Successful Single Women

English | Chinese

The successful single women in Asia are called, “The Leftovers”.

If you are single, highly educated, successful, and are still not married by age 30 – you will be considered as the “leftover women”. And I suppose, the divorced women or single mothers will be at the bottom of that “scrap-heap”.

My favourite (sarcasm) paragraph from The New York Times article on this subject is –

“Pretty girls don’t need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family, but girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult. These kinds of girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don’t realise that as women age, they are worth less and less, so by the time they get their M.A. or Ph.D., they are already old, like yellowed pearls.”

A family friend once advised me, out of genuine care and concern, to not appear too intelligent in front of the men I meet. She was worried that I would not be getting married again anytime soon. And she kindly reminded me that time is not on my side. That family friend added, “You have a pleasant face. So, it should not be that difficult for you to attract someone even with your situation. Don’t be so picky. A woman should not be too smart for her own good.”

By “too smart”, she meant that I should not reveal that I actually know stuff so that the men would not be intimidated by me. I should subdue myself and my standards in order to make myself more appealing to them.

By “with your situation”, she meant that I have a baggage, i.e. a daughter. Hence, I do have more odds stacked against me if I wanted to snag a mate before my “use by date” ends.

I no longer take offence to such talk from old relatives or well-meaning family and friends. They are the product of the previous generation’s thinking. Their main concern for their children is to be married well, and that the children would have offsprings of their own. Hence, they would wish the same for me. They do not want me to end up alone. Or, in this case, become a leftover.

I am not going to lie and say that it has never crossed my mind – that I would be left all alone, and die as an old maid. I was petrified that I would never love again. With my biological clock working against me, it would be highly unlikely that I’d be bearing more kids anytime soon.

That was my Fear speaking. Fear of the unknown hazy future. Fear of what if my family and friends were right. It was the Fear which was ingrained into me since childhood by the older generation.

I thought that there was something seriously wrong with me. For a while, I must have appeared rather desperate – eagerly seeking someone to love and want me, grasping onto anyone who gave me the time and attention like a starved abandoned puppy. I had tried too hard, or appeared too cool. Either way, it was disastrous.

Then I realised that I only wanted someone in my life to numb the loneliness. I used to detest being alone. I used to equate being alone as a failure. A failure to be desirable. A failure to be wanted and loved. A failure to co-habit with someone.

Over time, I learnt that wanting someone in our lives, and knowing how to love someone are two very different things. 

Therefore, my reason for wanting someone in my life has changed. It has less to do with filling an empty space next to me, but more about filling up the emptiness within on my own. It is about living a fulfilling life, and wishing to share it with someone. Naturally, it has to be with the right special someone.

What I no longer wish is to be with someone for the sake of just being with someone.

I also no longer wish to be burdened by the old traditions which are not relevant to me. Don’t get me wrong here. There are many wonderful attributes of our Asian culture and its traditions. However, not all of them are applicable to the person I am, or who I aspire to be. Especially, to the lifestyle I lead.

I had to learn to separate what’s right for me from what’s not, and to recognise what works for me and what does not – no matter how infused they are into my ancestry. The hardest part was forgiving myself for not upholding some of the traditional ways of doing things. In the beginning, it felt like some sort of betrayal to my Asian heritage. But becoming a better Asian, and individual should not stem from holding onto a tradition that no longer serves a real purpose. It is about becoming a better human being in every sense of the word.

We should all evolve with the changing times.

I still cherish and nurture the traditions which are valuable to me. For instance, filial piety, the importance of family, respect for elders, and etc. I still regard marriage as an important and beautiful institution. Therefore, I do not take it lightly even though my definition of marriage may not be as traditional.

There are far worse things than being alone – it is being with the wrong someone.

These days, some marriages resemble more of a “merger and acquisition”, where two people agree to pull their resources together so that they can create a successful lifestyle. However, it seems to be more about struggling to make payments at the end of each month than about making a real life together.

Today, women are successful, and independent. They can earn their keep and buy their own place. They no longer need to combine their resources with someone else in order to live out their desired lifestyle. Hence, being with someone has come to mean different things to different women. For some women, having someone is about companionship, but not so much of having a real life together. Their partners accompany them to several places, events, and even holidays. But they do not share a home together. There are also women who just want to have fun and not be burdened by the drama or stress of a relationship. So, they have boyfriends and these boyfriends may change from time to time. (No judging, please)

In other words, with financial independence, education and skills – women today have a variety of options. They can create the lifestyle of their choice.

Women like me have our preferences. And we should not be made to feel ashamed to have these preferences or any preferences, for that matter.

Women like me are the ones who seek more than casual flings or meaningless fucks. We value a deeper intimate connection with a Significant Other (SO), and this should not be achieved at the expense of our identity or our life long dreams. Because we would never dream of asking our SO to sacrifice their identity or goals for us either.

Yes, we may have put more effort and time on building a career or finding ourselves, because we have learnt the hard way that the only person we can really rely on are ourselves. We know how it feels – not being able to afford our next mortgage, or put food on the table to feed our kids. We know what it entails when all the financial control is held by the men in our lives and we are constantly at their mercy. We know that helpless feeling only too well. Hence, we do not want to go down that path ever again.

We have chosen to embark on a journey of self-discovery because we understand the importance of establishing ourselves. Some of us may have lost much of ourselves along the way of loving too much, or by hanging on too long, or for having been hurt too deeply. It would take a very long time for some of us to trust again.

I, myself, took more than a decade to get here – where I am comfortable in my own skin, confident in my own strength, as well as, my vulnerability.

Yes, there are many women like me. And men too. Because divorce rates are high, and marriage rates are consistently low.

So, as far as I am concerned, we are all tainted pearls.

If we look closely, we’d realise that we have been (and are) governed by our fears. Fears that were created by our past, and are compounded by each bad experience in life. Hence, we take extra care to guard our tattered little hearts lest they break into inconsolable pieces again.

For some, the word L.O.V.E has become a vulgar four letter word. A sort of chocolate-coated poison which ruins us in the end. Especially if we have been paying huge amounts of money in divorce settlements. This is how life experiences smear us, and leave bitter imprints in our hearts or minds. We would become utterly disillusioned and cynical, if we are not careful.

There is a price for everything. Even happiness and love.

As Chani Nicholas said, Freedom isn’t free. Every journey has its cost and its benefit.”

If we had chosen to take on the career path, the cost is perhaps our love life, or marriage, or family. If we had chosen to let go of our dreams, and got married – then we bear the cost of never finding out how far we would have gone and what we could have achieved. Not everyone gets to balance work, play and kids. Not everyone gets that gifted luxury of “the right time and right place.” Not everyone can have it all. Period. 

There is really no wrong or right choice. They remain the choices which have moulded us into the women (or men) we are today. Therefore, only we would understand which cost was worth bearing. Only we know which benefit is worth suffering for. Only we can decide which path is worthwhile for us. 

Nothing in this life is guaranteed. Especially love and happiness.

“We are promised nothing in this life, not fairness, not equality, not respect and not even our safety. Some more than others. There is not one starting line for us all.”~ Chani Nicholas

As a woman, I can tell you it is even harder. As mentioned earlier, even our biological clocks work against us. So, we make the best of what we are dealt with.

From the list of bad things, I chose the worst. I can say that now. I rather be divorced than be trapped in a nightmare marriage to the wrong person. I rather be ostracised for being authentic than become part of the flock that I can never fit in.

I chose the hardest way because it was the only way for me to break free and reclaim myself. Of course, I paid dearly for it all. But in return, I gained everything. I gained myself.

I no longer apologise for the choices I have to make. I no longer excuse myself for wanting more than mediocre charades. I no longer pretend to be satiated by shallow thrills. Nor do I have patience for pettiness, cruelty and animosity. The future does not intimidate me. I know I will be able to handle what life throws at me to the best of my ability. Even if I tremble and shake while doing it. πŸ™‚

Next week, I will be celebrating my 45th birthday. In the traditional context, I would be classified as “fossilised pearls”. However, I don’t feel antiquated at all. For the lack of a better word, I feel liberated. These days, every living moment is a gift.

When we know who we are, and what we truly want out of life, especially when we realise how we too can give back to humanity and the community at large, without compromising who we are – our lives will truly have meaning and purpose. 

Women (and men) like me became strong and fearless because there was no other way to be. And the people who love and accept us should not dream of changing us into something less than who we are. Instead, they should try to appreciate why we are the way we are, and inspire us to become the best version of ourselves.

We are the ones with vision, because we will not be diminished by challenges or adversity. We learn and become wiser. We are not afraid to step off the curb, or dance in the rain. We can endure hardships as much as we savour life’s pleasures. We won’t hesitate to pick ourselves up, and start again. Above all, we can laugh at ourselves, because we understand what it means to forgive.

We have all come so very far. And we should never need to justify the choices we’ve made.

We have earned the right to build the life we aspire to live without apologies.

Every milestone in our lives is worth celebrating. 

In truth, we are not the leftovers.

We are the passionate survivors.


Being Afraid Is Human, But Staying Afraid Is A Choice.

  • Kristine
    December 8, 2014

    Beautiful post. – from a single early 30’s woman.

    • shirleymaya
      December 9, 2014

      Thank you, Kristine. No matter what age, we rock! πŸ™‚

      • Nalla Quinto Otlum
        December 9, 2014

        Thank you wonderful wisdom word “stop looking for starting point, start where you are” love yah πŸ™‚

      • Chocolate Muffin
        January 22, 2015


  • Merry louie
    December 8, 2014

    Spot on!

    • shirleymaya
      December 9, 2014

      Thank you, Merry Louie. Wishing you all the best! πŸ™‚

  • Kat
    December 8, 2014

    Amen to everything!

  • Kukai
    December 8, 2014

    How inspiring and empowering!

  • Kris
    December 9, 2014

    “I rather be ostracised for being authentic than become part of the flock that I can never fit in.” – true! Most of my friends too just could not understand why I’m still single and not yet married (like most of them) and they’re saying I must be very picky, etc. ; they simply don’t get it that it’s MY choice to stay this way. Thanks for this empowering article!

    • shirleymaya
      December 9, 2014

      As long as you are happy and are doing well, Kris, it is all that matters. After all, none of your friends will be living your life and going through everything with you. At this day and age, we have truly earned our right to create the lifestyle of our choice and just be happy. Key word, Happy. πŸ™‚

  • Single mother to be
    December 9, 2014

    Beautiful piece… I’m deciding if I should keep my baby or not. Baby’s father doesn’t want to be a part of the journey and I’ve stopped all contact with him. I can’t bear the thought of losing my baby.

    • shirleymaya
      December 9, 2014

      Dear Single Mother to be,
      Thank you for sharing. I am sorry to learn about your situation. No one can tell you what to do with regards to your baby – keep it or not. Take into account everything about your life, and what you wish to do, especially what you can do. Only you will know what is it that you can cope with. Our strength comes during the most challenging of times. Most of all, find what you truly value. A baby changes everything. It will be challenging, if you are not ready for it and are not capable in taking care of the child. There are many options for women today. I cannot tell you what’s best for you and the child. Only you know what’s best for you, and then think about what’s best for the child.
      I wish you all the very best. May you find the right solution for you and the baby. All my prayers. Hugs x

  • jing martinez
    December 9, 2014

    I am 38 , single and happy- then why can’t other people be happy for me as well? Beautiful and inspiring piece πŸ˜‰

    • shirleymaya
      December 9, 2014

      The most important thing is to be happy for yourself and with yourself. As long as you are happy, your life and world become a much better place. The best to you! πŸ™‚

  • Shiela
    December 9, 2014


    • shirleymaya
      December 9, 2014

      Thanks, Shiela. πŸ™‚

  • nataliescarberry
    December 9, 2014

    I hate that as women we have to appear less intelligent than we are at times. And when you are as tall as I am, lots of men are intimidated by that as well. I’m so sorry that you are experiencing this kind of discrimination. All women should be celebrated not matter how smart or old or whatever they may be. Thankfully I met someone at 20 that appreciated all of me.
    We’ve been married for 51 years and he’s still proud to tell people he married a smart woman.
    Hugs, N <3

    • shirleymaya
      December 9, 2014

      Hi Nat,

      Thanks for popping over and taking the time to comment. I am so happy to hear about your 51 years of marriage. That is so wonderful! And that your husband is proud that he married a smart woman. Wish all men could be like that. Things are slowly changing in Asia. It was much more before. So, I can’t imagine how the Asian women in the past had to endure! I am lucky that I am able to have support from my parents and sisters. My immediately family has been most understanding. Sometimes people are just afraid of changes because it is too new and possibly too fast. They may not understand how to cope themselves. So, I try not to judge as well. Take good care of yourself, Nat. Love all the positive messages you share at your blog. Big hugs x

  • tiffany
    December 9, 2014

    I can sooo relate. I used to feel empty not being in a relationship. Now, im on my 29th year, fulfilling my dreams and making my mark. Though i’m single, i won’t settle for anyone just for the sake of being with someone. Great writing there!

    • shirleymaya
      December 9, 2014

      Tiffany, I am very glad to learn that you are in a much better place now. There is nothing wrong with being alone. There is also nothing wrong with being married. As long as you are secure in yourself, and happy with yourself, this is what matters most. Then, the person who wants to be with you will naturally make the effort to be with you. Thank you for your supportive words. Much appreciated.

  • Sheizel
    December 9, 2014

    Well said! So inspiring article. While reading your post, my anxiety on getting married before i turn 30s was relieved. Even thou i’m still at 27 my family and friends keep pressuring me to find a partner soon, i have a younger sister just got married this year at age 25 that is why they keep reminding me to find someone in life. I want them to understand that i am not on rush to get married soon. There are lot of things i want to do just being single. I want to travel, explore new things with no ties attach, well-established my career and be financially stable independently. I want to settle the best for myself because life is too short and i don’t want to regret that i did’nt do the things that is good for me.

    Anyway, great article and very empowering! All the best for you.

    • shirleymaya
      December 9, 2014

      Thank you for taking the time to share. I truly value your sharing.
      You are wise as you are. You already know the answer and this is why you are not rushing. Sometimes it is hard when our family and friends do not understand us. However, you are the one living your life. And you will be the one bearing all the results and consequences of your decisions/actions. Not your family or friends. So, do what you feel is right for you and be happy. At the end of the day, only you know what makes you happy. If you have read my previous blog post at you’ll understand how what we do today will impact our future. And the worst thing in life is to live with regrets.
      I wish you all the best! Take good care and be happy! πŸ™‚

  • Anna Liza
    December 9, 2014

    so blessed and enlightened much about this article.I’m 33,a few months ago experienced heartbreak and thought that I’m gonna be a leftover that you have mentioned.But now I finally understand why such things happened to me.You are right, we are not leftovers but passionate survivors.For it is in love that I have learned to sacrifice for the happiness of others.And by God’s grace I have moved on and enjoying God’s goodness and love…God bless…

    • shirleymaya
      December 9, 2014

      When it is with the right person, it will not hurt but it will become worth it. So, focus on healing and making yourself better in every way. Then, when you meet the right person, you’ll be ready. I wish you all the best! πŸ™‚

  • Day
    December 10, 2014

    bold. fearless. meaningful and definitely worth reading. Kudos to the Author.

  • tez
    December 10, 2014

    beautiful article! empowering single women! thank you.

    • shirleymaya
      December 10, 2014

      Thanks for your supportive words. πŸ™‚

  • Sophia
    December 10, 2014

    This is amazing!!!!! I love what you said. “The future does not intimidate me. I know i will be able to handle what life throws at me to the best of my ability.” i got so impressed by what you said. This it my inspiring quote now!!!

    • shirleymaya
      December 11, 2014

      Thanks for your comments, Sophia. I am truly humbled. I wish you all the very best. Keep believing in yourself and you will create the future you want. Much care x

  • joyce nigos
    December 10, 2014


    • shirleymaya
      December 11, 2014

      More power to us all, Joyce! I know how challenging it is to be a single mothers. I strongly encourage you to pursue your dreams and live life to the fullest. These are the very same things we would say to our kids too. The best of luck to you! Much care x

  • Nan
    December 10, 2014

    Well said. A friend of mine forwarded this article for me to read. I was feeling low as I am essentially alone. I got married at 28 years old, divorced 4 years later and now 5 years after, I am happy. Not content but happy. TO be able to do what I want, when I want to is a breath of fresh air. Freedom had never tasted so great. The fact that my happiness DOES NOT rely on another person is…. thrilling. BUT I am feeling like a loser these days with all the well meaning urge to find ‘THE’ one. So…. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. You ROCK girl!!!

    • shirleymaya
      December 11, 2014

      Nan, I am sure you will find the right one in good time. In the meanwhile, enjoy your freedom, enjoy the luxury of discovering yourself and who you really are, pursue your goals or dreams and make the most of every single day of your life. We are all passionate survivors here! All the best! πŸ™‚

  • Joane
    December 13, 2014

    I love this article. It’s very empowering and I have shared this on my facebook page. I also followed you on fb! Yay! Good luck to us all single ladies out there. Please continue to inspire women and men all across the globe Ms. Shirley. πŸ™‚

    • shirleymaya
      December 16, 2014

      Thank you so much for your very kind words. I am truly humbled by the response to this article. Wishing you all the very best. Thanks again for taking the time to comment. Much care x

  • inamalaeya
    December 16, 2014

    Truly, an empowering and inspiring article Ms S. Please preach more. You never know how much your article can change some women’s lives. It is truly a struggle to live as an independent woman in an Asian country.

    Thank you for the insight, foresight and hindsight.

    • shirleymaya
      December 16, 2014

      Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I am very humbled that this post has resonated with so many people. It is not easy to live as a successful independent woman anywhere, in particular Asia. Hopefully, the perception of successful single women will change for the better when everyone in the society evolve. Wishing you all the best. Much care x

  • dougstuber
    December 28, 2014

    Again great and fearless. I love this stuff.

    • shirleymaya
      December 30, 2014

      Thank you, Doug. So glad that your blog has taken flight. Good for you. Wishing you and your family a wonderful New Year! πŸ™‚

  • Hana
    January 23, 2015

    Best blog I’ve ever read so far. I’m 25, woman, and I am SINGLE because I chose to focus on my business. This blog is what I need.

    • shirleymaya
      January 27, 2015

      Good for you, Hana! I wish you all the very best. Thanks for your supportive words. πŸ™‚

  • Carol Balawyder
    January 26, 2015

    A fantastic post! I have often had men intimidated by my education. All it tells me is that these men are not secure enough in themselves so they choose women who are less educated than themselves. Too bad because they miss out on some really great women but really why would any great woman want to be with them anyway?

    • shirleymaya
      January 27, 2015

      Well said, Carol! Great women will be attracted to great men. And vice versa. Trust all is well with you. πŸ™‚

  • peaceminusone
    February 5, 2015

    Inspiring! To the core!

  • dougstuber
    February 6, 2015

    Always full of common sense and inspiration

    • shirleymaya
      February 12, 2015

      Thank you, Doug. Hope all is well with you.:)

  • shreya das
    March 26, 2015

    What an inspiring piece and so many men and women can relate to this! I’m from India, 33 and divorced. I totally agree with all you said and am proud to say that I’m happy and confident today. Loved reading your work!

    • shirleymaya
      March 26, 2015

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share, Shreya. I truly appreciate it. It is heartening to know that there are many women like us in the world and it has nothing to do with age, race, or religion It is about women learning to cope with the dynamics of life while staying true to who we are. Wishing you all the best! πŸ™‚

  • Madhurima Bhatt
    March 27, 2015

    I could relate to this article so much. I’m 23 from India and whenever, I tell my friends that I would get married post 30, I become a mockery of the town. I feel exactly the same way about relationships like the author does. I don’t want to get married for the heck of it but that doesn’t mean that I do not believe in the institution. And, about not acting smart and intelligent among men, yes, I find most men do not appreciate an intelligent woman. But, really I can’t act what I’m not. Such a beautiful piece of article. Now, I feel that I’m not the only one thinking all this on planet earth.

    • shirleymaya
      February 21, 2016

      You are definitely not alone. We all have the right to build the life we wish to live, be it in love or our professional life, without apology or shame. Our worth is never determined by our ability to attract or retain a mate. Wishing you all the best. πŸ™‚

  • Dr. Prajna Shrivastava
    March 31, 2015

    too good

  • BJ
    May 16, 2015


  • Tarisai Chikowore
    December 17, 2015


    If I had read this article 8 years ago when I was bleeding from the pain of divorce, I would not have believed every single word in this article. Today I look back and agree with you 100%. I am a survivor. Life has given me hard lessons but from them I have found myself. I can talk to woman who thinks she is at the end of her life because of singleness and tell her to hold on, assuring her its not the end of the world. Thank you Shirley.

    • muru
      February 8, 2016

      100 % u rite miss

    • shirleymaya
      February 21, 2016

      Thank you, Tarisai. Sorry it took so long for me to reply. I am very happy to learn that you have moved on and are able to help other women who may be going through similar experiences. Truth is, we are all much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. We are indeed warriors and survivors. All the best! πŸ™‚

  • muru
    February 8, 2016


  • Ronnie
    February 12, 2017

    Hi Shirley,

    Were you accompanying someone at IJN (Institue Jantung Negara) sone tine in January, 2017…..You look a familiar face…..Just curious here, me… malice whatesover