Image: Straits Times

Over 22 years and more than 400 Sunday columns, Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan shared her musings about love: losing it, finding it and finally having it for keeps. Now, 74 of her columns have been compiled into a new book, titled Sundays with Sumiko. We ask her what kept her going for all those years of singlehood.


Did having a well-known dating column make it more difficult to meet men when you were single? 

I don’t think so, because most of the guys I went out with, or eventually went out with, weren’t regular newspaper readers. Those who did know about the column were cool about it. 

H, the man I eventually married, had no idea I wrote a personal column when we met. He had been living outside Singapore since the mid-1990s and didn’t know what I did beyond being a journalist. 


Your columns are known to be heartfelt. Is there such a thing as being too personal?

I wouldn’t write about anything that would cause hurt to another person, or something which I was still hurting about.


What’s your advice for single girls maneuvering the dating minefield today, given the proliferation of dating apps?

I guess that no matter how you meet a potential mate – through Tinder or face-to-face at a pub – the main thing is whether you have chemistry. 

If I have any advice to give, it’ll be to keep an open mind and not rule out a certain ‘type’ of guy to date. When I reconnected with H and asked him what he did for a living, he said he was an electrician.

Electrician? Yup, he said. Hmmm. I had to wrap my head around that.


After many disappointments, what spurred you on to continue to date? 

I like/d the idea of being in love – the excitement and top-of-the-world feeling – and so never shut my mind to the possibility of falling in love again, even after a relationship had failed. 


Image: Straits Times


How did you stay hopeful throughout your singlehood? 

Once I hit my mid-40s, I didn’t obsess about marriage as much as when I was younger. I just went about life in the belief that if it happens, it happens,no point fussing about it. And I was quite convinced it wouldn’t happen.

But I’ve got a funny story to tell. In May 2009, a year before I got married, I went on assignment to Rome, to cover a Bvlgari event. A person on the trip told me that if I threw a coin into Trevi Fountain, I’d end up getting married. It happened to her. So I made my way to the fountain one afternoon (it was terribly crowded with tourists), stood with my back to the fountain, flipped a coin into the water (felt really silly doing it) and made a fervent wish to be married. 

I got married in July 2010 – although H wasn’t the guy in my wish because I hadn’t even met him then!


After so many years of dating, how did you know H was the one?

It helped that when we met again as adults, we started off as friends. He supported me through a period when I was very down, which made me realise I could count on him. It also helped a lot that we knew each other in junior college. He wasn’t someone I had to get to know from scratch. He also comes from a big and ‘normal’ family, so I was comfortable on that score too.


At 46, why did you decide to get married?

It’s nice to have someone to do things with and who can share your ups and downs, and vice versa. 

I think in my heart, marriage was something I’d always longed for, and if there were periods (and columns) in which I professed not to want it, it was more to protect myself in the event it didn’t happen.


More than 100 fans queued up to meet Sumiko at her first book signing. 
Image: Straits Times


Read an extract from Sundays with Sumiko


Marry you? Thanks, but not yet
July 16, 2000

“Hey, let’s get married,” my friend said the other day.

“Yeah, right,” I replied, throwing him a withering look.

“Come on, let’s do it. Let’s go to ROM now,” he persisted.

“Haha. Nice try. It’s Sunday,” I said.

It’s a game we’ve started playing, my friend and I, pretending (sort of) that it is indeed time we tied the knot.

But it occurred to me recently that somehow, somewhere, sometime – I can’t pinpoint the exact moment – I’ve done a 180-degree turn.

Once upon a time, I lived and dreamed and prayed for The Question. Being married was so on my mind, especially as it hit me that I was getting no younger.

These days, when The Question comes, I treat it as a joke – even when it isn’t. I really don’t care now if I’m never ever going to become a Mrs Somebody. Really.

What on earth has happened to me? First I gave up the notion of becoming a mother. Now I’m giving up the idea of becoming a wife?

I suppose that 36 years of singlehood have calcified me into a stubborn, selfish, hard-to-please spinster, fixed in her ways, easily nettled and definitely in no mood to compromise (which, I’ve learnt, is the most important word in a relationship. That, plus the phrase “give and take”).

For old birds like myself, marriage will no doubt involve just too much adjustment to our (yes! swinging!) single lives.

In fact, just the idea of planning a wedding ceremony wearies me. Book a hotel banquet room? Draw up an invitation list? Mug up on family politics and protocol so you don’t offend anyone? Spend thousands of dollars on a dinner most people will dread attending? Shop for a wedding dress plus dinner gown? Persuade friends to be bridesmaids? Find a flower girl? Decorate a wedding car?

Sorry. I’m too old, too tired and too cynical to go through all these love-affirming motions.


This excerpt is from one of the columns in Sundays with Sumiko, and was first published in The Sunday Times.