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What it's like to have your first boyfriend at 25: 'I would act like everything was okay'

It was only when she moved to Singapore when she turned 20 that Natalie decided to use dating apps to meet people and eventually date. (Photo: Getty Images)
It was only when she moved to Singapore when she turned 20 that Natalie decided to use dating apps to meet people and eventually date. (Photo: Getty Images)

A Millennial's Dating Diary series explores real-life interactions and the hurdles of dating in Southeast Asia. The series features the dating stories and misadventures of Arika – a 26-year-old, straight female marketing manager with a penchant for over drinking — and fellow millennials.5

(*Names have been changed on request)

If you’ve grown up on a diet of romantic comedies and series on TV, it’s likely that you’ve had fantasies about falling in love and meeting the one in a romantic way. If pop culture has any influence on our dating lives, it seems the best time to meet your other half would be while you’re in school or at university.

While *Natalie, 26, did watch her fair share of films and series, she never really considered dating until her early 20s.

Growing up in a relatively sheltered community in Batam, Indonesia, Natalie never really had the chance to date.

While in high school, she focused mainly on learning English, attending tuition classes after school, and basketball training. On weekends, her time revolved around family, friends, and piano lessons.

“People don’t really casually date in Batam. Instead, once you’ve expressed interest in someone, and if they like you back, you automatically become official. If you’ve been together for a while, sometimes parents can get involved, too,” she explained. “Plus, Batam is really small, and everyone sort of knows each other and is connected in some way. This is why people don’t usually casually date because it could come back to their parents if they do something unsavoury.”

It was only when she moved to Singapore when she turned 20 that Natalie decided to use dating apps to meet people and eventually date.

It was then that she realised just how different the dating culture in Batam is compared to Singapore.

“I was shocked at how forward some people were about just wanting to sleep around,” she shared.

Struggling with the concept of casual dating

Inexperienced and unsure of what she was doing, Natalie often struggled with the concept of casual dating and just getting to know someone.

“I often got too attached to people I was just meeting, and even though we were casually dating, I’d often have expectations about the way I wanted to be treated,” she said.

After dating for several months, Natalie felt she wasn’t quite cut out to date.

“I took a break for a while and wanted to just enjoy my life. I was getting a bit too hung up over some guys not texting me back, and I realised how unhealthy it was to feel that way.”

However, as she got older, her friends back home began tease her about her singlehood. She revealed that the culture in Batam is really different, saying, “In Batam, most women get married early. One of my closest friends back home is the same age as me and she’s already got two kids! Plus, as a woman, I’m considered past my prime in Indonesia.”

Eventually, Natalie met *Josh, 25, on Bumble.

After texting rapidly, the two realised that they had a lot in common. For starters, they both enjoyed playing the same mobile game. Next, they were both into fashion and enjoyed dressing up.

“On the first date we went on, we decided on a colour palette and dressed up according to it,” she laughed. “Since then, we’ve been matching our outfits with one another.”

Being in a relationship is hard work

However, Natalie soon learned that being in a relationship is actually hard work, and that she had a lot of personal growth and development to work on as well.

“When we became exclusive, I would often get intrusive thoughts about whether the relationship would last and questioned why we were in a relationship if things aren’t meant to be,” she confessed.

Beyond her own self-doubt, Natalie also found it extremely difficult to open up and let Josh really get to know her.

“I had this fear that every time I voiced out some unhappiness, they’ll leave me. So, that said, I would always act like everything was okay even though I was unhappy about something because I didn’t want to disturb the peace,” she elaborated.

Unfortunately, keeping everything in meant that the intrusive thoughts would get worse.

Some of Natalie’s thoughts also influenced her actions and made it difficult to understand Josh’s actions, too.

I always wanted to spend time with him and see him almost every day so when he explained that he needed time by himself to rest and recharge, I took it personally and wondered if he actually liked me.

“I did a personality test which explained that I have disorganised attachment style, and it’s made me question people, their intentions, and led me to build up walls around myself even though what I was really craving for was a genuine connection,” she explained.

“Finding effective ways to communicate with Josh has helped me realise that these intrusive thoughts aren’t necessarily true. But it doesn’t mean I don’t have them still, I just learned to manage them better.”

Bonding over a lack of experience

According to Natalie, adjusting to a new relationship, and having it go long-term, proved to be an adjustment period for Josh, too.

Prior to Natalie, Josh had only had one other relationship. Thankfully, after communicating, they both realised just how vulnerable they actually were and bonded over their lack of experience.

Looking back, Natalie’s grateful she didn’t actually have much relationship experience.

“It means that I don’t have a lot of baggage or feel as jaded as other people do about love, and I’m always open to learning how to better myself.”

She did wish, however, that she had exposed herself more various types of relationship content like dating columns and social media accounts that talk about relationships.

“I think it would have saved me a lot of anguish had I exposed myself to certain relationship issues from an early age.

One year on, Natalie thinks she’s a lot more stable now and has grown more mature.

“I’m definitely a lot happier now in a long-term relationship than I was when I was single and dating casually. I’m definitely glad I’m no longer catching feelings for just about any guy,” she joked.

So, what’s her biggest advice for people who are still single?

“Don’t chase a relationship, the right one will come to you at the right time.”

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