My family has a ritual: Once a month, we do a movie afternoon where we take turns to pick the flick.

The idea is to embrace one other’s interests as a family.

From my 9-year-old son, we get every Marvel/DC/giant monster/robot series; my 11-year-old girl shares her fondness for fantasies like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia; the wife is a huge Tim Burton fan; and I introduce them to the joys of 80s pop culture.

It doesn’t always go down well but hey, that’s part of the process.

Last Sunday, I chose Grease and to my surprise, the kids loved it. The classic musical romantic comedy revolves around Danny and Sandy, played by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, on how they meet, fall in love and split up, only to meet and fall in love all over once more.

That’s when the kids asked me how I met their mother… Oo-oo-oo!

Our inquisitive kids! Image source: Karun S’Baram

Their grilling reminded me of a sitcom called How I Met Your Mother. It follows a group of friends in New York City where the protagonist, Ted Mosby, recounts to his son and daughter years later the events that led to him meeting their mother.

After debating on certain critical facts with the wife (such as who made the first move!), we told the kids our own story. It was a nice family moment. I was glad that we had an old-fashioned love story to tell.

Back to the Future of dating

I wonder if there are any more old-fashioned love stories left.

Dating has evolved. Some of those dating now weren’t even born when in 1995, Match.com became the first major online dating site, a website created for busy professionals too busy to meet other busy people.

Fast forward 25 years and now we have Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Coffee Meets Bagel, Happn, and even specialised dating apps designed for smaller communities, like JSwipe for Jewish singles and MuzMatch for Muslims.

There are so many ways humans can find and court their potential partners online. It has become that easy!

There was a time when courtship was more private. In the 18th and 19th centuries, women would meet with several men, with parents present as chaperones, to select the most suitable match for marriage, which at that time heavily relied on factors such as financial and social status.

Image source: Shutterstock / Victorian Traditions

That evolved into what is termed the gentleman caller – if a young man was interested in a young woman, he would follow the proper protocol of calling at the family’s home and (hopefully) be welcomed into the house!

As my daughter’s father, I love this rule. And to all fathers with daughters reading this – cheers!

Digital vs Destiny

French novelist Victor Hugo once wrote “Life is the flower for which love is the honey”. Romance has always been embodied into our literature and culture.

Romantic stories have always been an inspiration for men and women over the centuries and all over the world: Paris and Helen, Romeo and Juliet, The Butterfly Lovers, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz… And from our movie-saturated pop culture, we get Jack and Rose, Lois and Clark, and of course Bella and Edward.

These were not just films and stories, but inspirations and even aspirations on how romance is an important part of our journey in life.

Romance sets up companions to become families. Like friendships, these experiences (with their ups and downs, of course) teach us not only about each other but also ourselves. It helps cement our values and prepares us for life itself.

How I Met My Children’s Mother

Me taking one of our first wefies (not with a phone!) while on a date. Image source: Karun S’Baram

We met through a common friend. She was in a relationship then, I wasn’t.

She was studying abroad and we met only at social gatherings when she was back for the holidays. We weren’t chatty at first, only engaging in a few chance conversations. In fact, we each assumed the other was a snob!

But in those little conversations, despite our significant age gap (exactly how big is irrelevant as I want to remain married!), I realised we had many things in common to confabulate.

When she returned to Singapore for good, she was single and I had my green light. Talking led to the first date, a simple supper at Simpang Bedok. That, in turn, led to more dates – impromptu road trips, picnics at Shakespeare in the Park, theatre and movie nights and deeper intimate discussions about values and aspirations.

We had our differences, of course. And there were many. I am boisterous and she is serene. She is neat and I am a (well-organised!) mess. As we spent more time with each other, we realised that we were as similar as we were different.

Me applying sindoor on my wife, from friends to being united in marriage. Image source: Karun S’Baram

But through it all, we made a point to be open to each other’s interests. My swimming-averse wife learnt diving for me! My extroverted self did art jamming with her and took her on proper picnics – my idea of a picnic was drinks after footie.

In the end, it was dealing with our differences that brought us closer and tighter. We fell in love with our differences, not despite them.

Love at first swipe; dating in the new millennium

Image source: Unsplash / Muhammad Raufan Yusup

Dating apps match you based on your similarities. People tend to want to be with those with similar interests – it’s natural. But take it from me, if you are searching for a long-term relationship, look also into your differences. They matter too.

According to a recent CNA report, fewer people are getting married and they are doing it later. Not only that, more marriages are ending in divorce or annulment.

In today’s culture, the individual has become more important than ever before. This generation is much more focused on themselves rather than previous generations.

Nowadays, we have more freedom to choose how we want to live our lives. We want to make up our own rules (or lack thereof).

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. But with great power comes great responsibility, finding someone to go steady can be difficult.

Those in the dating game these days have so many options – and come with so many expectations themselves! – that going steady the traditional way is always going to be a hard sell.

Don’t give up on love

Image source: Unsplash / Khamkéo Vilaysing

Today’s dating world is certainly an enigma (at least to me!), but that doesn’t mean love doesn’t still happen.

Whether we meet online or at a social gathering, whether it is through friends or via an app, we can still find the one and have that story to tell our kids.

Dating has always been complicated. But it also used to be a lot harder. Nowadays with dating apps, looking for a partner becomes as easy as shopping for shoes – you find one that looks pretty, try it on after one swipe and then if it doesn’t fit, toss it aside.

Now, I’m not hating on the spectrum of human relationships. After all, not everyone is looking for forever after. But I hope that the dating scene does not spiral into a virtual marketplace where singles could shop for each other, because strong relationships are not built on trivial pursuits or casual hook-ups.

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Technology has certainly made dating easier – we are able to spend time digitally when we cannot meet physically, connected through our phones.

But I hope that by making dating easy, we aren’t making it cheap. When there is little investment in pursuit, there is little incentive to commit.

Instead, we should recognise that certain things don’t change over time. There may be new ways of finding our partners, but I believe that there is still only one way to have a happy and fulfilled life with them: That is, to prioritise love and kindness.

Without these two qualities, anger, bitterness and resentment can dominate a relationship, which could lead to heart-breaking and expensive endings.

Love and kindness should dominate our actions but at the same time, I hope people do not forget about the good old-fashioned romantic story. Let’s bring back the gentleman caller!

My sincerest hope is that when my kids grow up, they would have a romantic story of their own to tell their children.

So, how did you meet your children’s mother?

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Top Image: Pablo Heimplatz