Before I moved to Singapore I was afire to know everything I could about my new location. What would it be like? What was it like as a woman, a single woman, to live in Singapore?? IÂ read every blog I could find about what life in Asia would be like and asked the few connections I could find piles of questions, mostÂ of which were disappointingly practical (like how to find a veterinarian). Apparently, the expat life is not the easiest thing to describe or define. And Singapore, Singapore is in many ways such an expat-oriented place and young country that most expat blogs are focused on nearby travel destinations.
The irony of that statement is not lost on me.
Here’s what I found on an expat life in Singapore:
- Safety isn’t an issue,
- Travel opportunities are great, and
- Dating is nearly impossible unless you’re satisfied with random backpacker hookups.
In fact, one woman who had completed nearly the same experience I was about to undertake bluntly told me she had “wasted her best child-bearing years in Asia.”
Cue moments of existential panic in the midst of more mundane stress.
I might tackle dating another time, but I wish I had been able to find some information or perspective to reassure and inform me about what might await me on the far side of the world – beyond my dating and marriage prospects (it is 2016, isn’t it?). So here’s my take on female singledom in Asia and why you should consider being an expat woman in Asia.
A summary of the current information available on life in Asia for a single expat woman: “safety isn’t really an issue, travel opportunities are great, and dating is nearly impossible.”
1.It’s easier to be solo (logistically speaking) in Asia than it is in the US.
One day a few weeks into my new job I was riding the elevator with a coworker. She was curious about where I was living and made some sympathetic noises when I explained that I lived alone. Amused, I mentioned I had lived on my own (for the most part) since I was 21 years old and she went from sympathetic to shocked. Her words: “but who does your laundry and cooks dinner for you??” I laughed, but for weeks afterwards I also thought about the downside her comment highlightedÂ about a highly individualistic culture.
I have lived with family and a significant other and I have lived alone – for years in both categories. AndÂ I have to be honest, while I know compromise and living with others has it’s challenges, there are days when it is exhausting to have to do everything myself. The laundry, the groceries after work, cleaning the apartment, meeting the plumber, managing the career, finding a cab to go pick up the car from the repair shop, and so on. In the US, any stress or angst around this is often a badge of pride – a “you won’t believe how busy I am.” In Asia, it evokes some pity – “you don’t live with family to share all that?” Of course the Asian community-orientation goes much deeper than sharing chores, but between the cheaper cost of labor and the expectation that everyone is networked into a community to provide some of that support, Asia isÂ much less stressful on a practical level. But it’s extended beyond the family network to those of us living alone.
I have my groceries and dry cleaning delivered, and I have a building concierge who receives them. I have a weekly housekeeper here because it’s much more affordable than the US. It’s often less expensive for me to eat out than it is to buy groceries and cook. I don’t have to wait at home for the air conditioner service man, my building manager does that. Many families have live-in help and never have to navigate the “the first time we can get out at night and see you is in 2 weeks but only if I can find a babysitter” or “I could meet you for one drink but only if we leave work early and I can convince my husband to pick up the baby from daycare” conversations. Yes, these are luxuries (even by Asian standards) but they are not as outlandish a luxury as they might seem in the US.
I should also mention thatÂ I’m about 14 years into my career and in my mid-thirties. While all of the above is absolutely accessible to every single woman, I recognize that budgets vary.
In the US … stress and busy-ness is often a badge of pride. In Asia, high stress from busy-ness and chores evokes more of a sense of pity. A suggestion that “it’s sad you don’t haveÂ a family to share everything.”
1a. It’s easier to be solo in Asia socially speaking.Â
Then there’s the loneliness side of the equation. It takes some time to settle into any new place and a foreign culture in some ways is more difficult. I’m not certain how things work for women in companies that haveÂ more expats or foreigners employed than locals, but the majority of my office is Asians. We have a solid mix of expatriates from across Asia, Europe, and the US, but I’ve found that I’m lucky that in both my Singapore office and when I visit my partners in other offices I work with many locals.
Because once I began to prove that I was curious, open-minded and if clumsy then at least trying to navigate the cultures where I was a guest, they included me into the community and I could reap the benefits. I have partners for lunch and people who will patiently walk me through things like how mail a letter. I receive considerable concern when out sick (which is awfulÂ when alone in a foreign country) and in general feel like I am part of a tribe. As though I belong even as little as I seemed to fit in from the exterior. Some of this is just because we have a strong company culture and I work with many lovely people, but much of it is also the Asian culture. Even on my first day my bossÂ introduced me to a team and asked them to make certain I had company for lunch – as though I was the new girl in middle school. Just to be clear, that’s not how my first day back in the US went – even at the same company.
While it can often feel strong and satisfying to be able to go to lunch or spend a weekend alone, many women (and I’m no exception) also look for a group as part of their social health. Asia, with it’s strong community-sense, is an excellent culture for the single woman to find a tribe and be supported as a norm when living away from home.
This got kind of long…. so coming in more parts: how being a “sensitive woman” is a top skill for success as an expat, and Asian women who have both beauty and brains.