someone who will be the ying to their yang. They are also less willing to give up their independence. Whereas past generations typically viewed marriage as you + me = us, today’s youth see it as you + me = you and me.”
Here is more data from the good old United States of America, the country whose social ideas and concepts are most widely spread throughout the world, particularly through media:
“When Belinda Luscombe (a researcher) argues that marriage is ‘in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be,’ she has a rationale to back up her argument. ‘Neither men nor women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children.’
“All that is true — when marriage is viewed on the canvas of American culture. Marriage no longer regulates sex. The Sexual Revolution severed sex from marriage in a social sense, and the arrival of The Pill offered a pharmaceutical means of severing sex from reproduction.
“No-fault divorce arrived as a legal accommodation to marital impermanence, effectively redefining both marital and family law in the process. Social status and professional expectations were liberated from the question of marriage, and many feminists declared that marriage itself was an impediment to the full liberation of women. – Albert Mohler in Who Needs Marriage: TIME Asked the Question – Do You Have an Answer? Christianity.com
Closer to Malaysia, Singapore (which, it seems, often reflects the social changes that Malaysia eventually experiences) has its own challenges:
Singaporeans are getting married later, and more are staying single, according to Stork & Cupid Out to Lunch? – A Sociological Appreciation of Late Marriage and Low Fertility on Singapore Society by Paulin Tay Straughan, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore
Those comments are just some examples of the shifting assumptions and changing ideas in the Malaysian experience. For a look at what marriage was intended to be, see Marriage by the Book