Sailing into my heartFrom keeping their relationship a secret to braving a three-month separation during the pandemic, ME2 Elizer Deepa and ME2 Jeevan Raj share the ups and downs of being a couple in the navy.
Story by Teo Jing Ting // Photos by Kenneth Lin & courtesy of interviewees
It wasn't love at first sight. For Military Expert (ME) 2 Elizer Deepa at least.
"He was this weird guy who kept staring at me," she said with a laugh. "I was a bit annoyed so I just stared back."
ME2 Jeevan, on the other hand, was smitten. "She may look fierce but when she smiles, she's very pretty."
ME2 Elizer, then a pre-enlistee, was handling administrative work in a course that ME2 Jeevan Raj was attending.
All initial attempts to talk to her were met with a cold shoulder. But like any good soldier, ME2 Jeevan did not give up.
The turning point came in June 2015, when they worked together in organising a National Education (NE) tour for pre-enlistees. The pair became closer through the experience and ME2 Jeevan asked her out after that.
The secret "ship"
Even though they were dating, they never made it official. For almost three years, nobody knew they were together, not even their families.
"We wanted to take things slowly and get to know each other more first. We also kept our relationship a secret 'cos news spread very fast in the navy," said ME2 Elizer. The 26-year-old is now a senior assistant engineer in the Naval Logistics Command.
It was only nearer to the proposal date that their families found out about their relationship. Soon after, ME2 Jeevan proposed to ME2 Elizer on her 21st birthday, in November 2017.
Popping the question
"She told me that she has always envisioned her proposal to be on her birthday – so I took the hint!" said ME2 Jeevan, a navigating systems chief in the Formidable-class frigate RSS Stalwart.
With that, the 32-year-old planned an elaborate surprise – from buying ME2 Elizer a traditional Indian outfit and engaging a make-up artist to getting their friends and families to decorate the venue at Ceylon Sports Club.
To prevent suspicion, he told her that she was going to be part of the bride's entourage at his friend's wedding.
"When she arrived, she was very surprised to see her relatives and friends. I did a dance for her before getting down on one knee to propose," said ME2 Jeevan.
"I actually did not expect him to propose, so I was in shock. He hadn't even asked me to be his girlfriend!" said ME2 Elizer with a laugh.
"I took a while to say yes and when I realised he actually went to my guardians to ask them for permission to marry me, it really touched me."
ME2 Elizer grew up in a children's home with her two older sisters and her guardians, who are Chinese, are the superintendents of the home.
Navigating choppy waters
Their relationship was put to the test when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
After getting married in March 2018, they did not see each other much and had to shelve their honeymoon plans due to back-to-back deployments. But this was nothing compared to the circuit breaker in 2020.
"COVID-19 was the toughest for us because we stayed in the same house but we didn't see each other for three months," recalled ME2 Jeevan, who was then a navigating system supervisor on the now-decommissioned Fearless-class patrol vessel RSS Gallant.
ME2 Elizer was a command and control systems operator on board the Endurance-class landing ship tank RSS Persistence.
"We were cohorted into different teams and were not supposed to meet each other. So while I was on my way back, she had to leave the house to report to her ship," said ME2 Jeevan.
"It was very demoralising because I always looked forward to spend time with her after a long day of work but whenever I came back, I would be all alone."
The pair coped by communicating through video calls, and ME2 Jeevan would sometimes deliver food to ME2 Elizer at the wharf while the latter stayed on the ship.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder
Two months into cohorting, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) offered them the opportunity to swop into the same team but the couple declined.
"We didn't want to make things difficult for others by swopping teams 'cos there are a lot of logistical and scheduling issues involved," explained ME2 Jeevan.
ME2 Elizer added: "Everyone is going a tough time – they also don't get to see their families and loved ones. So what makes us special? We just wanted to do our part for the nation."
After the cohorting ended, the pair finally had the chance to spend time together at home. "We played board games, watched Netflix, cooked, baked and we did not get bored of it," said ME2 Elizer with a smile.
Asked what the sweetest thing they've done for each other has been, ME2 Jeevan promptly replied: "She never fails to surprise me on my birthday."
For his birthday last year, ME2 Elizer gathered her husband's friends to surprise him with a cake at their house at 12.59pm, just before he turned a year older.
"The surprises didn't stop there – there was one after another throughout the day and she also did a separate celebration with our daughter and me. I really did not expect it 'cos she was pregnant and tired."
For ME2 Elizer, it was the way ME2 Jeevan took care of her during and post-pregnancy which touched her. When she was pregnant with their first child, he would go all out to satisfy her cravings and deal with her mood swings. He also took extra leave to care for her after she gave birth.
"Once, she was craving for Ramly burger from this particular stall in Jurong East at 8-plus in the night and I was rushing all the way from Punggol 'cos the stall closes at 9pm!" recalled ME2 Jeevan, laughing.
Their daughter, Dasriya, was born on 29 Dec 2021. The couple also recently welcomed their son, Zayen, on 23 Feb.
Charting new paths
While they are embracing and adjusting to a new addition in the family, both ME2 Elizer and ME2 Jeevan are also looking forward to charting new paths in their careers.
ME2 Jeevan will soon begin long shipboard deployments and ME2 Elizer also has plans to advance in her career once she returns to work.
"I want to be a role model to my juniors and my daughter – that being a mother doesn't stop me from progressing in my career and I can handle both work and family," said ME2 Elizer.
And if their daughter wants to join the RSN in future, both are all for it.
"Just don't ask me to wash your beret, wash it yourself," quipped ME2 Elizer.