Ask 22-year-old me if I wanted to get married in the next few years and I would have very confidently said yes.
Back then, I was in my third year of university at NTU — naive, bright-eyed and woefully idealistic.
I was also in a relationship with my first boyfriend at the time.
Now, I'm 25 and single.
And after going through various ups and downs in the past two years since graduation, I can say with quiet assurance that I'm okay with not getting married.
I have suffered from a slew of mental illnesses
You see, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and schizophrenia in 2012, the year I took my A-Levels.
Fortunately, I've been able to get by thanks to medication, family support and a wealth of resources ranging from friends and books to the psychiatrist I see once every three months.
However, this doesn't mean that things are always smooth sailing, especially when it comes to relationships.
When my first boyfriend broke up with me in end-2016, I went into somewhat of a depressive spiral.
It was the very first relationship I had been in since numerous crushes before that didn't work out, and I had lofty hopes about the relationship going the distance.
So when our relationship ended because of compatibility issues, I took it hard.
At the start of 2017, I made a (foolish) decision to stop taking my medication because I was convinced that the pills were making me put on weight, and I was going through some major self-esteem issues because of the break up.
Initially, I thought I could deal with the effects of not being on medication as I had before my diagnosis in 2012.
This proved to be a poor choice.
On top of my mental health issues, I also had to deal with my studies and Final Year Project (FYP) that semester, so my stress levels were at an all-time high.
It was around February or March when I met my second boyfriend, J, who had to bear the brunt of my withdrawal symptoms.
Some of these included insomnia, migraines, heart palpitations, paranoia, an inability to concentrate and frequent emotional breakdowns to the point of incessant crying.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="342"] I feel like I cried a sea of tears during this period.[/caption]
J eventually broke up with me after I graduated from university because he couldn't deal with these symptoms any longer.
And honestly, I don't blame him.
Anyone who dates a person with mental illnesses has a huge responsibility to bear.
They not only have to learn how to be there for the person in trying times, but also know what to do when he or she suffers from a relapse.
For J, I don't think he was fully aware of what being in a relationship with me entailed, and eventually realised that he couldn’t handle the stress and commitment of me constantly needing to rely on him.
Returning to the dating scene
It's been two years since my second relationship ended and I am back on medication.
Things have also pretty much stabilised for me, mental health-wise.
Now that I’ve returned to the dating scene, I've had a new set of challenges to face — deciding when and how I should tell my dates about my mental history.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Me when I have to tell anyone about my mental health history.[/caption]
Perhaps due to stigma, not everyone is open to dating someone with mental illnesses.
Someone I went on a date with once even told me to keep quiet about my mental health history — because, he said, he would not date a girl who has a history of mental illnesses.
As a result, broaching this topic typically comes with a host of doubts, apprehensions and “what ifs”.
For instance, being open about my mental health too early in a dating trajectory may more likely scare guys off than impress them.
Yet, not being forthcoming about these issues runs the risk of my partner feeling “trapped” and even betrayed when he eventually learns about these problems down the road — from me or otherwise.
Finding the right person to get into a relationship with is already difficult as it is, and if I’m seriously considering marriage in the long run, my partner would have to accept me for me, mental illnesses and all.
Not everyone can, or is willing to do that — nor do I expect them to.
I may not be able to provide my partner with the support he needs
Even if I do manage to find someone, my experience coping with mental illnesses has also made me doubt if I am able to adequately support my partner should I ever get married.
Given that I have my own mental health to worry about, I am not sure I would have the emotional capacity to deal with any major hiccups in our marriage.
On top of that, I also fear not having the means to take care of my partner should he ever become dependent on me.
What if he one day loses his ability to work, or prematurely contracts a critical illness?
Insurance would help for sure, but I shudder to think of all the money I would potentially have to fork out with my less-than-median-wage salary should our marriage ever hit a rough financial patch.
Having kids may be out of the question
I acknowledge that I'm still young and shouldn’t be so pessimistic in my outlook on life.
And I admit — if the right person comes along, I'd remain open to the idea of marriage and the commitment it entails.
However, there would be certain challenges both he and I would have to manage, such as the fact that it may not be a good idea for us to have kids.
According to some studies (like this one!), a child with a first-degree relative (e.g. a parent) who has schizophrenia has a 10 per cent greater risk of themselves developing the illness in their lifetimes.
It would be unfair of me, therefore, to subject any of my future kids to the possibility of inheriting my mental illnesses, just as it would be unfair to deny my future partner of children should he want them.
Even if I do decide to have kids, risks like this notwithstanding, my psychiatrist has told me that I cannot take my medication during the nine months of gestation.
That is something I don't know if I would be able to physically or mentally cope with.
Marriage is not a must
Most people only see the good parts of marriage — romance, companionship, a shiny new BTO flat, a happy family.
But how many truly grasp the fact that marriage is a lifelong commitment, full of hard work and sacrifice?
As a result of all these fears and experiences, I now view marriage as a bonus in life, not a prerequisite.
After all, it's better to be alone than to be with the wrong person.
Besides, there are so many other ways for me to derive fulfillment in life.
I could, for instance, travel the world, work on my career, spend time on my hobbies, improve myself and give back to society.
I guess marriage is no longer a be-all and end-all to me, and perhaps that's not such a bad thing.
Top image via Samantha Gades on Unsplash