Gabrielle and Julio Mendoza tied the knot in 2011 when Gabrielle was 25 and Julio was 24. Image: Gabrielle Mendoza.
Yoga teacher Gabriella Mendoza has always wanted to get married. And she got her wish – her then-boyfriend, Juilo Mendoza proposed when she was 23. At that time, he was just 22, and finishing his final exams in university. A year later, they became husband and wife.
“Too many of my male friends who were in long-term relationships had no intention of marrying their girlfriends,” she says. “I didn't want anyone to waste my time and youth, so after a year of dating, I told Julio outright that if he wasn't planning to marry me, he shouldn't stand in the way of me finding a husband.” Two weeks later, he dropped to one knee.
You could say Gabrielle’s an anomaly among her millennial peers, in a time where it’s perceived as less-than-cool to covet being part of an institution that demands you swop the idea of “me” for “we”.
The numbers speak for themselves – more Singaporeans in their mid to late 20s are choosing to put their careers ahead of their love lives, with a 2016 survey revealing that 70 per cent of those aged between 25 and 29 are deciding to stay single.
Research shows that for millennials, collecting experiences are part of becoming their “best selves” – and that more often than not, means adventure, focusing on work that drives change, and supporting worthy causes. Marriage and babies, as they see it, get in the way of these lofty goals.
It also doesn’t mean they don’t crave love and intimacy – but that’s where dating apps come in. With so many choices at their fingertips, they don’t feel like they’re missing out. Yet, dating apps also enhance fears that settling down means short-changing themselves.
Married millennials don’t give up ‘me’
So what might make a millennial couple keen to take the plunge?
“I’m just a romantic with an old soul,” Julio says. For Gabrielle, it’s about what marriage stands for – to her, there’s no greater way to show you love someone. When her mother suffered a stroke 20 years ago, her father dropped everything to care for her. “I witnessed first-hand what it meant to love someone ‘in sickness and in health’.” She decided early on that she wanted that for herself.
Image: Gabrielle Mendoza.
Friends expressed surprise that the couple wanted to get married so young, but the Mendozas say a defining characteristic of a millennial marriage is that there’s a strong focus on personal growth for each partner. Marriage shouldn’t have to mean giving up on being you, Julio says, pointing out that he and Gabrielle have very different interests. “We actively plan our schedules to set apart ‘me time’ and ‘we time’, and strike a good balance between our individual and couple goals,” adds Gabrielle.
She emphasises that contrary to the belief that married life comes at the cost of personal development, she’s actually pushing herself harder. Julio calls her out when he feels she’s stagnating, and encourages her to pursue her aspirations.
Early in her working life, Gabrielle used to spend her evenings loafing on their sofa, worn down and burned out by her desk job, until one day, Julio asked her bluntly, “Have you nothing that you’re passionate about in life?”
Gabrielle is thankful for the wake-up call. It caused her to re-evaluate her situation, leave her corporate life behind and reconnect with herself through yoga. “No one understands me better than he does. He's also honest and sincere enough to tell me what no one else knew or dared to tell me.”
Married millennials are practical
For other millennials like Amanda Lee and Abel Yap – who tied the knot in 2015, marriage isn’t as big a deal as people make it out to be.
“People talk about [marriage] like it’s a ball and chain. It’s not. Being married just makes it easier for us to hang out,” 26-year-old Amanda says. She still goes on holidays with her girlfriends, and occasionally, a night out at the clubs.
Amanda Lee and Abel Yap. Image: Amanda Lee
Certainly, it makes their relationship a little easier. They’d been together three years, and were exploring the possibility of moving in together. Rent is expensive, so it made economical sense to get married so they could buy a flat.
Apart from that, the couple feel that a formal commitment to one another helps them get through rough patches. 27-year-old Abel explains, “There'll be times when you might feel like giving up but knowing that you've decided to marry this person you'll really put in every effort to make it last.”
But these couples say at the end of the day, they enjoy having someone to come home to, and there’s pleasure to be had in doing what might seem like mundane tasks together. “Julio and I spend time doing yoga and looking after our dogs,” says Gabrielle.
That’s not to say their millennial values don’t get in the way. “I am an only child, so there was definitely a period in which I had to adapt to sharing a space with somebody,” says Abel. They’ve also found ways to keep conflict at bay – with two television screens in their bedroom, one for him to play computer games, and one for her to watch Netflix. “We learn to respect each other's space when it’s necessary,” says Amanda.
Married millennials don’t think babies cramp their style
While her friends flood their social media feeds with dreamy vacation shots, Mevis Ang populates her own accounts with pictures of her two children, both under the age of two.
“I would have liked to travel, and explore other countries,” she says wistfully. Aside from this, the 27 year old has very few personal desires that she needs fulfilled. There was little to hold her back from taking the next step in life with Roy Ho, whom she married at 24.
“Roy and I knew we were ready to have kids. We’ve always loved playing with the children in our church at Sunday school and were very sure that we wanted our own kids. A lot of my friends still don’t feel prepared for that, both mentally and financially.”
Most millennials hesitate to have kids because it is very expensive. But Mevis and Roy had it all planned out from the outset. They each saved a portion of their income (money that their peers budget for holidays and luxury goods) for their future children. Within the first two months of their marriage, they decided to try for their first child.
Motherhood has transformed her attitudes towards life. For one, once she got pregnant, going out with her friends became a chore. Some nights, she would feel too nauseous or too tired to grab drinks with them.
Mevis Ang and Roy Ho. Image: Mevis Ang
And after she had her first child, work took a backseat. These days, the senior human resource executive leaves on the dot, something she never did prior to giving birth. “I used to push myself very hard in order to get ahead at work and secure those promotions and bonuses,” says Mevis.
Now, her primary objective is to take care of her kids. Many of her peers continue to charge full-steam ahead, so it’s easier to relate to older colleagues who share her priorities. “We can talk about kids stuff and go to child-friendly places, things I can’t do with my single or childless co-workers.”
When she eventually decides to turn her focus back to her career, some years down the road after the children enrol in primary school, her youth might put her at an advantage compared to more mature moms returning to the workplace.
For now, she and Roy are paying their dues.
“It’s hard to make time for ourselves, we’re desperately sleep-deprived,” Mevis reveals. She doesn’t kid herself about the reality of having children. She can’t remember the last time she enjoyed a meal in peace and she’s not been on an aeroplane since she got pregnant with her first child in 2014.
Mevis is one of the lucky ones – her friends love having her kids around, and often try to pick places which are child-friendly, or organise gatherings at their homes to accommodate her family. And when she’s just too busy with her kids, social media and Whatsapp have been a godsend – making it easier for her to keep up with what’s going on in her friends’ lives.
Being married when you’re a millennial might seem like harder work – but these couples say like any relationship, it requires both communication and compromise. And perhaps a little more conviction. Like Amanda says, “I didn’t see the need to explore my options. Abel and I have known each other since we were 15 and I knew that I [would always] want to have him around. I picked him. Now we just have to make it work.”