Passport to an emotional support flirtationship
Art by Neal P. Corpus
Passport to an emotional support flirtationship
Alex Roxas (The Philippine Star) - September 4, 2020 - 12:00am

When Carly Rae Jepsen released “Dedicated Side B,” we were going on our second month of Metro Manila’s enhanced community quarantine. On the afternoon it dropped, my friends and I were in the middle of planning our next hangout for when it was all over, desperate for human interaction.

“Ganda ng song na ‘to,” said one friend, after linking us to This Love Isn’t Crazy. “Sarap ma-in-love.”

“Totoo naman kasi (I’m assuming),” replied another who, like me has never been in a relationship. I matched it with a joking “sorry can’t relate,” and sent a link to the very fitting Solo (“So what, you’re not in love/Don’t go wasting your time getting so low”).

The conversation went in the direction of dating apps and, eventually, we settled on our next e-numan activity — we’d take turns swiping on the app together over soju and beer. “For entertainment purposes lang,” said my friend. “Yes, 4 da validation,” I added, silently considering buying the premium subscription for the dating app I downloaded a week prior.

The last time we’d all tried online dating was in 2018, in a world pre-COVID where all we wanted was to fill the Peter Kavinsky-sized hole left by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. We abandoned them a month or so after downloading, figuring we’d put ourselves out there long enough to know that this was not for us.

My motivation for trying it out a second time was different. At that point I’d been coping with the feeling of helplessness with a steady diet of Carly Rae Jepsen songs, K-Pop and fanfics. And while I certainly knew that there were way bigger problems (No mass testing! People dying and losing their jobs! The lack of support for frontliners!), sometimes a mutual would post about a #quarantine e-date or how “quarantine LDR sucks,” and my brain would go back into the spiral. It’s that Jo March line in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women — “I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it. But I’m so lonely.”

Dating was obviously the last thing I should’ve been thinking about in a time of crisis, but hey — as an introvert with an already low chance of ever meeting other people, given my two-year WFH setup, the pandemic had gone ahead and reduced those chances to zero. I so badly wanted to give other more important things the necessary brain space, but the possibility of being single in this apocalyptic situation wasn’t comforting at all.

My track record with actual, real-life experiences of crushing was fueled by insecurity brought about by inexperience. It was becoming a cycle — meeting a guy I like, chatting with him for a couple of months (oftentimes carrying the conversation), allowing myself to think he likes me, finding out that, no, he does not, ending all contact to save myself from the embarrassment, then realizing they all were softboys who were emotionally manipulating me all along.

“Do I wanna be the sacrificial lamb of the group?” I typed into our group chat, knowing very well that this was definitely going to be the case. Our e-numan consisted of me swiping in Seoul for a couple of minutes before we got bored. I didn’t touch it at all after that night, and only decided to go back to it two weeks before it was set to expire (“para sulit!”).

I set my next location close to home — first to Singapore, then Taipei and Indonesia, then Hong Kong. My mind: open. My approach: all chill, no expectations. My bio: send Kermit memes.

This time around, I wanted to position myself as a Chill Girl™. I wasn’t looking for a long-distance relationship — what I really wanted now was attention. I weighed my options. Worst-case scenario: I get unsolicited d*ck pics; best-case scenario: I’d have a friend to tour me around when traveling becomes okay again.

My policy was never to message first — a strategy that worked in some countries more than others. There was one dude from Seoul with the really cool stompers (I asked him where he got them from). Then there was the himbo from Hong Kong who let me make him a workout playlist (K-Pop included). I also met a lawyer from New York who couldn’t stop talking about bagels (he didn’t know where the Philippines was); artsy bois from Taiwan and Jogjakarta who were witty, but whom I struggled to communicate with because of the language barrier.

I was surprised at how much the distance grounded my overthinking tendencies. Gone were my days of speculating if the use of a particular emoji meant they liked me, or if being seen-zoned meant they hated me. That’s when it hit me. Being a late bloomer, my previous real-life experiences of pursuing a crush were more about checking a milestone off my list to get it over with. I wanted so badly to be in the kind of rose-colored relationships fiction taught me, that I sacrificed my own self-worth in the process.

In learning not to take things too personally, I realized that I could carry on a conversation simply by being myself. Getting to know people from different countries and backgrounds taught me that I should be benefitting from the conversations in some way too, whether it be through bonding over a shared interest (thank you to that one Singapore dude who gave me film camera recos) or getting a kick out of texting my friends my observations. “Wow, these business types are just like the Management students we know,” or “Why does this dude remind me so much of [redacted]?” I wrote one of these texts in my journal: “Why is it that I connect better with guys a literal ocean away more than guys from QC?”

With overseas online dating, there are fewer cues to take — maybe because of the lack of cultural context. I was forced to let go of overthinking the small things, instead learning to take it all at face value. It was easier to embed into my brain the idea that it’s unreasonable to make assumptions based on such little material.

And just as my subscription was about to end, the universe must have figured that I had finally reached the level of maturity needed at my age and threw me a curveball. When I finally, truly was comfortable with myself and the kind of person I had grown to be thanks to this little adventure from home, it decided to send me a trope complete with a meet cute, a second lead (they’re best friends???), and regular phone calls-slash-movie nights.

One night, a couple of weeks into matching, the guy I’d been talking to thanked me out of nowhere. “I’m glad we’re doing this,” he said. “The situation sucks but it’s nice knowing that someone else out there is going through it too.”

As soon as he said it, my brain immediately sent out warning signs as if to say, “Do NOT get kilig!!!” And that’s just how it seems to process everything nowadays. Navigating these new feelings involves me learning and unlearning a lot of the things that I’ve grown to know over the years. And while I’m still treading this road with caution, I’d like to think that I’m content with whatever it is right now.

Companionship is what I wanted, and I guess that’s what I got. I’m not worried about where it could go or if it’ll fade away eventually. What else is there to look forward to nowadays anyway? For now, I’m keeping Queen Carly in regular rotation on my playlist.

ECQ RELATIONSHIP
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