"When we met in life is also... like..." says Sweta Shany Goomany, trailing off as she looks up at the ceiling, in search of the right word to describe how she first met her husband, Shaman Kumar Goomany.
"... zhun zhun, yeah, perfect!" she says, arriving at a Hokkien phrase that means "accurate", or "exact".
It's one of many signs that tells you that she calls Singapore home, despite being born in Mauritius.
Which is partly why 27-year-old Shaman, a Mauritian, agreed to settle down with her in Singapore, after they got married in 2019.
Sweta, now 25, moved here when she was eight, attending primary and secondary school, before graduating with a diploma from Nanyang Polytechnic.
Today, a few months ahead of their second wedding anniversary, they are convinced that they have found "the one" for them, in each other, through a marriage arranged by their parents.
But it wasn't love at first sight that brought them together.
In fact, it took more than a year from their first introduction before sparks began to fly.
Over cups of Ribena at their HDB flat in Tampines, the couple shared the story of how they got to have an arranged marriage, how they only got a chance to date each other after their wedding, and more.
Never expected to have an arranged marriage
Both Sweta and Shaman's parents had their marriages arranged in Mauritius, in line with traditions at the time.
One generation later, neither Sweta nor Shaman thought that they would end up in an arranged marriage.
After all, traditions were shifting: three of Shaman's five brothers had "love marriages" as opposed to arranged marriages.
And as one of the younger boys, the odds were that Shaman would be able to find his own partner, date first, get to know each other, and then marry — or so he thought.
Sweta shared the same sentiments:
"I didn't [want] my mom to marry me off to someone that I didn't know. And I didn't [want] to, like, you know, just get married to someone, like, without knowing everything."
In fact, when Sweta's parents started talking to her about settling down, she even tried to enroll in university just to have a reason to postpone marriage.
"I was telling my mom, 'no, I have university to go to, so, no, don't get me married. I want to study," she says, laughing.
Arranged, not forced
Sweta and Shaman's parents, who had been friends for some time, had agreed that there was marriage potential between their children, and introduced them to each other.
This was not a stereotypical case of parents imposing their will against their children's wishes, however.
Instead, the healthy relationships that both parties had with their respective families were why they agreed to give each other a chance in the first place.
"So I was like, 'okay, I should like not let them down', and [agreed to] give it a shot," says Sweta.
However, their primary motivation at the time was very much a sense of obligation to their parents.
"We were not even interested," says Sweta flatly.
"It had been like two months? Yeah but we didn't like, 'what is your favourite hobby? Can I have a picture of you? Can I see you?' no, it was nothing like that."
"It was not moving forward," Shaman says, "there was no progress."
Which is why it would take another push from their parents, almost a year after they were first introduced, for the couple to start talking again, more seriously.
Sweta's parents, on one of their trips to Mauritius, paid a visit to Shaman's parents.
Sweta only heard about the meeting when she woke up the next morning.
The first message, from Shaman, read: "Your parents came to talk about us last night."
Her immediate reaction? "I was like 'us?' I was like 'what? Huh? Since when there was us?'"
As it turns out, while she was sleeping, her parents had stepped up to play the role of an intermediary between Shaman and their daughter.
"My parents went on [a] date with him, instead of me," Sweta says.
Shortly after, an engagement date was set.
"I was like, 'huh, I have not yet met him [and] I will be engaged to him?'" Sweta says.
Somehow, in spite of her initial doubts, she found it in herself to go along with the plan.
Shaman, likewise, was convinced to accept Sweta, partly due to advice from his second brother, who he was closer to. "Most of the time, you don't get what you expect or what you want," Shaman recalls his brother saying.
Sweta says that they still look back on that pivotal decision from time to time:
"I asked him, like, will you say yes again? He said 'no, I'm not sure.' Because we don't know how we said yes!"
"Up till now... we don't know how we got the courage to say yes to each other," Sweta says.
An awkward first introduction
As luck would have it, all of this happened toward the end of the semester where Sweta was working on her Final-Year Project in Polytechnic.
After the semester ended, she found herself on a flight to Mauritius, to meet Shaman for the very first time.
The couple's relationship progressed quickly from that point on.
Together in the same physical space for the first time, with engagement looming, the topic of their marriage remained an awkward one, however.
"We didn't really say 'oh, we're going to get married, how's life going to be like," says Sweta. "We were not there yet. We were not mentally there yet."
"[Shaman's parents] were like, 'so you're going to be the daughter-in-law in my house now. You're going to marry my son.' I'm like, 'oh, no, this is going too fast.'"
At the end of a week together, the couple's emotional connection had outpaced the physical.
"We were not that close yet. We [had] not held hands yet. No. We have not hugged each other yet. So we were not there, you know, but we were happy... I trusted him, He trusted me."
"We already had it in our mind like, 'yes, this is good for me,'" says Shaman, of their mental state when they got engaged.
"But I can still tell during the engagement that he did not really fall in love. Not yet!" says Sweta, giggling as Shaman playfully pokes an elbow into her side.
Today, photos of these awkward moments have been printed out and proudly exhibited — perhaps because the photos remind them of how unbelievable it is that they went through with their parents' plan.
Sweta eagerly flips to a photo in her diary, of their "soccer debut", where the newly-engaged couple stand beside each other, family members in the background, each holding their own hands in front of them like soccer players defending a free kick.
"Suddenly, we were married"
A few months later, the couple married in a traditional ceremony in Mauritius.
Marriage, as Sweta describes, was "a sudden change, you know? We were single, both of us were single and then suddenly, we were married," says Sweta.
The initial adjustment was "very difficult", because of their different cultural backgrounds.
"I was always comparing, 'in Mauritius it's like this', [and Sweta would] explain to me like 'here it's like this'... the way of thinking was not on the same level," says Shaman.
Sweta admits that at one point, they even thought, "Why did I agree to marry someone outside my zone?"
"There was a lot of crying, really a lot," she recalls solemnly.
"It was not the sweet life," Shaman adds.
"There's no 'breakup' in our relationship"
What carried the couple through this difficult initial adjustment phase, however, was the commitment they had made to each other in marriage. Sweta explains:
"You know when you're girlfriend or boyfriend, once [there's] a big fight you can just break up right? Like, just let it go. 'This guy is not worth my time anymore.'
But for us, it was totally different. We were at the point where we cannot break up."
"What we knew was like, both of us are in this together, we are going to go all the way... So we have to make it work," says Sweta.
Learning to let go
"Sometimes when we are having a fight, we will think like, 'if only like I knew before, I would have solved this problem before getting married,'" says Sweta.
She cites as an example, the fact that she only realised after marriage that she had to learn to let go of her need to be in control all the time — something that came from growing up to be highly independent, as the eldest child in the family.
"She does everything," says Shaman, chiming in. "Even for our honeymoon, it was supposed to be planned by me. [But] it was fully planned by her."
"That's how I grew up," Sweta says simply, attributing her tendency to take control partly to the culture in Singapore.
Since getting married, however, Shaman has taught her "how to let go".
"It's not only on one [person's] shoulders, it's both," says Shaman, explaining that Sweta has learnt to "stop carrying the big burden" on her own.
"We didn't have the chance to calibrate stuff because before going into the relationship," Shaman says, but says that they resolve such issues as they come up.
Shaman says, "we have a situation now-"
"-now we solve it," offers Sweta.
"Now we solve it," affirms Shaman.
Dating after marriage
Once they were married, Shaman explains, "we took it like it will be going forward as a love marriage," adding that "despite being in an arranged marriage, we tried to date after the wedding."
Shaman now arranges special dinner outings where he brings Sweta flowers, something they didn't have a chance to do before marriage.
One of their favourite places to go on their first dates? Starbucks.
"It's like a celebration place for us, even though it's not that 'wow!'," says Sweta.
Many important occasions were marked in Starbucks, Shaman recalls, saying that "it's tied to good moments... for us, [it's] a happy place."
After the interview, Sweta happily shows us her collection of photos taken in various Starbucks outlets — mostly Shaman with various drinks, as well as a mini-series of pictures showing his name being misspelled by staff.
Starbucks aside, a number of their outings have involved Sweta bringing her husband to different places and experiences in Singapore.
The couple describe a kind of freedom when they're out on these dates. Sweta imagines that for an unmarried couple, there would be a lot more caution involved in negotiating each others' boundaries.
On the flipside, however, "when you're married it's like your best friend is just beside you," says Sweta, describing a sense of security that she says is "the best part" of being married.
The idea of "the one"
The couple share a belief in the idea of each person having "the one" for them.
It was not a perspective they subscribed to before, however.
"If you had asked me this question before, I would say no," admits Shaman.
But seeing how Sweta has made sacrifices for him and gave up her personal time to make him happy, Shaman is firmly of the belief that he has indeed found the one for him.
Sweta, too, has seen Shaman fulfil all of her expectations.
"[Finding someone who was] caring was the most important thing," Sweta said, explaining that she had a habit of putting others before herself, and wanted a husband with similar qualities — a standard that Shaman has proven he can live up to, in his interactions with Sweta and even her family members.
In less than two years since they got married, the couple have quickly become a big part of each others' families, and are looking forward to finally get together again when they travel back to Mauritius this April.
Reflecting on their life together, Sweta says that a sentiment both of them share is:
"Wow, if I had only met you earlier, life would have been so much more beautiful."
Beyond who they are to each other, their belief in the idea of "the one" probably also comes from the unique circumstances in which they got together.
"We didn't really have to plan for anything. The engagement came, the wedding came. Everything fell in place. I was graduating already... So I really believe: Yes, it was the moment [and] the one for us."
As Sweta says, the serendipitous timing, and the way things happened to bring them together, are best described in this phrase:
Stories of Us is a series about ordinary people in Singapore and the unique ways they’re living their lives. Be it breaking away from conventions, pursuing an atypical passion, or the struggles they are facing, these stories remind us both of our individual uniqueness and our collective humanity.'
Top image by Nigel Chua