In my young life, I’ve had three “real” relationships – my first boyfriend in university whom I dated for two years; Sai, whom I dated for seven years and eventually married; and the guy in the middle of those two relationships. Let’s call him Yogit (meaning “planner” in Hindi).
I dated Yogit during my 8-month stint in Singapore back in 2011. Part of the reason I went (aside from getting an internship and travelling) was to get away from my university and life after my breakup with boyfriend #1, as he was the guy I had a lot of “firsts” with, and almost everyone who knew me also knew we were together. When it ended and the unavoidable barrage of questions and expectations of singlehood came around, I knew taking the job in Singapore and disappearing for a little while would be best, and luckily I was able to make it happen for myself.
And so in January 2011, I moved to Singapore with two suitcases, not knowing where I was going to live or how I was going to manage, but it would all be an adventure that I, in my newfound singlehood, would face head on.
When I got there, I reconnected with an old friend who had studied in Singapore and recently graduated and started working. We met up for coffee a few days after I got to the island and told her I didn’t have a place for long-term accommodation just yet. Hearing this, she told me about a friend of hers who currently had an extra room available in his 3-bedroom apartment (which he shared with 2 other roommates) for a month while one of his flatmates was on a grad trip to Europe. She said I could stay there till I found a place for myself. We went over the next day and met Yogit and his roommate, and both of them said I was welcome to stay in their friend’s room till he came back in a month’s time. They were all Indians who had come to Singapore to pursue higher education.
I moved in the following evening and was glad to get a bit of a breather since I was starting work the day after and was relieved my hunt for accommodation had found a temporary fix. The next morning I woke up and left the apartment with both the guys to take the bus – Yogit had been working for the past year after graduating university. His roommate was a bit older and had been working for the past few years.
That evening, after a successful first day at my internship, I came back to the apartment and the guys, in celebration of my first day at work, decided to open some beers and cheers to this serendipitous situation we all found ourselves in. One beer turned to two, and then came out the vodka. Cocktails turned to shots, and around 11pm we called it quits and all went off into our rooms after wishing one another good night.
My head was spinning as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, the whole “drinking culture” thing still very new to me as I had drank only a handful of times up until then (and never this much in one night). After about 20 minutes, I heard my bedroom door slowly creak open. It was Yogit, and he came and sat beside me on the bed, asking if I was okay or if I needed anything. I said I was fine and would probably sleep it off. He sat there in silence, in the dark, while I was under the sheets. Slowly he moved down towards me and said something to the tune of how attractive I looked that morning and how much fun he had this evening drinking with me. Then he kissed me.
Looking back on this part of my life retroactively, I can see it and understand it so much better than when I was living through it.
I had just broken up from a 2-year long relationship and had gone on this ‘Eat Pray Love’ sort of self-discovery tour to Singapore, but now found myself living in someone else’s house for free, and that person was currently in my bed at midnight kissing me after an evening of drinking together. My mind was racing as to what I should do.
Should I cave and kiss him back? What will be the consequences if I say no? Will he tell me to leave in the morning? I literally have nowhere else to go and don’t know anyone who’d take me in if I showed up on their doorstep with two suitcases. Oh and I also have to get to work for day two.
In that moment, I decided the best thing was to go with it. We got a little cozy and started “making out”, and I could tell that if I decided to, he was ready to go all the way. But I wasn’t.
I told him my head was hurting and I didn’t want to be late for work the next day. He said it was probably for the best as well, but I knew it was not the outcome he had hoped for. He went back to his room and I lay in bed, slightly drunk and more than a little confused. This had come out of nowhere! It was only my fourth day in Singapore and I was not expecting, hoping, or planning on having any romantic attachments while there. But I also didn’t expect to be living in an apartment with two single dudes rent-free for a month.
The next morning we all went to work and when we came back, Yogit and I had a “talk”, which mostly went like, “Hey I like you, you seem cool, this is crazy since we just met but wanna give it a go?”
Now, Yogit wasn’t exactly unattractive, but he wasn’t what I’d consider “my type”. However, I could see dating him would be advantageous to me in many ways:
- The obvious rent-free situation
- Someone I could discover Singapore with who’d know about the city since he’d lived there for the past few years
- A companion to explore drinking and party life with (something I was a total noob at back then)
- A rebound relationship with an expiry date (since I was going back to Canada at the end of my internship)
But if I’m being honest, the biggest reason I decided to pursue things further with him was because I didn’t know how to tell him “No”. At this stage in my 20s, I hadn’t learned how to exert agency over my life and choices, especially when it came to relationships. I was 22, didn’t have the highest level of self-esteem, and used to be desperate for men’s approval and validation (which I later discovered was rooted in my childhood daddy issues, but that’s for another day). Here was acceptance, approval, and validation, all nicely laid out on a platter for me. Even if I did have the courage, would I want to turn it down? Plus, I needed a rebound, and Yogit was the perfect candidate!
And so, throwing caution to the wind, I told my friend (who had introduced me to Yogit) the next evening we were together. To say she was stunned would be an understatement. Her eyes went big and stayed that way for a good 10 minutes. I had to tell her I wasn’t taking advantage of Yogit and the whole rent-free thing, and I intended to move out and was genuinely interested in him. I felt convinced of what I was saying, even though today, it feels only about 70% true.
At the end of the month when Yogit’s roommate came back, I did move out of their apartment and move in with my friend/coworker, Edel (and I paid my own rent). By then, Yogit had introduced me to all his friends as his “new girlfriend from Canada.” We had partied a few times with his colleagues and school buddies, everyone had added me on Facebook and I had uploaded pictures of us all dancing away in Singapore’s many clubs on the weekends. Yogit and I had even had sex – I figured things were allowed to move at an accelerated pace since this whole thing was 8 months from start to finish. No time to second guess!
But then, towards the end of month two, Yogit started bringing up “the future”. At first I would brush it aside, knowing I had zero intentions of continuing this past August. I’d tell Yogit we’d deal with it when the time came, but he wouldn’t budge. It became a bigger and bigger talking point on dates and nights out. It got to the point where I started using sex to avoid discussing it.
He wanted me to meet his family. He asked me to Skype with his younger sister in India. He wanted to send a picture of us to his mom on WhatsApp. He started asking if I was going to stay in Singapore, or if he should move to Canada. He looked up how to get transferred to his firm’s Toronto office, and what the work-visa requirements were.
I didn’t encourage Yogit in these pursuits, but I also didn’t honestly tell him that I felt there was no future for us beyond these few months.
For many years after all this, I used to blame myself for misleading Yogit and taking advantage of him and his feelings. I felt like he was the victim, and I was the heartless bitch who took what she wanted and left him in the dust. I felt shame over my behaviour, and more than a little bit of guilt. But today, I don’t feel any of this.
I can see now that Yogit, whether consciously or subconsciously (I’m not going to comment on intent) was playing a game of his own. He knew my situation – a single, heartbroken, young girl in a new country who doesn’t know anyone, has never partied, and is looking to have fun and meet people. He was able to provide me all this – we partied every weekend, and I started blacking out from all the drinking and waking up in the mornings not remembering what had happened the night before, but staying confident in knowing Yogit had taken care of me and kept me safe. His roommates and I became really good friends; we all would cook together on the weekends, grab dinner after work in Singapore’s famous hawker centres, and travelled together to other countries (Yogit and I travelled to Bangkok, Macau, and Malaysia with his roommates and their girlfriends). I had found a “tribe” in Singapore. I had found people I could party with and travel with and eat with and talk to and watch movies with. I had made, with Yogit’s aid, a mini-life for myself in Singapore.
I never relied on his money when we travelled or went out. I always paid for myself, even when he would offer to pay. When we’d go out on dates, Yogit would tell me he wanted to pay for dinner, but if our relationship was only for a few months, then we should pay for our own meals. I started picking up on the subtle cues and undertones of “if you don’t tell me this relationship is going where I want it to go, this whole thing is off and you don’t get to engage in this nice little social circle you’ve made through me.”
And I’d comply. Thinking I was not good enough to be able to make friends on my own, or find travel buddies to explore nearby countries with, I’d tell him of course, we were going to be together after my internship ended. Of course I loved him, and I totally planned on having a future with him. Around month four, talks about getting married started seeping into conversations. And I played along with all of it, motivated by fear that without him and his network, I’d be sad and alone and no one would want me. Talk about having issues!
Not knowing how to put a stop to this, I subconsciously turned to self-sabotage. While drunk (which I started getting intentionally to address these things), I’d tell Yogit’s roommates that I was with him just for the sex and the parties. I knew they were all good friends and if I kept this up long enough, eventually one of them would tell Yogit. And that’s exactly what happened.
Around the end of month five, I got a call from Yogit one morning as I was getting ready for work. He sounded serious and stern, and I immediately knew what was coming. He told me he’d “realized” (read: one of his friends told him) I wasn’t in this relationship for the right reasons, and it would be best if we stopped seeing each other. I made a big fuss over the phone about how he was dumping me based on speculation, and he didn’t have to worry about me contacting him anymore.
I hung up before he had a chance to reply back, went to work, and for the first time in months, had a sense of calm and relief wash over me. Granted, I didn’t have the guts to end it earlier and orchestrated a situation where he had no option but to be the one initiating a breakup. I take responsibility for how I acted, but I know it takes two to tango and Yogit was not the helpless bystander I assumed him to be for years afterwards.
Having (re)gained my freedom, and a renewed sense of adventure, the next three months (till I came back to Canada) made me realize how unfounded and needless my fears of not being able to make friends were. By chance, I was at the university pub one evening and came across this female student who I had instant and electrifying chemistry with. Within the span of a few days, she and I clicked on so many levels and became fast friends. She invited me out to a few of her dorm parties and events, and from there I met more people, and more people through them, and within a few weeks, I had a whole new group of friends who I started hanging out with regularly, and even went on trips with to other countries! I discovered I had value and something to offer on my own, away from a boyfriend or a relationship. The friendships I made during this part of my trip are still going strong today.
I learned how to “date” without getting tied down to one person. I learned to establish boundaries with men, to communicate what I wanted and didn’t want, and to say no when I didn’t want to pursue things further. This was the part of my journey where I experienced real growth and came out of the comfort of the shell I had safely nestled in. I became more assertive, more confident. I started recognizing myself for the badass bitch that I was. I became comfortable with the knowledge I wasn’t a traditional “good girl”, and that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I controlled the narrative of my life, and had no reasons to feel like I wasn’t good enough on my own.
It’s not that I didn’t like Yogit or didn’t want to spend time with him. He was a sharp guy, had a witty sense of humor, and was genuinely fun to be around. He helped me grow in ways I feel grateful to him for, even today. Prior to dating him, I always felt ashamed and uncomfortable wearing shorts or sleeveless tops. He encouraged me to experiment with those clothing items, and told me wearing shorts was okay and it didn’t mean I was a slut.
And he really did take care of me when I was blackout drunk all those nights. He never forced himself on me, didn’t (actively) manipulate me, and was an all-round decent guy. He had his own motivations for making the choices he made, just like I did.
I discovered I wasn’t a marriage-minded person, and I can’t decide to be with someone for the rest of my life after knowing them for only a few months. It was this knowledge and realization that gave me the courage, in the future, to pursue a meaningful (and wanted) relationship with Sai, knowing fully well what I wanted and didn’t want, and how to communicate those things to him.
Hindsight is 20/20, and knowing how harmful some of the choices I made can be to one’s sense of self, I would probably think twice about going down that same path. Singapore, and the doomed relationship I had there, were two of the most pivotal experiences of my 20s which would go on to shape the person I’ve become today. For all the cringe-worthy memories I have of my time there, those moments led me down the path of self-discovery and (partial) acceptance, becoming the foundations upon which the rest of my 20s were built. Looking back on all that I was able to accomplish in life from then till now, the payoff was worth it.