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Young and single grapple with expectations

Released at: 06:33, 30/04/2018

Young and single grapple with expectations

Photos: Viet Tuan

Many Vietnamese still struggle with the pressure that comes from being single, though there are those who take a more positive attitude.

by Le Diem

It was her wedding day, but Ms. Thu Phuong was only thinking about a reason to break up with her husband later on. Her parents were the happiest people on the day, released from the burden of having a single 30-year-old daughter. Only Ms. Phuong, though, knew that the groom was “fake”; someone she found from a new type of service helping single people avoid pressure from family and society about being unmarried. 

Reluctant weddings

After a few unsuccessful relationships, Ms. Phuong, who works in an office, was single for a few years. Initially, it was fine. But when she hit 27 her parents urged her to find a husband and neighbors and relatives constantly asked when she would get married. The older she grew, the more the pressure increased. At 30, having not found “Mr. Right”, she decided to arrange a fake wedding. “I couldn’t handle it more,” she lamented. “They made me crazy. But I couldn’t find a husband, so I had no choice. The wedding will make them happy and I’ll feel free.” In a few months, she added, she will tell her parents that her husband cheated on her and they broke up. 

Many others are also using these bride and groom services. Like Ms. Minh Ngoc, a 33-year-old accountant, who arranged a fake husband after her mother threatened to commit suicide if she didn’t get married this year. “She said she couldn’t stand the mocking of our relatives and friends anymore,” she said. 

Old views persist in Vietnam about the “need” to get married at a young age and not be left on the shelf. “Divorced people are looked upon better,” Ms. Ngoc said. “It’s more common these days and nobody asks about it. But if I stay unmarried, people will keep asking and judging me. So, I’ll have a fake wedding and then get divorced.”

Mr. Tuan Viet, Director of the Tuan Viet Company, which provides wedding packages (including the bride or groom), said his customers are mostly women and are in the same situation as Phuong and Ngoc. Some are also pregnant and been abandoned by their boyfriend, while others plan to become single mothers after they leave their husbands for “cheating” on them. “The common thread is a wish to be looked upon publicly as being in the ‘perfect situation’,” he said. ‘People come to us so that others see they have a ‘husband and father’.” 
Some try a different type of “fake” marriage; one they don’t really want to enter into. 

At the age of 35, IT specialist Mr. Minh Chien proposed to a woman he had only dated for three months. “This one appeared okay - has a good job, cooks well, and seems like she’d be a good wife and mom,” he said. “So, I just went for it. If I waited any longer the relationship may have ended, and I’m getting older and older and my mom told me every day to get married. I had to get married eventually, but more for my mom’s sake.”

Also getting married for the sake of her mother and also society more than for herself, Ms. Huyen Huong, a 32-year-old project manager, went on many dates, including set-ups from friends and her mother. “My mom, my aunts and others told me to get married to any guy, to have a husband and a normal life,” she said. Eventually, she met a guy who was a bit older but had just returned to Vietnam after living overseas for a few years and had a good job and a house and was looking for a wife. The big day took place two months after they met. 

As soon as they got married, though, both Mr. Chien and Ms. Huong regretted their decision. While Mr. Chien soon learned that he and his wife had little in common, Ms. Huong found her husband to be stingy and patriarchal, making her wake up early to cook breakfast and discouraging her from going out with friends. Both agreed they would not have married their spouses if they’d spent more time getting to know them beforehand and would also have appreciated the single life a lot more.

Happily unmarried

Others just choose not to succumb to the pressure from family and society and are happy with their lot. 

Still single at the age of 31, receptionist Ms. Kim Lien said she doesn’t want to marry someone she’d doesn’t love just to have a family. “The marriage could be a disaster and end in divorce,” she said. “If I meet someone and it feels right I’ll get married. Otherwise, I’m okay living alone. I’m not the only one. Many people who aren’t married are still happy.” 

She has tried to convince her parents that getting married and having a family is not the only way to be happy. “It wasn’t easy in the beginning, but they’ve seen other people get divorced so they are more open to it,” she said. “They say as long as I’m happy, they’ll support me and be happy too.” 

Some are just not ready to settle down before they turn 30. As Vietnam develops and living standards improve, they are many who want to spend their younger years focusing on their careers or traveling. “I’m still young and have my health,” said 26-year-old Thuy Hanh. “It’s the best time to discover new places and enjoy different experiences. If I get married and have a baby, I’ll have to spend all my time on my family and watch my youth disappear amid milk and diapers.” She has many married friends who think they got married too early and miss their freedom. 

Ms. Hanh is a member of a singles group on Facebook that has members from the north to the south of the country but mostly in Hanoi, Hai Phong, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City, and is where meet-ups are arranged and travel partners found. 

In the modern world and its busy days, many members have simply become too lazy to date, according to Ms. Hanh. “I totally understand. After a long day at work, I just want to go home, eat, shower and have a good night’s sleep,” she said. “Many times I choose sleep over dating.” 

Like others in the group, she enjoys her comfortable life and loves the freedom of being single, and doesn’t really want to change how things are. 

According to Ms. Thu Hong, Director of the Institute for Social Development Studies, family and marriage are still very important to the majority of Vietnamese but many also recognize the importance of a career and a certain amount of freedom; a change in thinking also seen in countries with similar cultures, like China, Japan, and South Korea. 

This is the result of greater and broader financial independence, especially for women, along with the more equal roles being established in families, Ms. Hong said. As living standards improve, what people look for in a partner also changes, with traditional values such as kindness and a stable job no longer being sufficient.

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