After an emotional end to his marriage, Alexander Heng*, thought he would never find love again. Then, he fell in love once more – with the same woman. He tells the story of how he is wooing his wife for the second time.
You could say it was love at first ‘poke’. Stuck at home with nothing to do, I found myself clicking through Facebook profiles of friends of friends looking for someone to flirt with, when I chanced upon the profile picture of Emma Tan*. She looked like Zhang Ziyi, whom I’ve had the biggest crush on for years. I hesitated as we didn’t have anything in common, but the Zhang Ziyi factor got the better of me, and I ‘poked’ her. A few days later, she ‘poked’ back and I sent her a lame message: ‘What do you suppose this ‘poking’ thing is for?’
Our messages soon turned into text messages and phone calls. Emma later confessed she had done a background check on me and had been hesitant to return my ‘poke’ because she didn’t want to date a ‘rich, bratty playboy who thinks he can get anything he wants’. But our mutual friends had told her that I was a nice guy. Two weeks later, we went on our first date. It was nice enough, and afterwards, I headed to a club on my own. While there, I could think only of Emma, and despite how hot the girls I was flirting with were, they weren’t her. After three dinner dates over the next five days, we hung out at her place, eating packed hawker food and watching DVDs on her tiny 14-inch TV. I started staying over, sharing her cramped single bed, before rushing out at 5am to go home to get ready for work.
During one of those movie nights, she showed me what she had written in her diary on the night of our first date: ‘I’ve met the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.’ This brought us much closer and we started to talk seriously about marriage. Three weeks later, we decided to get married.
Meeting the Fockers
Being welcomed into Emma’s warm, inviting family was a culture shock for me. At dinner one night, Emma’s mother asked me how my day was and I was taken aback. I had never been asked how my day was by my family; dinner talk at our house invariably consisted of what happened at work in our family business. I had never seen anything wrong with that; it was our way of life. But our families were so different, it reminded me of the Ben Stiller movie: Emma’s family being the Fockers, and my mum, Robert De Niro’s character. My socialite mother, who was used to being in charge of things, knew exactly how the wedding was going to go, from the hors d’oeuvres to the bride’s shoes. Emma loved her ballerina flats and flip-flops; my mother never wore anything but high heels, so you can imagine the
tension between them. I was often caught between the two women in my life. I wanted to please my mum and understood what was required of me socially. But Emma, an independent bohemian musician, hated being told to stand up straight and toe the line. She never wanted to be a trophy wife and I understood that. It was Emma’s dream to have a small garden wedding with only family and close friends present, but we ended up having an ostentatious gala dinner of convention proportions because my mum wanted to include everyone from her business and social circles.
Emma’s difficulties with my mum, who was dictating the wedding plans, led her to question if we should be getting married so soon. We put it down to cold feet, but perhaps we should have listened to our instincts and slowed things down.
Once we were married, a series of situations fed our frustrations. Emma initially tried suggesting a few business ideas during my family’s dinner talk but they were politely shot down or ignored by my mum. Things got to the point where Emma became over-sensitive to any comment or gesture made towards her. She told me that trying to fit into my family was like being an outcast trying to get into the ‘in’ crowd in secondary school. As my birthday approached, Emma tried to plan a dinner with my family but it ended in frustration because it didn’t fit into their idea of a birthday celebration, which was to go to the most expensive restaurant in town and dress up for the perfect family photo. Instead, Emma surprised me with a party at her parents’ home with her side of the family. It was the first time I had a birthday that was laid-back, with snacks, ice cream cake, novelty gifts and a lot of hanging around and chatting.
At a family gathering soon after we married, Emma came out from the kitchen in tears. Hot on her heels was my aunt, yelling that Emma had been rude to her. Through her tears, Emma kept apologising and asking my aunt what it was she’d done wrong. Till today, we don’t know what Emma said to incur her wrath.
After that, it just seemed like we were fighting all the time. We argued over whether we would have kids – Emma said she didn’t feel comfortable enough to have kids because she feared my mother would step in and take over – and I resented her passion for music. Our interests, priorities and values were suddenly glaringly different. She would never go to business functions with me and resented the fact that she was expected to attend them. I realised I had to save this marriage and tried to placate her by giving her time to do what she liked best – being with her family. I tried to keep her happy by cleaning our home and feeding the dogs we’d adopted. I’ve always had maids and never had a pet, so I was really pulling out all the stops, but by then, she had already shut down emotionally.
A month later, I suddenly lost heart, just when Emma was ready to work on our marriage. I felt I was running the marriage for both of us, and was exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally. Emma, on the other hand, thought I needed space, and she offered to move out of our apartment. I absent-mindedly agreed. And like that – before I knew it – she was gone, out of my life.
All over in less than two years
We separated after one and a half years of marriage. Thinking that I should put Emma out of her misery by letting her go, I initiated the proceedings which would allow both of us to get a quick divorce.
The day our divorce was finalised, and still is, the saddest day of my life. While the other couples in court barely looked at each other, Emma and I were melancholic. I held the bailiff’s door open for her, and with tears in her eyes, she kissed my hand one last time before we left the court separately. Over the next few weeks, I drank myself into oblivion every night. There were reminders of her everywhere in our apartment, including our dogs. I only left home to go to work and I spent my weekends in the same set of clothes. What was the point of changing when I was lying in bed all day and night anyway? All I could think of was that I missed my wife. I felt humiliated and avoided my friends, save for one. And even she couldn’t talk me out of my depression. What did she know – she was still married!
My ex still cared
After our divorce, Emma continued to communicate with me – initially through text messages about feeding our dogs and household matters. When it got too hard to talk on the phone, we’d chat via SMS. Or we’d fight which, to me, was better than silence.
When I got sick and was bedridden, she brought me food every day. I thrive on and show affection publicly. Emma, however, isn’t the affectionate type but she does the little things to show that she cares. Her mother continued to invite me over for meals every couple of weeks, whether Emma was home or not. She had told Emma: ‘Whatever happens, he’ll always be my son.’ I also visited them often to see Emma’s nephews and nieces whom I’d grown attached to. Every time I saw them, my heart ached because they represented the family that I had loved and somehow lost.
Early last year, just a few months after our divorce, we started meeting casually at our apartment. Emma would come over and we’d cook or watch TV. But our conversations were tense and punctuated with silence. A few weeks later, Emma decided to call it off. She felt it was too much too soon. I spiralled into self-destruction, going back to drinking heavily and dating serially.
Friends and lovers again
In the first quarter of last year, Emma and I started dating other people. But we would always tell each other about our dates; we became friends who spoke every day about anything and everything. Later in the year, during a time when we were both unattached, our relationship blossomed and became more intimate. Her visits to our apartment to see our dogs became more frequent and she stayed longer, and we found ourselves looking forward to seeing each other.
We began to date secretly to give us time to focus on each other. We stayed in the apartment and cooked, and rarely went out. Emma wasn’t ready to deal with the inevitable questions if people found out. The only person who knew about us was Emma’s mother. Two months later, my sister spotted us holding hands at the supermarket (I could feel her beaming from three aisles away). We’re now dating openly. I was a little worried about how my mum would react. But my sister and dad had spoken to her about her role in my marriage after the divorce. In a rare moment when we were alone, she asked how things were between Emma and me. When I said that we were working things out, her reply was encouraging: ‘Good. Do it right this time’.
Emma and I have analysed what went wrong in our marriage, and armed with this wisdom, we’ve vowed to do things differently this time. When we were married, relatives would bombard us with comments which affected us. But this time, people can either accept our relationship or stuff it; we don’t really care. It’s exciting to date the woman I already know and love; we are now discovering new things about each other. Marriage? We’re still in first gear right now.
*Names have been changed.