Nathaniel Mah: College and Engaged (Four)

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story | Amanda Leong, Staff Editor

photos | Nathaniel Mah

  

Ten years is a long time. Ten years in young adult time is an eternity. To still be with the girl you first fell in love with in Secondary One ten years ago is a miracle. Perhaps Nathaniel Mah has experienced a miracle. Perhaps, he is just lucky.

In the Cendana Dining Hall, Nathaniel Mah tells me about the story of his first (and last) girlfriend, Janeen Loh.

Tell me about Janeen.

She went to the National University of Singapore Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) where she was a Communications and New Media major. She’s a dancer – she danced through secondary school, Junior College and even in her hall at Kent Ridge. Now, she’s working in a pet e-commerce site ‘PerroMart’. She loves animals and she’s a popular dog sitter.

How did you guys meet?

Our story is really silly – we were only 13 and 14 after all but here it goes…

We met in 2008 when I was Secondary One and she was Secondary Two, at youth camp in my church. I didn’t really notice her much in my group. Only after the camp I was like, quite pretty lah, then I got her number from a friend and started texting. But apparently she already liked me at first.

Then we talked and flirted. We both knew that we liked each other, but we talked about it in a very indirect way, like ‘do you like someone? Yes.’ but we don’t say who it is. Then one night, via MSN, in a very stupid game of ‘truth or truth’, I asked her do you still like the person you said that you liked? Then she said, she used to like me but now she wasn’t sure because I was younger than her and it was a really big thing in Secondary Two. However, we still continued talking and a few months later, she told me that she still liked me. So we got together.

From then to now, it’s just been a progression. Going out together, growing up together, going through life together, ups and downs. But we never broke up.

Now, we will be celebrating our tenth year in April.

Nathaniel and Janeen in 2015, dressed in their Junior College uniforms for a personal photoshoot.

How did you propose?

I had planned two different proposals that had to be scrapped. The first time, I planned to propose to Janeen in April 2018 but had to change my plans because I found out that I was going on exchange and she mentioned multiple times that she did not want to be proposed to before I left. I then planned to propose in December 2018 in New York, but that fell through when she was not able to be in New York then due to complications with her job.

Eventually, I came up with a plan to secretly fly back to Singapore and surprise Janeen on her birthday. We text throughout the day, so Janeen was getting angry when I didn’t respond while I was on the plane, especially because it was Christmas and nearing her birthday. I tried to stall her by pretending that I was in the shower or had a stomach ache.

I then told her to open envelopes that I had given her before leaving for New York. There were links to two youtube videos that Chia Yaim Chong ’20 helped me film in New York. One was a video of me singing this song that I wrote for Janeen when I was 14. The other one was a vlog of me packing up and leaving the New York apartment and being on the plane, which I also edited on the plane and uploaded once I touched down. She was so confused. During this time, a group of our family and friends decorated her house.

When she went downstairs, I proposed!

What challenges have you faced in your relationship?

We’ve never broken up but we’ve faced our ups and downs.

There was a period of time in November to December 2017 when I was thinking of proposing to her that I started second-guessing. Like, look at all these things that we don’t have in common. At the time, I was meeting so many people who loved musical theatre as much as I did. Especially at that time, I was crazy – the only music I listened to was musical cast recordings. Also, there were differences in ambition – I want to move to New York and make waves in whatever industry I will be in while she does not have those dreams. It was very selfish thoughts but at that time, it felt legitimate.

I told her about these things because she’s my best friend – I can’t feel something strongly and not tell her. What really helped is talking to this couple in our church who has mentored us for many years, and has helped us through many difficult situations. People always ask me for advice and I tell them to have someone who can mentor you and give you advice.

I think talking through the emotions made me realize that all these things that I am thinking about aren’t the foundation for a successful relationship. You see Hollywood actors, they have these passions and interests and jobs, but many of their relationships don’t last. These similar interests that I would like to have in a partner – they made me realize that everything else that we have over the past ten years, that is the foundation of a lasting and successful relationship. Passions can change – they are superficial and trivial. It was a simple but profound shift for me.

Why do you think you lasted so long?

God’s grace lah.

At the start, I thought she was the one but that was more out of naivety: I think every 14 year old meets their first girlfriend and thinks that they will marry their first love. We are just very fortunate that didn’t change, and it transitioned into a more mature love. I’m not going to deny that we are lucky – we both changed but thankfully we changed together.

Nathaniel and Janeen in New York, October 2018

She always jokes that she has dated three boyfriends: there is me, clean shaven. Then in freshman year I had glasses and a beard. After that, I did Lasik and shaved my moustache.

We took things so slow that we had more time to discover one another. You know, John Mayer’s song ‘Love is a Verb’? It’s just being super intentional, even when we are both busy in college or had a bad day, we still meet and make space for each other. It also helps that I’m kind of a romantic, so it keeps a spark.

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