Runaway brides in S’pore: Picking up the pieces (Part 2)

Elizabeth Soh
Singapore Showbiz

Janice's wedding dress, which she says she "can't bear" to sell or throw away despite calling the wedding off (Photo courtesy of Janice)
Janice's wedding dress, which she says she "can't bear" to sell or throw away despite calling the wedding off (Photo courtesy of Janice)

Amid falling birth rates and higher rates of divorce in Singapore comes another worrying new trend – that of young engaged couples calling off their big day right at the final moment. Marriage counsellors Yahoo! Singapore spoke to say all say they’ve seen an increase in such cases of young “runaway brides”. In the first part of this series, we featured young runaway bride Janice, who called off her big day after nine years of courtship. In Part 2, we speak to her ex-fiance Ken (not his real name) about how he had to pick up the pieces in the months after.

If calling off the wedding was a nightmare for Janice, 23, the weeks that followed, she says, were “far, far worse”.

“Once I touched down in Singapore , my phone was ringing off the hook. My parents, friends, Ken left me hundreds of messages and missed calls. I felt so ashamed I considered suicide,” said the petite, fair young woman, her eyes red with tears during an emotional interview last week with Yahoo! Singapore.

“But I knew I couldn’t run away from my problems. I had to face the consequences of my decision, and I was very, very sure I was not ready for marriage – not just getting married to Ken, but marriage.”

The first blow came when her traditional Chinese father told her to pack her bags and leave their family condominium.

“My father simply could not accept that I had shamed him and my family. He shouted at me until he couldn’t speak and asked me why I didn’t want to marry Ken, that Ken was a good guy, and that I was stupid and should change my mind. When I said ‘no’, he told me he didn’t want me under his roof,” said Janice, the eldest of three children.

She stayed with her best friend for two months before moving back with her family in December, but has since been told to look for a room to rent. Most of her friends have either given her the cold shoulder or do not want to be involved in the breakdown of Janice and Ken’s engagement.

“After nine years together, almost all my friends are his friends and vice versa. Many of them told me I made the right decision, but on the other hand they are angry with me for hurting Ken. I don’t blame them, I deserve it. I should have handled it better,” said Janice, who has deactivated all her social networking accounts.

Heavy price to pay

Besides the estrangement, Janice has had to, literally, pay the price for her decision. The last-minute cancellation of her 30-table wedding banquet at a five-star hotel, wedding photography, Australia honeymoon trip as well as the process of returning their BTO flat back to HDB has left her and her ex-fiance Ken mired in at least S$30,000 worth of debt.

“I’ve been corresponding with Ken through e-mail, and he has been handling the flat issues, while I contacted all our wedding vendors. Most were very understanding, like the florists as well as the wedding photographers, but we still owe a lot of money even after emptying out our bank accounts and our parents chipping in to help,” said Janice.

Janice has only been working for about a year, while Ken has been working for about four. With Ken working and studying part-time for a long-distance degree and Janice’s starting pay as an accountant, their combined monthly income was about $5,000.

“Almost all my monthly salary goes to paying my parents back. Besides transport and about $4 per meal, I don’t spend on anything anymore, I just want to pay Ken back all the money as soon as I can, he shouldn’t have to pay for my mistakes,” said Janice, who also just started working weekends and nights as a tutor at a tuition centre to help clear the mountain of debt.

Yahoo! Singapore understands that if Janice and Ken had backed out of their 4-room BTO flat before collecting the keys, they would have to forfeit the 5 per cent deposit they placed when they initially signed a Sales of Agreement for Lease.

While Janice and Ken declined to reveal their current situation regarding the flat, they said that they have been communicating closely with their assigned HDB officer, who has been “very helpful”.

Costly decisions

31-year-old insurance agent Tay Eelin has been in Janice’s shoes. She took about three years to pay off her debt, because she and her ex-fiance had backed out of a DBSS flat in 2009, forfeiting their 20 per cent deposit, which worked out to be a whopping $80,000 borrowed from parents and relatives.

“People say that couples like us run away from marriage and commitment, they say that we are taking the easy way out, but seriously, what’s so easy about three years worth of debt?” said the spunky Tay, who split with her fiancé 4 months before their big day by mutual agreement as they felt that they had serious communication problems.

“I can tell you it’s easier to just go ahead and get married and also more irresponsible. I had relatives who told me, backing out of a wedding is no laughing matter, take it seriously, why don’t you just go ahead and problems discuss later? And I told them, so is getting married and then splitting up after a few months or years a laughing matter? What if the problems cannot be solved?”

Three years on, Tay is finally debt-free but at 31, has no savings to speak of.

“Looking back, we should not have even bought a house to start with. But then, seriously, who wants to rent a room for three years after getting married? It’s just money out, with no assets under our name. We could have stayed with our parents, but back then we were still very in love and wanted to start a life and family quickly together.”

Mr Mohd Ismail, CEO of real estate agency Propnex, told Yahoo! that the root of the problem lies in the three-to-four year wait for HDB’s BTO flats, which are far more affordable than resale flats on the open market.

“Yes, we hear about this (backing out) happening mostly with BTOs. With resale, almost never, because when couples buy resale, they are already about to get married and can move in straight away, there’s no need to wait so long,” said Ismail.

“The real number of these couples backing out, private companies do not know and do not track the numbers – only HDB because they sell to them directly. But I can say that for resale, first-time buyers and couples backing out is very, very rare.”

Picking up the pieces

In a short phone interview with Janice’s ex-fiance, Ken, he said that while initially furious, confused and hurt, he has since moved on. The 25-year-old also feels he should take part of the blame for the mess caused after their wedding disaster.

“Of course I was angry. I felt so betrayed, I felt that our nine years together was nothing and that she never loved me at all,” said Ken, an operations executive, in Mandarin.

“She just ran away and left me to deal with everyone. Do you know how hard it was? People were gossiping about whether I had cheated on her, whether it was a shotgun marriage, or if I beat her. I had to listen to all this and, at the same time, call everyone to tell them the wedding was cancelled, handle all the administrative issues, and then I was so worried about whether she would be safe alone overseas (Thailand) in her unstable state.”

Upon reflection though, he said Janice had showed clear signs of having doubts about their marriage months before their wedding day.

“She was always nervous, she kept asking me if we were doing the right thing and she suggested going for pre-marriage counseling to prepare us. She also said she felt like she was too young. But each time I would say – can you please don’t talk like that? We already got a flat – or – everything will be okay, things are just stressful now, we will discuss it after the wedding. I thought her worries were just normal bride problems.”

Ken said that he and Janice are on civil terms now and communicate regularly about financial issues via e-mail and text messages, but both are “not ready” to meet or be friends.

“We were so kancheong (in a hurry) to get a house, because the wait is so long and we kept hearing people say that they balloted many times but could not get a flat, even in a lousy location. Anyway, I’m okay already. You can’t force anyone to marry you, right? At least the next time if either of us get married, we will be very sure of our decision.”

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