Every year, almost four in 10 newly married Singaporeans are marrying people of different nationalities. One in five marriages are between Singaporeans of different ethnicities. How do these couples deal with cultural differences, societal biases and integration into each other’s family? We speak with one such couple to get their perspective.

When 27-year old Phoebe Pong first met 31-year old Prashanth Martin on a dating website in 2014, her first impression of him was that he was a steady and reliable guy — if not a little boring.

A Singaporean-Chinese, Phoebe was looking for a serious relationship and had firm views of the kind of man that she was looking for. Across the border, Prashanth, a Malaysian-Indian who shared the same values as Phoebe, seemed to fit the bill.

Kuala Lumpur-based Prashanth was in turn attracted to Phoebe’s bubbly, outgoing nature. Just two weeks after meeting online, Prashanth decided to fly over to Singapore to meet her face to face. It was a date that almost did not happen. Phoebe, who was working as a freelance make-up artist at the time, found out that she had to work that weekend. But as luck would have it, her assignment was cancelled at the last minute. Scrambling to make the date, Prashanth did not manage to change currencies and turned up to meet her broke.

“When he came down, I had to buy him lunch, buy him coffee. Before he left, I had to buy him a burger for the trip back. After he left, I asked myself: Did I just get swindled?” laughed Phoebe.

It took two years of long-distance dating and getting to know each other on weekends before the two of them decided to take a leap of faith and get married.

Life in a new country

Fast forward to 2020, the couple has been happily married for four years and are proud parents to two-year old Noah. Prashanth, who relocated to Singapore when he found a job as a management consultant, is now a Permanent Resident here.

Recounting their journey towards marriage and parenthood, Phoebe shared that race has never been an issue that either had to face from their families or communities. Phoebe’s parents were open to her dating Prashanth, while Prashanth’s family found the fact that Phoebe shared their values reassuring.

Rather, the hiccups came in the form of adjusting to each other’s personality as well as differences in the lifestyles between the two countries.

“(Our relationship) taught me to appreciate the simple things. When I went over to Malaysia, he showed me how having hawker food can be a tasty, affordable and comfortable experience instead of, say, sitting in a café eating fancy food,” explained Phoebe.

For Prashanth, who grew up in Penang, it was the fast pace of life in Singapore that took some getting used to. “I came from a more laid-back environment. But after I moved over and started to adjust to life in Singapore, I could understand Phoebe better — why she was so particular about punctuality, or why she is so meticulous about getting things done fast and well”.

But the couple took all these in their stride and are now looking to grow their little family.

For couples who are considering a union across cultures and nationalities, Phoebe and Prashanth share this advice: “It is more important to make sure both of you share the same values and are on the same page with one another. We always look at our long-term goals and what we want to achieve together, and that is what has brought us to where we are.”