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What do 33-year-old single males do on Saturday nights? Nothing. They have no plans. Let me explain.

First, my closest friends are married or are on their way to getting married, and over time, I’ve stopped seeing them for weekend dinners. Unlike single people who still have an appetite for going out and meeting new people, couples my age have less of a need to be part of “the scene”, and would rather save money by staying home and having other happily-married couples over for dinner.

They talk about serious stuff like the property market, credit card points, and the latest disagreement with their parents-in-law—a conversation that usually ends with the guilt-ridden but tension-easing “at the end of the day, I guess they do mean well” comment.

No judgments here—these are discussions I partake in and thoroughly enjoy. The thing is, sitting in a room full of couples having red wine and adult conversation on a Saturday night makes me feel a little sad. I think to myself that I should be out there meeting new people, dating, being irresponsible, and basically LIVING LIFE before settling down.

Being at these dinner parties is an incorrect phase of life for me. I sit there and juggle the conscious need to make conversation, and the subconscious regret of not capitalizing on my singlehood. This disjoint gives me a constant low-grade discomfort throughout dinner, and manifests itself via my over-drinking and attention seeking behaviour. I clink wine glasses with the rest and say, “Thanks for having me over guys!”, but in that small gap of silence while everyone is taking a gentle sip of wine, I quietly wonder to myself, “What the hell am I doing here?”

the truth is that I’ve slowly run out of single dude friends—the ones I enjoy talking to have either gotten married, or seriously into yoga and tofu

I don’t always want to be the only single person in the room. At some point in the evening, conversation would inevitably veer towards the fact that I’m single. I would then regale the group with tales of my Tinder dates and other failures. We proceed to discuss what I am looking for in a girl, a conversation I find to be circular and inconsequential. I am put on trial to defend every adjective I use to describe an ideal future partner. Cite too specific a quality and I am said to be too picky. Or another that is too general and I’m not answering the question. It’s very difficult to both be honest and not boring when talking about this.

I appreciate my friends’ concern, I really do. But I imagine they would rather move on to more important topics concerning the lives they are building together with their husbands or wives; delineating a brighter future filled with expectations, hopes, dreams, domestic helpers, expensive pre-schools, Myanmar, career prospects, and the rising interest rates environment. These are pertinent issues that I am unceremoniously bringing back down to US Weekly magazine-levels with detailed musings of my date’s thigh tattoo and what it says about her ability to care for her future children. I am an unwanted intrusion of levity. They didn’t prepare that perfectly cooked piece of prime rib jabbed with a Williams Sonoma cooking thermometer with a backlit LED display to listen to my stupid jokes!

I really should be out there with “the boys”, you know, partying, picking up chicks, etc. Well, the truth is that I’ve slowly run out of single dude friends—the ones I enjoy talking to have either gotten married, or are seriously into yoga and tofu. And the others who are still going out aggressively are single because they are too popular with the girls and are constantly chasing the high they get from all that attention. That is not a problem I have, and cannot for the life of me figure out how to have conversations with people in clubs, much less begin one with a girl I don’t know. I also can’t hang out with that group of guys because I don’t like them.

What I mean to say is that I both don’t have the energy to go clubbing every weekend, nor the sufficient horniness required to make conversation with girls in their mid-20s under thumping music.

Perhaps I need to find groups that are “now really into bars and lounges and totally over the clubbing thing”. Or I could hang out with a new bunch of younger people who are still willing to partake in the inefficient process of getting to know one another via repeated group outings. However, I find it hard to break into new circles, especially in Singapore where everyone’s social groups seem to be inked from their teenage years. Or maybe I am not trying hard enough. Or maybe I have too much pride. I suspect I am mostly to blame.

Asking a girl out on Saturday nights needs to be ironic

Saturday nights seem like the perfect time for asking girls out—you know, the good ol’ one-on-one dates. I am not so sure. Saturday nights are such prime social times that asking a girl out on a weekend night either signals that you have no friends, or will freak her out with how serious you are taking the dating process. Text a girl “hey wanna have dinner next Saturday?” and she imagines you logging onto FarEastFlora.com right after to look for an appropriate bouquet of roses to send to her office. Yikes!

Saturday night dates are for when you are already comfortable with a girl, which would possibly be the 4th or 5th date at the very least. It would need to be casual, spontaneous, and not meticulously planned. Asking a girl out on Saturday nights needs to be ironic. “I know this is prime date time but look at us in our t-shirts and shorts having prata and teh, or playing pool in a bar that serves beer towers.” That’s how it’s done nowadays. There is nothing more embarrassing than getting caught on a Saturday night at a fancy restaurant with credit card discounts—you in a tight black shirt with an extravagant collar, and her in a bare-shouldered dress and artificially-straightened hair—like you two were celebrating Valentine’s Day in your early 20s.

If you were introduced to a girl you liked, the non-creepy thing to do would be to first ask her out for lunch near her office on a weekday, or to do after work drinks with colleagues, hers or yours is fine. Avoid arranging a Saturday night date right off the bat. The most you’d push for is a weekend afternoon coffee, right after you supposedly finish brunch with your group of successful friends who dare to laugh loudly at restaurants. Do not tell her that you came from home even if you did.

At times, I would meet my parents for a quiet dinner on Saturdays. But they wonder why I am spending my weekends with them and not out there finding a womb to bear their grandchildren. I don’t want my parents to worry, so I have been turning down their weekend dinner invitations and I suspect they are secretly relieved.

In place of having plans, I now treat these Saturday nights as personal adventure time. I cannot bring myself to just sit at home and watch brainless TV though. The thought of wasting what should be the best part of the week rotting at home and sleeping early is against all my self-help book recommendations.

I leave my headphones on playing some atmospheric tunes as I wonder from floor to floor – only taking the escalators, never the lifts – and I never feel alone.

So while alone and with no need to wake up early the next day, I choose to embark on big personal projects: maybe it’s that one book that’s too difficult to read for leisure, that album I want to sit down and listen to from start to end, or that movie I want to watch but is also in black and white. The constructive consumption of critically-acclaimed media can really make a weekend night feel productive. Sometimes, I’d embark on a writing project that I’ve been putting off for ages.

Or maybe I’d head out to watch a movie alone. I’d drink some wine then drive to an obscure cinema (by that I mean in an inconvenient location, not “art house”) where I’m confident I won’t run into anyone I know, and watch a movie while eating all the popcorn I can consume to the point of nausea. I pay extra for the popcorn with macadamia nuts or toffee caramelisation. Celebrate life! The lights from the screen reflect off my Asian-flushed face while I stare ahead like I’m in an indie movie or something (was it Donnie Darko?).

I’d take a long drive to Punggol, or somewhere in Singapore I don’t frequent. I’d walk around the new neighbourhood, exploring. Some nights I’d visit a random mall. Going to malls on weekend nights are the best: the lights, noise, onslaught of consumerism, and families in various emotional states of screaming and laughing at one another make me feel like I’m walking through a child-friendly low-end casino with a terrible dress code. I leave my headphones on playing some atmospheric tunes as I wonder from floor to floor—only taking the escalators, never the lifts—and I never feel alone.

I have come to look forward to my Saturday nights. But I know it’s my way of coping. Whether it’s enjoying a walk around a bustling housing estate, reading the closing chapters of a lengthy non-fiction book, or discovering an amazing late night bubble tea spot, I still always imagine sharing those moments with someone who I haven’t yet met.

Phil Lee: phil@readrice.co. 

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