Sitting around the dinner table, my mother reminds me once more never to settle for dating. “You have them come to our home, meet your parents, and court you the old-fashioned way,” she told me. Just like the way my father courted her. He’d drive all the way from Batangas to bring my mother’s parents in Manila a pickup truck’s worth of fruits and vegetables. That’s the kind of initial devotion from any possible partner that she expects and demands for me. Anything else would just be a cheapened version of romance (or love) in her eyes, and plenty of folks from her generation share her sentiment. Many from my generation, too.
The millennial and Gen Z generation with our love-hate relationship with technological romances and love-affairs. We listen to our elders’ tales of courtship with wistful sighs and nostalgic longing for what once was. A co-editor of mine just recently expressed dismay at not being born soon enough to experience the same kind of courtship her mother had. Because to us, especially the ladies, these stories all sound like fairy tales. Grand romantic gestures? Sign us up. Real life fairy tales that we missed out on.
But is it, really?
The lost art
Before Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, and Grinder. Before midnight Facebook chats, Skype calls, and couple Instagram accounts. Before all of that hot mess, there used to be whirlwind romances filled with songs, chaperoned dates, and displays of manly strength.
There used to be serenades. Men would band together and visit a young woman’s home so that one of the guys could sing his lady love a song. This was called the harana, but you already knew that. Something done because nothing could express love any sweeter than a heartfelt song.
There used to be chaperoned dates. Before casual dating in restaurants and cafes became a thing, there were only the chaperoned walks in the park, by a lake, or some other romantic scenery. The men also had to ask permission or paalam from the girl’s parents or guardian first as a sign of respect. This was to show that you’re intentions are “clean,” that you’re not just “after one thing,” to safeguard the virtue of the lady.
There used to be gifts. Filipinos were staunch believers that to get the girl, one should please (read: suck up) to the parents. That’s why my dad would do the whole gifting of produce thing, also known as giving pasalubong. This is to show the intended and her parents that the man can provide for their future lives together.
There used to be poetic letters. This was something my parents did as well. My dad would write multiple pages worth of declarations of love to my mother. Compared to the other practices listed here, this might be the only one that allows the courter and courted some level privacy. Letters used to be their only means of experiencing intimacy as a couple before actually becoming a couple.
There used to action. Last but not the least, men used to partake in the socially acceptable form of slavery known as paninilbihan. This was when men would display their dedication to their lady love through helping around the house as much as possible. This extended from cooking meals, cleaning the house, fixing the car, fetching water from the poso, chopping firewood, things like that.
These were the wooing practices that men used to employ to try and get the girl. These were the romantic gestures that spoiled and wooed our mothers at the beginning of their relationships. The romance we wish we had.
Flipside of the fantasy
As romantic and sweep-you-off-your-feet those traditions sound like, I personally would rather not have them back in my time. Not with the price each and every one of those gestures foreshadow in my future. Not with the role it has men playing.
Now, before you roll your eyes at that cynical statement, stay with me for a second here.
Where my parents share their story of enduring long-distance courtship, there’s also the story of an elderly friend where the guy courted her parents directly and never bothered asking her. He went through all of the steps, even sent her love letters (which she never answered back). She wasn’t interested, wanted to go and have a life in Manila. But the guy wanted her to stay and be his wife. Since he’s convinced her family of his worth, they warned him of her plans on leaving their province. Man and family worked together until she eventually married him.
I know it sounds a little extreme, but it shows all of the downsides to courting that trumps all of its romance (at least for me). All of those gestures demand a lot from the guy’s side in the beginning of the relationship. Think about it. The guy spends time, sweat, effort, and money to provide you and your family with all of these niceties. None of which come without a price.
The price is you, in more ways than one. The price that they won, the price that they paid for.
And the men? The men are the buyers. The time, money, and effort invested on you imply an unspoken but expected return from you. Exhibit A: the social expectation that you will do the chores despite both of you being working professionals. Still romantic?
I don’t want an excessive amount of anything at the beginning if it demands an equally large sum from me in the end.
I’d much rather today’s mess. Because today’s mess leaves room for an even playing ground. One where I can give to my partner as much as they give me. I’d rather split the bill on the first date. One where mutual understanding is a must rather than an occasional luxury. I’d rather spend evenings on Facebook Messenger getting to know them before I introduce them to my family.
I want to be with someone who sees me as a person, not as a price to be won, not as an idol to be showered with gifts. I want to be with an equal, not a provider or a protector. If you have to go through the messy, confusing, fast-paced, technological savvy mirk that is today’s version of courtship to do that, then so be it.
At least we’ve both got a handle on the playing field.
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