From strangers who connected online to now a couple celebrating 10 years of marriage, Cliff Tam and Tam Wai Jia’s long-distance love story has intrigued many. 

We sit down with them for our first-ever Instagram Live as they open up about their incredible journey and share their thoughts on godly relationships.

Speaking from their experience of mentoring young adults and writing on this topic over the years, here are their responses to your questions on dating apps, boundaries, finding “the one” and more.

What does dating really mean? 

Cliff: When I pursued Wai Jia, it was always with the intention of being in a relationship that leads to marriage.

I think part of that is having accountability. When you’re dating to play around, you just want to go out and have fun, get together or connect with each other.

But when it comes to dating towards marriage, you start out with having accountability.

Mine was with my Christian friends and pastors, and on Wai Jia’s side, she also had people from her church.

Wai Jia: I love what you shared with me before: Dating is not just about two people, but it’s actually two worlds. It’s about getting your community involved.

We’re all part of an ecosystem of people, right? Like your mentors, your parents, your friends.

So it’s really good that when you start dating, you do it openly in a way that doesn’t isolate yourselves. 

Cliff: Marriage is actually two families coming together. So it’s not just me and Wai Jia — but rather my parents, my family; and her parents, her family.

So part of the hard work in the relationship was actually getting to know her parents, and her relationship with her parents and her family.And for Wai Jia to do the same for me.

If you’re dating just for fun, it’s so much easier not to do that! But we’re building something more eternal, right?

Wai Jia: It’s also very helpful to be ready — to be secure in who you are, in your relationship with God and in the kind of person that you are before you start dating. 

Should girls make the first move? 

Wai Jia: Cliff is the typical chill Canadian, and I’m the super, on-the-balls Type A Singaporean girl, so this question totally resonates with me.

I don’t think we need to be legalistic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong if a girl says, “hi, I am so and so”, to just make yourself known as a friend.

But I do think that there’s a problem if, let’s say in a long-term relationship, the girl is always initiating — whether it’s the dates, study outings or group outings.

Cliff: With many young men I’ve talked to with regard to relationships, there’s a similar pattern I’ve noticed. I rarely see a young man willing to go up and pursue a relationship.

I think the reason is most of us are passive. I was passive too until I met Wai Jia.

But I do think that a man should have the courage to start engaging in a relationship with the risk of rejection. 

You should do it because this is how you learn to take the initiative in a relationship.

The husband is the leader of the household, right? So how do you become that?

You can start off with the simple step of finding someone that you like and go up and ask her: “Do you want to go for coffee?” 

But most of the time, many guys are like: “Oh, I’ll wait.” And we over-spiritualise and we’re like: “Oh God, give me 100,000 signs to pursue, right?” No, that may not be it.

Wai Jia: In the Bible, there’s no rulebook on what should girls do and what should guys do, right?

But I love when you said that the man is the head of the household in a marriage, which is actually our model.

And so even in dating and in courtship, to move towards that godly pattern of leadership and submission in marriage, that the guy should be taking the first move and be more proactive.

What you’re sharing is that it’s important to wait on God, and yet it’s important to be courageous as a man.

Is it okay to use a dating app? How should a Christian navigate the online dating space? 

Cliff: I think there’s nothing wrong with using a dating app. But it you’re not comfortable, then don’t use it. 

The attractiveness of an app is that you can find a million guys and girls. But it’s not a numbers game. When it comes to finding the one to be with, you just need one, right?

So it’s about your comfort level, but also why you do it. A possible problem with a dating app is that you treat a relationship like you’re shopping for a phone, a dress or whatever.

Like what’s the best deal? This one has this feature, but doesn’t have that feature. We should not treat another person like that. 

Wai Jia: If I were to distill a principle, what you’re telling everyone is to be careful about the posture of your heart.

Don’t go into it like a transaction and see what I can get out of it, or look at people like merchandise. 

You’ve got to ask yourself a couple of good questions. Am I comfortable with it? Am I doing it out of insecurity? Am I doing it just to have fun?

Cliff: I think the danger of these dating apps is that you’re always looking for “the one”. You look at this profile, but then you’re thinking: “Oh, maybe there’s someone better.”

There’s always someone better. It never ends.

How do you know when you’ve met “the one”?

Cliff: I’m not such a strong believer that that person must be “the one”… until she says “yes” on the wedding day. 

When I find someone I’m interested in having a long-term relationship with, I go all in. I don’t have a plan B, plan C or plan D.

When we were talking over email, when Wai Jia was in Singapore and I was in Canada, I didn’t go for any girls in Canada. 

I wasn’t interested in other relationships because I was ready to pursue Wai Jia until she said “no” or found another relationship.

Wai Jia: For me, I use a couple of yardsticks from a book called Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. He also wrote another book called Hearing God’s Voice.

One, be guided by God’s peace. If you have a relationship with God, trust your your inner peace.

Second, make sure that you have shared this with mentors that you trust, like your parents. Church community is very important as well.

And then prayer and the Word. Make sure it’s aligned with God’s Word and the principles that you’re learning.

Finally, circumstances, such as bizarre things that happened. Somebody asked: “Is it wrong to ask God for a sign?” I don’t think it’s wrong.

As long as it doesn’t become like a long-term pattern like: “God, please give me 20 signs for whether I should buy bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) or not.”

It shouldn’t be like that. It should be something that you really ask the Lord because you revere Him. 

I don’t think it’s wrong to ask, but just don’t make it like Gideon’s fleece — all the time you know?

How can we do long-distance relationships in a godly way despite the uncertainties?

Cliff: The reality is that when it comes to pursuing a relationship and dating, it’s uncertain. Even if you do it in a way that honours God, you just don’t know how it will end.

Of course, we all want it to end in a relationship that leads to marriage. But sometimes it doesn’t, whether it’s a long-distance relationship or not.

When I was in Canada and Wai Jia was in Singapore, I purposely did not pursue a relationship.

I think she knows I liked her a lot because I wrote to her so many times. But I did not say: “Please wait for me to come.”

I did not know if God was going to bring me to Singapore, and I did not want to play with her heart. 

I did not want to steal her heart by saying, “I’ll come to Singapore someday, I’m sure God will bring me there”, not knowing if God would really bring me there.

Wai Jia: I think what you’re trying to share as a really important principle that can be applied to all kinds of relationships is surrender.

Even when Cliff came to Singapore and we started seeing each other, I felt God challenge me after every date — for me to come home, get down on my knees and pray and surrender our relationship to the Lord.

That meant that at any time, if the Lord said, “Wai Jia, you’ve got to give up this relationship because of whatever reason”, I had to be ready. And of course, this gets harder with each passing date.

Don’t go ahead of God. 

So whether you’re in a long-distance or face-to-face kind of relationship in the same country, the principle is ultimately the same: Don’t overpromise more than the stage that you’re in.

If you’ve just started seeing each other, you don’t want to promise the other person the moon, like we’re going to have babies together and all that.

Don’t get married to the other person in your head and in your heart before God is leading you. Don’t go ahead of God. 

Is it okay for a guy and girl to chat every day if we’ve just started out as friends?

Cliff: I’m assuming the guy and the girl are interested in each other, and you guys have already talked about going into a relationship. If you haven’t done that yet, then that’s probably a step you need to consider.

But if you’re just friends, I would say be careful. Don’t let this be between just the two of you. 

Wai Jia: I think the heart behind this question is: How fast do you go into a relationship? 

Before Cliff came to Singapore — when we were not dating yet but just getting to know each other as friends first — I deliberately put the brakes on it.

Be conscious and intentional about the need to slow down your relationship.

Cliff would email me every single day, sometimes twice a day or up to five times a day. I emailed him back, but I would give myself a limit. I would reply every two days, or three times in one week.

Basically what I’m saying is, be conscious and intentional about the need to slow down your relationship. And I say this in the context of today’s world because everything is so accelerated.

So if you’ve just started out as friends, I wouldn’t chat intensely every day. I would set aside a certain limit for myself.

Maybe I would tell myself to reply to all the messages at once at the end of the day, or set certain boundaries so that I don’t end up going so deep into a relationship so fast.

When it’s just all purely digital, that can be very unhealthy.

What about physical boundaries in the dating stage? 

Cliff: Physical boundaries are actually very important because one thing can lead to another.

Any type of sex outside of marriage is considered a sin in the Bible, so that’s what we believe in.

We don’t want to get into a situation where we actually have sex before marriage and then we regret it. 

Things can go downhill really, really fast before you’re conscious and your brain says, “stop, maybe it’s not so good”.

And so even though we know in our head, in our heart sometimes it may go beyond what we want to.

Wai Jia: It’s really important to know that once boundaries are broken, you will only want to go further and further.

Cliff, you’ve talked about how pre-sex, there are a lot of stages to make people feel good, like holding hands and being intimate if you’re in an isolated place…

Cliff: For us, we didn’t go on a vacation or a trip by ourselves because those are where boundaries can be crossed so fast.

Even when we were dating, we went to public places. We just held hands; we didn’t even kiss until we got married.

I’m not saying that everybody has to do this. These were just the principles that we set up for ourselves when we were dating because I wanted to honour Wai Jia.

Wai Jia: One question that you want to ask yourself, especially if you’re the guy, is: “If my girlfriend’s parents were around, would it be okay for them to know how I treat her daughter?”

That’s the real litmus test. If her parents were around in the living room, would you act the same way? So those are things that we would share and caution against.

This is only Part 1 of our IG Live coverage, and the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. Look out for Part 2! 

We’re also giving away 2 books in collaboration with Cliff and Wai Jia. Check out the details of our GIVEAWAY!

From now until November 13, 2022 (Sunday), share with us your story of how you’ve seen God at work in dating or marriage. We would like to publish your testimony on our platform to encourage others too!

Feel free to write about anything e.g. why you’re not in a hurry to find someone, how you met your boyfriend/girlfriend, what you’ve learnt from navigating a tricky relationship…

The best entries (male and female) will each walk away with a copy of these books! Winners and contributors of stories selected for publishing will be notified. 

Wild At Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul (John Eldredge)

Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul (John and Stasi Eldredge)

Send in your stories to [email protected] (500-1,000 words). We’re looking forward to hearing from you!