Why women are still wedded to the search for Mr Right

Amy Wu says her recent engagement has helped her realise how her, and society's, idea about marriage has changed - and how much it hasn't

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 6:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 12:48am

With a single click I was engaged - just like that, the virtual ring appeared on my newly minted fiancé's page and on mine once I'd confirmed it. In less than a day, there were 67 likes and 32 comments, the most I'd received in my entire Facebook history. On the one hand, I was delighted; I am lucky in love. On the other, I was miffed that, despite how far we've come in women's rights and in accepting alternative lifestyles, marriage remains the ultimate achievement for women.

Facebook proves it - just check out the number of responses about relationship status changes.

The paradox is that statistics show the institution of marriage is on the rocks. There has been a rise in the number of single women - mostly well-educated and professional - in their 30s and 40s in Asia. In 2012, a third of Japanese women in their early 30s were unmarried, and over 20 per cent of Taiwanese women in their late 30s were single, according to The Economist.

Hong Kong had 65,400 unmarried women aged 35 to 39 in 2001, and 71,500 in 2010, according to census figures. The number of divorces is also growing.

Still, despite the data, getting married remains a major goal for many women. I went from being happily single to seemingly desperately seeking marriage. Maybe it was the biological clock, but it was also the continued pressure from society.

There were the point-blank questions when I was in China: "Are you married?" There were the family gatherings where I'd be placed at the children's table or at the end because I was alone. And there is the burgeoning wedding industry that sends out messages that marriage is chic, glamorous and stylish.

During my 20s, I associated marriage (wrongly, I realise now) with the end of freedom and professional achievement. I connected it with images of domesticity, having to sacrifice freedom and my free spirit for this institution that seemed beneath me. I unconsciously placed dating on the backburner; my career came first.

And then my friends and cousins got hitched and started having babies. In my early 30s, I also went on the hunt for Mr Right. There was a shift, some of which came from recognising the achievements of women of my generation. Women can and should have it all. Just look at Yahoo's chief executive officer Marissa Mayer who went to work a few weeks after having a baby, or Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who makes marriage and work look like a breeze, at least in her book.

And in the world of the married, there are many rewards. I won't need to check off "spinster" on forms in Hong Kong, I can stop the marriage debates with my 92-year-old grandmother, who said she had a special gift for me when I got married. "This is just wrong, what if I don't get married?" I would ask angrily. "Marriage means that you've finally grown up," she said. Case closed.

Since the avalanche of congratulations, I've come to be at peace with my decision. Am I happy? Yes. Am I happy we shared the news on Facebook? Yes. But there is something bittersweet in this status change, especially in feeling empathy for my girlfriends who remain single. Some things don't change.

Amy Wu is an American-born Chinese writer and commentator