I left my eight-year relationship after finding The One
By Lisa Twang, Apr 23, 2020
What does it take to give up a relationship after eight-and-a-half years, and start all over again in love? For writer and editor Yuen Yi Ying, it was a chance meeting with her now-husband Karin in New York that made her rethink everything she thought she knew about love.
Within a month, Yi Ying ended her old relationship, and decided to move forward with Karin. They started planning for marriage almost immediately, moved to Israel within a year, and were married in two years.
Now 34 and 35 respectively, Yi Ying and Karin have been married for almost three years and live in Otsu, Japan, with their one-year-old son K.
In this story, Yi Ying shares how she realised that being with someone for a long time, or liking the same things, doesn’t mean they’re right for you. Rather, it’s a shared understanding of goals and values that make a couple go the distance: something she knew instinctively she had with Karin, even within weeks of meeting each other.
This is how she found the courage to leave her old relationship, and found the love she needed with Karin.
When I was in my late 20s, I thought I knew how my life would turn out. I’d have a stable, high-flying job in the media industry, which I loved, marry my then-boyfriend, whom I’d been with for nearly nine years, and we’d have kids together.
Back then, I thought love meant being inseparable best friends with my partner. It was about liking the same things, having dinner together nearly every night, and enjoying each other’s company, like my ex and I did.
But I now know true love means more — sharing the same values, and agreeing on what’s important to you, like marriage or having kids. It means taking real steps towards building your future together.
When I was 20, I met my ex (let’s call him J) on the set of a TV shoot, where he was a producer. We dated for a long time because we got on really well and our relationship was comfortable. But deep down, I wasn’t happy that we kept putting off marriage.
When I think about it now, I can’t believe that we were together for almost nine years. I believe we would’ve been better friends than partners, because J was reluctant to move our relationship forward and get married.
J would tell me he didn’t believe in marriage because it was just a piece of paper, and kept giving reasons to delay it, even though he knew it was important to me. He’d say we needed a few more years to prove we could last in marriage, or that the timing wasn’t right; it was always something or other.
Also, while I wanted kids, J wasn’t particularly enthusiastic. When I asked when we'd have kids, he said: "We'll see". I already didn't have faith in his marriage promises, so having kids together seemed like an even more doubtful prospect.
I felt like I was always the one trying to get J to fully commit. I consulted with him on several HDB projects, and asked him to apply for one I really liked on our behalf, so he could play his part. I kept reminding him to apply, but he missed the deadline.
This was very frustrating, but at the time I thought it was something I just had to live with. I was used to how things were between us, and didn’t know how to change things for the better.
I don’t think J and I had the same priorities when it came to spiritual matters, either. I was raised as a Bahá’í, and we believe in the equality of the sexes, as well as the oneness of God, religion, and humanity. J was a freethinker, and though he showed understanding for these principles, they still seemed to be ‘my thing’.
I personally wanted a partner who took more interest in spirituality, and serving society. Though J never restricted my activities, he seemed to prefer being on the periphery. I had hoped my life partner would share more enthusiasm in something that was a big part of my life.
It was my trip to New York when I was 29 that made me see love in a new light. I went because I hit a roadblock in my career: one day I woke up and thought: “That’s it, I’m going to New York!” I’d always dreamed of living there since I was 15. Though I’d visited several times before, I decided to stay for three months to experience the city in a more authentic, non-touristy way.
It didn’t make sense and seemed so spontaneous, but this decision felt so right. J and I agreed that we’d see how my trip went, and he promised we’d make plans to get married when I returned. It looked like things were finally moving along in our relationship.
In the summer of 2015, I flew to New York. A few days after I arrived, I went to a prayer gathering at the New York Bahá’í Centre to meet with the local community.
I met Karin there, but it wasn’t really love at first sight. My first impression of him was that he was five minutes late, and I was not impressed!
It’s funny now because it turns out that I’m the tardy one, and he’s often very punctual.
Since I was in a relationship then, a new romance wasn’t even on my mind. Our host that day knew I was new in town, and told Karin: “You take care of her”, as we left. I stood in the street, not knowing where to go, and Karin asked if I wanted to have lunch.
Over Mexican food I talked his head off about my job in publishing, and brought up my boyfriend. I also found out more about Karin; that he was Japanese and American, and had lived in both Japan and the US.
I thought Karin was really gentle and kind: he’d worked in a biology lab in New York, but quit because he wanted to meet more people in his work. It also bugged him that he had to kill mice in experiments. Instead, he joined the United Nations’ public information department, and gave tours to school children, tourists, and professionals.
Since I had no plans that day, Karin and I spent the afternoon walking all over the city and talking.
It wasn’t until we sat down for tea that I got a good look at him and thought: “Woah! I’m in trouble”. I was so wrapped up in myself and the city up till then that I hadn’t been paying attention, but I was caught off-guard by the sudden attraction.
After that first day, I was very confused. Why had I come to this city and started feeling flutters with this guy, if I’d planned to marry J?
I didn’t see Karin again for a few days, and in that time my then-relationship started to unravel. I realised that maybe I’d gone to New York because subconsciously, I was trying to make a break for it.
There’d been some red flags in my relationship with J, like how he kept delaying marriage. To me, he was also more interested in his own career and hobbies than having goals and dreams together. Everything happened at his pace and I felt taken for granted, like he lived his life without really considering what I wanted.
I’d always swept my doubts under the rug, and now that I had time to reflect on my relationship, I was in turmoil.
Karin and I met occasionally, but he kept a respectful distance and never said a thing about his feelings, as he knew I was in a relationship. But even as friends, I could see that I was more compatible with Karin than I was with J.
It’s true that Karin and I don’t always have the same interests. I’ve always loved food, cooking and trying new eateries. I caught the biggest movies and TV shows and knew the latest tunes, but Karin’s not in that world at all. I thought Karin was kidding when he said he didn’t know who Taylor Swift was. On paper, I seemed to have more in common with J, as we’d always watch all the latest movies and enjoy dining out together.
But I’ve realised what’s important is that Karin and I share similar values.
We both see our lives as being in service to others, working towards eliminating prejudice between genders and races.
Karin and I also have similar character traits. We’re both sociable, but homebodies; Karin seems serious but is actually kooky, while I’m the other way round. It felt like we were from different worlds, yet it was almost like we could have grown up together. I immediately felt close to him, even in our first few weeks together as friends.
I felt more and more distant from J in New York. I wasn’t in the mood to Skype, and didn’t bother much with emails or texts.
I began to realise we were just together out of habit, and because everyone we knew ‘expected’ us to get married.
I didn’t expect I would confess my feelings to Karin at all, but a month after we met, Karin told me he’d been thinking about volunteering in Haifa, Israel, where the administrative headquarters of the Bahá’í Faith is based. I blurted out, “Then I wouldn’t get to see you again!”
I surprised myself with my outburst, and immediately regretted it. He asked: “Why is it so important that you see me again?” I wondered if I was really going to risk everything — my relationship, his friendship, the rest of my stay in New York — by telling him what I was feeling.
We sat on a park bench in uncomfortable silence, and I finally said: “I think I like you more than a friend”. He looked at me dead straight, then smiled and said “Good, I like you too”.
I went home and immediately texted my bestie: “What have I done?”, fretting over everything that had happened. At that point, I pretty much knew my relationship with J was done, but I was scared of moving on.
I was worried that people back home would judge me, and say: “Wow, this chick went to the US and found a new guy within a month. She moved real fast to get a green card, huh?”
I avoided Karin for a while, because I wanted to do things in the proper order. A couple of days after Karin and I confessed our feelings for each other, I ended things officially with J over a video call. I asked J, “Can we just be friends?” and explained why I felt our relationship wasn’t working.
I’d previously told J about hanging out with Karin, and he felt it was Karin who was trying to break us up. But Karin had never asked me to break up with J, and left things for me to decide. I was splitting up with J because of our incompatibilities as a couple, which I fully realised after going away.
Yes, J and I might have married at some point, but then the question of whether to have kids would be the next issue, and I was done with putting off what I wanted.
I’d spent my 20s waiting for things to happen, and I didn’t want to spend my 30s waiting any more.
At first J agreed to just stay friends, and gave me space. But later he was angry and said he didn’t understand; that allowing me to go to New York was a mistake, and that I should stay away from Karin.
A few days after my breakup, I was ready to talk to Karin again. We decided that since I only had a few weeks left in New York, we should take things seriously if we wanted to move forward.
There were no games; it was all very honest and we discussed marriage from the start. We met up every day, and talked openly about values, goals, family, children, fears, finances, and where we would live.
When my U.S. visa expired, I flew home to Singapore and Karin and I maintained a long-distance relationship.
Things were very messy back then; while I was happy with Karin, I also felt really guilty, like the breakup with J was all my fault and that I was a cheater. I cried nearly every day for a year, and it took nearly two years before I stopped feeling depressed.
Karin was very patient during this time, and he helped me through it as much as he could. He was also understanding when I met up frequently with J, because I wanted us to remain friends at first. But my interactions with J became increasingly negative, so we don’t talk anymore.
What made me know Karin was ‘The One’ was that he was so mature and dependable. He showed me through his actions how important I was to him, rather than just give me lip service.
Shortly after meeting me, Karin applied to MBA programmes in two Singaporean universities, and also applied for jobs in Singapore. I was very touched, because it showed he was serious about us being together in the long-term. I’d rather someone follow through on plans for our future, than just tell me things I want to hear for years.
I’ve also become a better person because of Karin. I was more critical of people before, but he’s helped me to have more empathy for others.
I used to think people who were emotionally vulnerable were weak. I thought those flagging in their careers just weren’t ambitious or hardworking enough.
But Karin has helped me expand my world, and taught me to see that other people have their own realities and struggles, so I shouldn’t make snap judgements about them. Thanks to him, I’ve become more empathetic and mature.
When I told my friends about my new relationship, they were very supportive. They were surprised at how quickly things had happened (“Wow, you started dating Karin within a month and now you’re already talking about marriage?”), but said they just wanted me to be happy.
I was surprised that I got the most pushback from my family. But I suppose they were in shock because they knew J very well, and always thought we’d get married.
They felt things with Karin were just a passing phase, and didn’t believe we could be so certain about marriage so soon after meeting. I wondered if my family worried about my mental well-being, because I seemed to move on so easily and had no qualms about marrying someone I just met.
Additionally, I kept getting peppered with questions from my family like whether I felt bad, whether I knew if J had a girlfriend now, if J knew about Karin, if the two guys met and so on.
One day I asked: “Are you seriously trying to make me feel bad?”, and was told yes, because I didn’t seem guilty. I realised no one knew how awful I felt on the inside.
This hurt at first. My family was very attached to my old relationship, and they didn’t understand why I’d seemingly moved on so quickly without showing remorse. I’d wanted to keep the reasons for my breakup private, but that meant my new relationship was viewed with a lot of negativity.
My parents met Karin four months after I came home to Singapore, and seeing how well we fit together helped put their minds at ease. Right now, I know they’re really glad I ended up with Karin.
I also met Karin’s parents in Japan later that year. Naturally, both our parents were surprised by how quickly we wanted to get married, within about six months of knowing each other. They asked us to wait at least a year before marriage so they could get used to the idea, and we agreed.
Instead of doing his MBA, Karin and I decided to move to Haifa together to volunteer at the Bahá’í World Centre for two and a half years. We were married two years after the day we met.
Till today I don’t know what Karin’s favourite colour is, but I know we are aligned on important things that will help our relationship last.
I feel Karin helps complete me in areas where I need more balance. He’s logical, super patient, positive, reflective, neat, eats healthily, and is sensitive to others’ feelings and circumstances. In a way, I feel like I matchmade myself with him, and that we’re two halves that fit together as a whole.
While things happened quickly with Karin, I’ve always trusted my instincts, and things fell into place at exactly the right time.
Growing up, I never dreamed that I’d meet my husband in New York, then live in Israel and Japan. Though I don’t live the ‘standard adult life’ (buying a house, having a stable job), I’m incredibly grateful for how my life has turned out.
I went through a lot to find love, but I believe it was all worth it. I tell Karin all the time what a good husband and father he is, and how lucky I feel to have him in my life. And I’m glad he’s happy with me, too.
Though things seem very uncertain in the world right now, we’re hopeful, excited, and thankful.
Pictures provided by Yuen Yi Ying.
My name is Lisa, and you can find me on @lisatwang on the Dayre app. I write about love, marriage, and life with my husband J and four-year-old daughter, Tully on my personal account. I’ve shared stories about my first boyfriend and our breakup, and how I risked my life underwater for love when I started dating J.
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