Dating in Singapore: Then and now

By Niki Bruce and Nediva Singam, Contributors

Older Singaporean couples often reminisce about how they used to take their partners dancing at Studio M at The Plaza Hotel, or how their relationships reached new heights on a cable car ride to Sentosa. Today, you get things rolling over a game of cosmic bowling, and hit new relationship #goals in the comfort of Gold Class.

So, how much more inventive has the game of Chase become? We speak to three couples with some 60 years of dating experience between them to see how much dating in Singapore has really changed.

Ade and Peter danced on their first date even though Peter “had two left feet”.

First dates

Then:
For their first date, Peter Koh, now 69 and owner of optical retail store The Lens Men, took Ade Choo, now 63, to the disco at the old Merlin Hotel on Beach Road. It was 1975. “We danced the night away, even if I realised Peter had two left feet,” recalls Ade. Even after their March 1976 wedding, they regularly hit the D’Tanjung bar at the Singapore Swimming Club.

Now:
Clinton Leicester, 30, who met Nicole Wong, 29, while they were students at LASALLE College of the Arts in 2005, whipped up some spaghetti and took her on a picnic at East Coast Park. “I wanted somewhere that was quiet so we could talk and get to know each other,” he says. They married in 2015, and he still does all the cooking.

Grab the popcorn

Then:
While Ade “loved Hindustani films”, Peter didn’t fancy going to the movies at all. “Peter would go to sleep in the cinema while I watched; a win-win for both of us,” laughs Ade. While he indulged the twice-monthly traipses to the old Galaxy Theatre at Geylang Serai, he was extremely relieved when she moved on to Korean drama, which she watches at home.

Now:
Shalinya Jeyabalan and Benedict Loh, both 20, have been dating for two years. Shalinya, a second-year economics student at SMU, drags him to “chick flicks”, and Ben, who graduates from Ngee Ann Polytechnic this year, makes her watch Star Wars. Most days, though, they hang out and watch comedies on Netflix at her house.

Clinton does all the cooking at home for his foodie wife Nicole.

Staying in touch

Then:
Without the benefit of mobile phones, Peter would drop into Ade’s home – a Goodman Road bungalow she shared with friends – so they could decide whether they wanted to head out for dinner, dancing or a spot of live music, remembers Peter.

Now:
Couples these days have it so much easier, says Shalinya. “I Whatsapp him a lot, and we use Instagram-stories. Even when I was in China for a two-week study mission, we could still stay in touch.”

Have partner, will travel

Then:
Peter’s job as an optometrist gave Ade wings. He had to attend trade shows around the world, and she got to see Milan, Paris, New York and Tokyo, among other cities. “We’d go a week earlier or stay on after,” says Peter.

Now:
Nicole and Clinton take at least three trips a year together. “What we love most about traveling together is that we get to have new experiences and meet people that we wouldn’t (normally) meet in Singapore,” says Clinton. Nicole names Tokyo, Hokkaido and Danang as cities she particularly enjoys. Shalinya and Ben took their first holiday together in 2016, to Taiwan. Last year, they went to Penang.

Students Shalinya and Benedict keep in touch through Instagram-stories like the millenials that they are.

If music be the food of love

Then:
Music was a big part of Ade and Peter’s courtship. “We’d go to the Cockpit Hotel or Barbarella at Ming Court Hotel. We loved listening to live bands that played music by Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones,” says Peter. The two still go out “if we know of a good band that rocks,” his wife adds.

Now:
Music resonates with the younger couples too. “Music has been a big part of our life,” says Clinton. The couple collect and dig through vinyls together, and go to concerts and gigs like the recent performance by French electronic music duo Justice.

Shalinya, too, “drags” Benedict to concerts. “We went to see Ed Sheeran and maybe we’ll go to see Bruno Mars.”

Food, glorious food

Then:
For Ade and Peter, date nights since the 1980s have often brought them to Jack’s Place in Parkway Parade for a steak. “We always round up the meal by sharing an old-fashioned banana split,” says Ade. They also loved the old Bugis Street where, come night, it was bustling with “street food, fabulously dressed and dolled-up transvestites, and drunken sailors”.

Now:
Foodies Nicole and Peter love their nosh too. “We love going to House of Anli at Tanglin Mall for brunch, and for local flavour, it’s Jalan Tua Kong Meepok,” says Nicole. When Clinton’s out to impress her, “an Omakase meal at Hashida Sushi Singapore at Mandarin Gallery never fails”, he says. And while Shalinya and Benedict’s enthusiasm is restricted by their budget, they get their “spicy-Japanese” fix at Coco Ichibanya once a week. “When we eat out, it’s usually in the afternoon because it is cheaper.”

Happily Ever Afters

Peter first slipped his hand into Ade’s for their first dance in 1975, and never let go. They leave our dating couples with a glimpse of the future. “We’ve learnt to slow down so that we can still walk alongside each other… and to treasure our remaining years as husband and wife,” say Ade.

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