Preferring freedom to commitment, fearing an unhappy marriage or simply enjoying the moment, some young people defy social expectations by staying unattached.
Trang Nhung does not remember how many times her aunt has urged her parents to investigate why, at the age of 35, she has not ever dated anyone or feels anxious about that.
Nhung understands that from her aunt’s perspective she must be leading a very miserable life.
“I have to save face for my parents and so I constantly … wear fashionable clothes and buy expensive stuff”.
She explains this is to show people that staying single is as wonderful as being attached and to assure her parents that her life is alright.
Born into a well-off family in the northern Bac Ninh Town, she is considered by people around her as good-looking and has a stable job, and so few believe she has remained unattached all these years.
“Once my parents even inquired if I was a lesbian,” she says.
She assured them there was nothing “out of the ordinary” with her, only that she was very happy and did not feel the need for lifelong companionship.
Being single has given her plenty of freedom and time to socialize, travel and take care of herself, she says.
“Why do I have to force myself to take an adventure that is marriage, when my living habits, tastes and the quality of my personal life will have to change because of another person?”
This attitude is becoming increasingly common all over the world these days.
British market research company Euromonitor estimates there are over 300 million people living alone in the world now, an 80 percent increase from 15 years ago.
In some Asian countries like China, South Korea and Japan, a new term, ‘single economy,’ has been coined to describe the development of new goods and services to cater to single-person households.
In Vietnam, according to the General Statistics Office, the percentage of single people has grown rapidly, going from 6.23 percent in 2004 to 10.1 percent in 2019.
“Leading a single life has become a new tendency, reflecting the economic as well as spiritual independence of young people,” Vo Minh Thanh, a psychology lecturer at the HCMC University of Education, says.
A study done in 2012 by psychologists at the University of San Diego and published by the American Psychological Association, found that people born in the 1980s and 1990s had a more self-centered worldview than older generations.
This generation, dubbed millennial, valued individualism and aspired to live for themselves, the study found. If marriage did not improve their life quality or negatively affected their personal values, they chose not to marry.
If course people also remain single for more mundane reasons like not finding the right partner or not liking children.
Phuong Linh, 36, has refused all sorts of meeting and matchmaking arrangements by family and friends because she is afraid of being stuck in a disastrous marriage like her mother.
Phuong Linh during a trip to the coastal province of Phu Yen, a popular tourist destination. Photo courtesy of Linh
After more than a decade of working in Saigon, Linh has managed to buy a house but is yet to consider marriage or having kids.
She recalls that when she was young, her parents, now separated, would frequently quarrel and then vent their anger by beating her.
Every time she was caught in the cross-fire, she swore to herself she would never marry when she grew up.
“What’s the point of an unhappy marriage?” she asks.
She also fears being near children and playing with them.
She said when she visited her best friend who had delivered a few months ago, she took pains to sit at the farthest corner of the bed to avoid the smell of milk.
She says candidly that she does not love children and cannot bring them up properly, and believes her life will be more comfortable and carefree without babies.
She has attended many weddings and never once felt respectful or sentimental: “The stars of the show put on an act and the guests stick to their food”.
But despite her abusive childhood and low opinion about marriage, she claims to have a generally positive attitude in life and has many close friends.
In her opinion, the most terrifying aspect of singlehood is to lose connection with society and fall into the bottomless hole of loneliness.
Thanh’s advice for everybody is to think carefully about the true values they aspire to, experience life and explore the positive sides of themselves as well as others.
“One should not concentrate on the negatives of society and ignore the rest.
“The ability to be honest, to share, and to love is always reciprocated”.
Manh Cuong, another single, thinks both marriage and singlehood have their pros and cons.
“You should choose what suits you best and be ready to handle the consequences. At present being single is the best choice for me”.
He considers marriage a beautiful and sacred journey that people should only decide to undertake when they feel confident about their decision and ability to take responsibility for their own life and their spouse’s.
Nhung agrees with this. Though she is often criticized for being “selfish” and “irresponsible to family and society” by her parents, relatives and others, she still is happy about her present life.
Her favorite quote is from Austrian Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s classic ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”.
Nhung points out that she is still working and contributing to society and taking care of her parents.
“These are positive things, so why am I seen as being selfish?”
She vows however that, no matter what others say, she will not to bring trouble to herself and another person by getting married when she is not ready.
The names of some people have been changed to protect their privacy.
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