TODAY Newspaper, 06 Sept 2005
WERE readers' suggestions taken seriously, bridal salons must have had a nervous couple of weeks.
First, there was a reader's call for couples to do away with all that marriage nonsense and settle for living together — uncomplicated, no strings attached.
Then, others asked: Why not let people keep as many spouses as they want?
Cohabitation or polygamy — is either the answer to rising divorce rates and unfaithful spouses? Readers' letters that poured in ever since this paper ran the tale of Mrs Tan and her cheating husband ("Stay away from my husband, you hear!", Aug 19), were a remarkable reflection of Singaporeans' attitudes toward the institution of marriage.
They ranged from the wholly disillusioned and bitter to the practical "realists" and the moralists and idealists.
The debate began as a who's-to-blame game, with some like Valerie Cheong Soke Yan castigating letter-writer Mrs Lam who implied that if a wife couldn't hold on to her man — well, it was her fault.
Cheong responded: "I find it extremely shocking that the woman should shoulder complete blame if her husband philanders. Also, the very idea of a woman submitting to her man's every need makes me shake my head in disgust."
An interesting perspective was offered by T M Tan, who said: "I know a woman who has been cheating on her husband for a year. Her husband treats her with kid-gloves, takes care of her every material need, but unfortunately, he's a doormat and, erm, an unskilled lover. Now I wonder, would he, like Mrs Lam, blame himself? More likely, he would bay for blood … cut off her credit cards, change the lock and send her back to her parents in disgrace."
But the real fireworks started when reader Wilson Wong suggested (Aug 23) that marriage be replaced with a cohabitation contract, because straying is in man's very nature and marriage does nothing for men, only for women.
In a blatantly sarcastic dig at this, Venee Rift proposed a radical "beehive" model of society, in which the queen and female bees matter and the males are expendable.
"On the same terms that women should no longer expect men to maintain a marriage, men should also no longer be required to care for their offspring nor, in return, should they request that their children provide for them when they are old.
"Under a cohabitation contract, the male should not be expected to care for the female he fertilises. Society instead should enable the women to care for herself … The cohabitation contract should endow the woman with the right to "put away" her husband if she no longer needs him, and provide her with a maid and nanny to enable her to fulfil her role as a working mother. Single women should be allowed to own houses upon maturity (21 years of age) and artificial insemination for single women should be legalised."
Seetha Sharma said: "Let's abolish marriage and replace it with cohabitation contracts. Then we don't have to put up with your families and do your washing and cooking. Most importantly, we won't have to bear your children.
"I wonder why Mr Wong's friends don't want to leave their marriages, if there is "nothing to recommend marriage to a man"… The truth is that men gain a lot from marriage — a free cook, maid, child bearer, sex partner and, in many cases, extra cash as most women work nowadays. Why would a man walk away from all this?"
Tan Chor Hoong saluted Wong for "putting the issue squarely on the table, because whether we decide to talk about it or not, the problem of straying spouses is prevalent". She added: "Recently, I asked a male friend, a habitual womaniser: 'Would you forgive and forget if your wife has a boyfriend ?' His immediate reaction was: 'I see no reason why she'd do that … I am able to satisfy her needs in every way.'
"He was visibly perturbed, hemming and hawing, red-faced ... This reveals a few things. Firstly, he had never given that issue any thought before. Secondly, he was embarrassed by even the thought of it. And finally, it was clear he was not going to grant a 'forgive-and-forget' blank check!"
Michael Yap, however, was all for Wong's idea, arguing: "It is not strange that girls cheat on their husbands too. Loyalty is no longer the key to marriage … Humans would resort to other means that revives the spark. Particularly if the woman goes out of shape (after giving birth) or is the spoilt-brat kind that likes to nag."
Yong Teck Meng spoke up for his men friends who stayed true to their families, despite temptations faced on business trips. "Given a second chance, they would all marry the same person again. So you see Mr Wong, your group of friends is not representative of all men," he added.
"For many people, sex is not just physical. If sex is all about doing it with the winners of beauty pageants, then there should be no couples that can stay together till old age. You mentioned that the shape of a woman changes after childbirth, but surely you are not Adonis all your life?
"Men (or women) who stray are simply people who forget that they have given their word to another person, to love her for good or for worse, in illness or in health, for richer or poorer, till death do them part. Temptations and problems will always be there in any marriage, or for that matter, any relationship. Do not blame nature for acts that are simply irresponsibility and immaturity at work," Yong concluded.
The same phrases — respecting sacred vows, making compromises, that it takes "two hands to clap", that marriage is a choice — cropped up in the many letters from readers who believed firmly in the old-fashioned ideals of marriage, and that a promise is forever.
On those same lines, some reacted with horror to Lim Thiam Poh's suggestion to "Stem divorce with polygamy" (Sept 2), which argued for accommodating men's "straying" tendencies in the multiple-spouse family unit.
But predictably, also, several readers retorted that if it were made legal for all men, then all women should likewise enjoy the freedom to marry multiple husbands. Others — including Muslim wife Haslinda Shamsudin (Sept 5) — pointed out that polygamy did not solve the problem of egos, jealousies, emotions and divided attention.
As Michael Loh Yik Ming asserted, the main challenge to marriage today isn't about philandering genes or how many spouses one could have — but the modern notion of equality. "How can a couple survive to their golden years together when they are constantly at loggerheads as to who is more correct in family decisions?"
When all is said and done, one real concern that arose out of the whole debate still remains unanswered: If and when things go wrong, do men walk away from the marriage with a raw deal, no thanks to local laws that dictate the paying of maintenance and the splitting of matrimonial property?
Wong Hoong Hooi ("Marriage? Laws are a raw deal for men", Aug 26) and Jimmy Ho Kwok Koong ("Women win, men lose", Aug 30) made a convincing case for this, which prompted Y L Chan to urge for a review of the laws, "otherwise, the judges' hands are tied".