Singapore love stories: These lovebirds couldn't stand each other throughout primary school

Kate and Joel were never invited to each other’s birthday parties when they were classmates.

We bring you a Valentine’s Day series about love stories of people living in Singapore.

By Niki Bruce, Contributor

On her first day of Primary 1 at Tao Nan School, Kate Tan was told by her form teacher to hold hands with one Joel Yang, who would remain her “class partner” until they were in Primary 6.

It was “yucky”, laughs Kate, now 30 and an e-commerce strategist with Publicis Media. “We had to hold hands while crossing the road and going around school. I remember not wanting to hold his hand, so we held pinkies instead.”

For the next six years, the two tolerated each other – albeit unwillingly.

“We were never invited to each other’s birthday parties, and were polar opposites. He was quite a rascal in school, didn’t get his homework done and was always being sent outside by the teacher,” recalls Kate.

Joel remembers her as very boisterous, engaging, sociable… and tall.

As it turns out, their teacher – who was also Joel’s grandaunt – might have made a better match than even she realised. But that wouldn’t be clear for quite a while yet. After the PSLE exams were done, the two lost touch.

Over the years, Kate organised a number of primary school reunions to which Joel never showed up. Then, in 2013, Joel decided to link up with old friends, and began to organise his own reunion via Facebook. He sent her a friend request, and she accepted.

She recognised him right away. “Honestly, people’s faces don’t change very much as they age, (he) still looked the same,” she says.

Joel “totally recognised her” too when they met up. She hadn’t changed very much either – “she was still tall, loud, and unabashed,” he laughs.

While deliriously sick, Joel declared Kate his girlfriend when she was taking care of him.

That 2013 class gathering sparked a number of casual meet-ups. They had both ended up in the same industry – Joel is a freelance web developer – so they had a lot in common, and hit it off, Kate says.

They even lived in the same neighbourhood, and one Valentine’s Day, when Joel took ill, Kate ended up taking care of him.

“He was in bed, and in a delirious state he turned to me and said that since I took care of him on Valentine’s Day, we were a couple. And that was that,” Kate recalls.

On his part, Joel felt that Kate brought out the best in him. “(A relationship) is a journey about being better together… throughout our time together, she has always pushed me to be better, to see the potential of us, regardless,” he says. Soon, he was making every decision with her in mind.

For Kate, many qualities qualified Joel as “the one” for her, including his empathy.

In 2015, on the eve of their second anniversary, he proposed at Candlenut in Dempsey, their favourite restaurant.

In 2016, they had a July wedding at Flutes at the National Museum, and a lunch reception at a hotel the following day.

Fittingly, some of their early schoolmates attended, as did the woman who started it all – their former teacher and Joel’s grandaunt, “Ipoh Irene”, who was in the audience witnessing the union she helped forge.

Joel and Kate are still navigating the new adventure that is marriage, and concede that it can be hard work. It helps that Joel constantly gives her reason to reaffirm the choice she made.

“For example, he does all the laundry at home,” she volunteers with a laugh.

But they are enjoying this new chapter, and looking forward to a lifetime of hand-holding.

“Our love story sounds interesting because of how serendipitous our reunion was, but we’re still (in the process of) writing it.”

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Other Singapore love stories:

First came marriage, then came love

Winning at more than online gaming

She thought he was gay, but they still ended up together

Okay, Cupid, give me what you’ve got

If music be the food of love, play on

Mr Right was a ‘right swipe’ away

‘Love at first sight’, but they dated in secret for years