Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dangerous liaisons: Probing the forbidden

I met Mary at a convention somewhere in the Visayas last year. She works in an advertising firm in Makati.

At first glance, one would see her as a rotten spoiled kid, the type that ruins your day. She gives you the impression that you are boring – no matter who you are.

One night, she barged into my hotel room and borrowed my laptop. She didn't give any explanation. She said she needed to get online. Pronto. She needed to catch someone, she said.

How does one say no to somebody like Mary?

Well, I didn't. I reluctantly, and sort of sarcastically, handed out to her my computer commenting about the weather and the convention in between her somewhat "weird" liaison with that other person in cyberspace.

A few minutes later, she was crying. I'm not talking here about minor drops – but major sobs. I had to get her a glass of water. After a few minutes that seemed to take forever, she went out embarrassed, I think, at her little theatrics.

I've heard Mary laughing about her clumsiness, telling stories about how she forgot to pay her food in a restaurant, of how she would stumble into anything and everything, and break glasses on a dining table.

So it wasn't very surprising that she left her "precious" correspondence in all its naked glory. It was all there waiting to be read. This, I thought, was classic Mary. Apparently, she was having some sort of cyber–relationship with someone.

The last mail was titled "if only" and the guy, Mark, was enumerating things he wanted to do if only things were "different." Sort of mushy, but sounded very real.

I'm not into poking my nose into other people's lives. But the idea of writing about a cyber–affair came up, and Mary and Mark, I thought, were the perfect subjects.

In a situation where everything seems to have no tomorrow, nothing worse could probably turn up for these two. Mark is married and has a child. He finds fulfillment in a work that brings him thousands of miles away from home.

On the other hand, there's Mary. She too is married and has a child.

When this assignment came up, I asked Mary if it was OK if I wrote her story. At first she didn't want any part of it. in the end, however, she agreed and wrote it herself for me.

Here's Mary's story.

* * *

My life is too complicated for games. And I am too complex a person to be just looking for an easy lay.

He's not some movie protagonist. And neither is he a romance novel hero. But that's the point. Mark is not perfect. He's flawed and there's something very human and very endearing about that.

It was purely my being a klutz that led me to him.

An organization where he belongs had this elaborate fund–raising activity. And what do you know, I lost my cellular phone somewhere during the fund–raising lunch. It turned out Mark got it.

I knew up front his "personal circumstances." His profile, along with several other "top guys" of the organization, was in the program for the fund–raising.

My circumstances came out during coffee when I claimed my phone.

I dare not say that was the "start." There was nothing – as in nothing – to begin with. There was no prelude to greatness whatsoever, no fireworks, no bells ringing when I first saw him.

All I knew was that there was me and Mark, and coffee, and cigarettes, great conversation, greater arguments, no put–ons.

The possibility of a relationship was inconceivable. We merely exchanged cards and wished each other good luck.

Two days after, Mark came up to me in my office and asked if I had plans for the night. I nearly fainted. I didn't know if that was relief or fright. Here, finally, was that person who had been pestering me during my waking hours, sort of asking me out. Sort of because he had the perfect excuse to seek company: He had to buy something.

It was a fascinating time we had. It was like being a kid again in a huge playground where you had giant Lego blocks scattered all around you.

Then he took me out to dinner. I don't really know how he did it, but we had that whole huge place for ourselves.

The food was great but I wasn't able to enjoy it. My emotions were interfering with my digestive tract and I had to throw up. It's some sort of psychosomatic manifestation of my weirdness: OVERJOYED = THROW–UP.

I had to explain somehow and I told him that something had been keeping me awake until dawn for the past two days. I told him that somebody might be thinking of me too much that I couldn't sleep.

I downplayed my own emotions for him and said it was just this schoolgirl crush that I thought he was my intellectual hero but it was all very harmless.

Mark blushed as he struggled to explain to me that he might be guilty for my sleepless nights. He was not able to eat. He said he also had this psychosomatic reaction whenever he was overjoyed, that he couldn't eat.

So I sat there worrying about two things. First, that we were spoiling expensive food. Second, I must get Mark to assure me that I'd get a good night's sleep that evening because I terribly needed to rest.

The next time we met, Mark brought me to a place where you could just hang out and stargaze. He pointed out the stars. I came very near saying: "Mark, do you know why there are only those small stars? Because somebody came ahead of you and took the Milky Way from the sky and gave it to me."

Nothing was happening on the physical level. We barely held hands. But elsewhere, something cool and nice and chaotic was going on and both of us were just trying to conceal it, if not quash it.

My brain was rejecting the notion that this thing with Mark was one of those illicit affairs you read in crummy paperbacks.

I couldn't be having that. It was breaking the Ten Commandments and too dangerous. It would ruin us both – our families, our careers, our lives.

The worse case scenario I could think of was of him being rubbed out. Either that or we would become fugitives and get hunted down like rats. My child's future would be jeopardized. I couldn't allow that to happen.

* * *

Globalization brought about increased mobility to Filipino family members. It also brought about expanded means of choices, including choices of partners.

Humanities Prof. Felice Yeban of the Philippine Normal University said because of globalization one "millennial disease" that threatens family life is boredom.

"Unlike before when individuals are rooted in their communities, people these days are being uprooted physically as well as psychologically," Yeban said.

She said unlike before when friends and lovers promise each other to live and die together, the "value of staying in one place" is gone.

"Marriage has to strengthen itself to face the psychological impact of being mobile," Yeban said, adding that it is the tendency of people these days to have more affairs because of mobility.

Prof. Caroline De Leon of Mirriam College, however, said it is normal for married people to get attracted to others. "You can't help that," she said.

De Leon, who heads the Department of Family Psychology and Education in the Catholic school, said extramarital affairs could happen.

"But it's what you do about it that matters," she said. "You get married because you love each other and you promised to love each other for life. That's why the word commitment should have some meaning."

She added that "impulse control" is important.

"I can't imagine what would happen to society if people have just affairs right and left," she said. "What happens to the kids? It would create a deep impact on children and their concept of what love is, what fidelity is and what real love is."

* * *

Jenny is 24 years old, single and is in love with Lito, 30, a married man. I met Jenny in one coffee shop. She was crying while writing a letter to her lover.

The night before, Ana, the man's wife, had found Jenny's picture in Lito's wallet. Lito admitted that Jenny was his other woman and that he was in love with her.

Jenny told me her story as she drowned her feelings over cups of unsweetened coffee and several sticks of cigarettes one rainy evening.

After she finished her letter, she showed it to me.

* * *

"In Philippine society, it seems that extramarital affairs are quite acceptable," De Leon said. "It's quite fashionable. It's not something to hide anymore. Maybe it's because society has become quite tolerant of everything. But I don't know if it is a good sign or not. People are more open regarding that."

The psychology professor reminds couples to remember their marriage vows. "Getting married is not something that is 'chow–and-chew'," she said. It is really something that you think about and deliberate on before getting a partner for life.

"But still, it can happen and it's a question of living up to one's commitment," De Leon said, adding that social acceptability is not a license to justify the seriousness of the issue.

* * *

Here is Jenny's last letter to Lito. After more than a month, it remains unsent.

Dear Lito,

As of this writing, I still could not believe this is happening. Although I prayed for that day to arrive before (so I could recover as early), I never wished it would be this soon.

I was not prepared for this sudden parting. I still see us together or at least trying to be together for some more months and even years, just as you have told me.

I wish to stop the time while you were thanking me for everything, while you were telling me you love me and that you'll never forget me.

Those were words that are supposed to flatter me but it made me sad. Tears drowned my face as I read between the lines that you were telling me goodbye.

I am still crying. I guess I have not stopped since that early Tuesday evening. I instantly went back to sullen mornings and sleepless, weeping nights.

It's been two weeks now but I have not wholly accepted that our days are gone. My mind somehow understands it but my heart violently refuses to conceive it. I wished these were all just dreams.

Everything came so fast. Only days before that fatal Tuesday, we were happily together. We had lunch at that special place.

You must agree that the ********* is the place we could virtually call our own. We both know that nothing can ever replace it. Not even the posh and expensive fine dining restaurants anywhere in the world.

You know what? I even plan to buy it when the right time comes just to save our memories.

What makes it more special is the ********* being right within that extra special place where we always spend our time – talking, walking, laughing, and crying for the kind of fate we have.

Although we knew from the start that ours is really a sad story, we usually would laugh about it for we seldom think we are hapless.

To know how much we feel for each other is enough to forget the grim reality that we could never be what we wanted us to be – we could never be together for long. You could never be mine and I could never be yours in this lifetime.

Perhaps, I came much too late or maybe you went too ahead of me in everything. I may have been too slow in finding you or you have not waited enough to find me.

Then here we are consoling ourselves that maybe we were not really meant to be together at all, though we both know our hearts do not believe it.

The sadness that's swallowing me now is graver than when I lost a relative. I don't feel that I lost somebody but I lost an essential part of me.

We died somehow. And we could not do anything to revive or at least prolong our last breath to be able to hold each other, be with each other, and share ourselves with each other longer.

It is as if we had a cardiac arrest with half our bodies alive and dead. Well, we must really try to live half of our lives to be able to see each other again and eventually reactivate the other half. Who knows? Maybe when that time comes, we could already call it our own.

I have worn my heart out on my sleeves twice before but I am wearing it now around my finger so you could see it clearly and touch it. I think you have touched it several times and even kissed it. I would never forget that.

If you were a chapter of my book, I would not want to close it. You are the chapter where I want to be stuck a little longer, if not forever. I guess it would take so much of me to turn the pages and move on.

But then maybe, that's what I should do. So I could go fast to that time where we could finally be together. I strongly feel that it would come.

Yet I assure you I would always look back to these pages with incessant excitement, with the same vigor, and smile on my face.

Don't worry I would take good care of myself just as you want me to. Just the same, I would never ever forget you and I thank you for the love and concern.

I know you tried to make things easier for us, only that we could not always have things our own way. And if only we could, I am sure you have done whatever it takes to make me happy.

This might be the last letter. But I hope that my way of letting you know about the passion I have for you would not stop here. You must constantly feel it in your heart until we see each other again.

In between now and that moment, I guess I would just have to get my hope, strength and smile from the tapes, books and shirts you left with me.

I love you,


* * *

The acquisition of values begins at home, in the family, said psychologist De Leon. The changing and shifting values in the new millennium could be a factor that would make people want to have affairs, she said.

"I believe children who are brought up in some solid traditional values, which are family–oriented would think twice before going into affairs," De Leon said.

* * *

I asked Mary over the Internet what happened to her and Mark. This is what she wrote:

"I struggled to say the words to Mark that I had to go. And it hit me like lightning that this has to be goodbye.

"Inside, I was wishing I could come up with something. Like, probably promise him forever. But I can't. I already did that, and with someone else, just as he probably had, and with someone else, too.

"We held hands. We were happy and he said it might be the best time to go.

"For all its glories and pains, it's enough most of the time that you know you're not suffering alone.

"I don't know about those problematic love affairs immortalized in print and in movies. But whenever I feel I'm dying to hold him or something, I know he's dying along with me.

"Now he's gone."

- This article first appeared in a slightly different version in the Philippine Post sometime in 2000. This edition appeared on GMANews.TV's Valentine's Special this year.

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