Dispatch from 1999: ‘Modern Love’ of an Internet stranger

Prologue: I had been on a three-day cleaning binge, which began in my office and ended up in my bedroom. Two days ago, I Instagrammed some of the things I found, including my (well, technically my sister’s) 22-year-old copy of The Catcher in the Rye. Earlier, I found my journals from as early as 1997. I normally cringe when I read my own writings, but these were different: page after page, all I could say was, “wow.” I had a well-designed journal with cutouts and photos; I had a notebook with the most delicate handwriting; and I had others which chronicled every detail of my life, almost on a daily basis. I remember some of them to be the saddest periods in my life as I had trouble adjusting in college. While I don’t wish to relive the depression, how I wish I continued to journal everyday, relishing through my writing the many details, experiences, and persons that came my way.

I wish for you, and this is a note for myself too, to start doing the same now. It would probably be one of the best material possessions you will ever have in your life.

* * * *

In one of my journals, a simple Sterling spiral notebook, I profiled someone I met online. This was my entry:

June 28, 1999

You Live, You Learn

IMG_4579At 27, ADB* considers himself a late bloomer. He only had a girlfriend after graduating commerce at UST. It was the first time he had a serious relationship with the opposite sex after more than three years of “testing different waters.” He considers those years as a ritual of passage among men, and was mostly accompanied by his “makulit na barkada.” Most of his time are spent with them, drinking beer, hanging out at night bars, and picking up girls. It was also those things that gave him his first experience at sex.

“But it was different. It was like not having sex at all. There’s no intimacy whatsoever,” says ADB. He explains the difference between making out with a stranger and a girlfriend. The latter, he explains, “is more fulfilling, even addictive.” The first time he had sex was with an 18-year-old girl (he was 20 then), whose face he only saw the morning after. That night, he and his friends just came from a wedding reception. “Our barkada was in four separate cars. The first three cars each had a couple. The fourth one, to which I belonged, was for those without girlfriends.” They decided not to come yet because they still found it too early; instead, they went bar hopping. “At around 10, I felt I was getting drunk already so I insisted that we go.” But instead, they hung out for a little more while until one of his friends met the girl. ADB says the girl was “in the mood” so the barkada decided to have their baptism of fire in Antipolo. They rented a cottage, which was basically composed of a table made of bamboo, and a room. Soon enough, they all took turns–they did it on the bamboo table. It wasn’t clear to me why they chose the table over the room. Perhaps it had something to do with maximizing their sexual creativity. The next morning, his knees aching (“because of the table,” he explains), he asked one of his friends, “Is that the girl from last night?”

It may be his first sexual encounter but it certainly wasn’t the last. There was one instance when they went to his friends’ farm and met a 15-year-old girl. ADB and his barkada, together with the girl, swam naked in the water irrigation and they were free from any voyeurs that might possible be present. One guy was doing it with the girl, when she suddenly pushed him away and left the pool. The guy, incidentally, came in the water and so all of them immediately jumped out. “We were disgusted at the thought that his sperm was in the pool we were swimming in,” ADB laughingly recalls.

When they graduated, ADB faced problems of unemployment. “One by one, my barkada started getting jobs, and soon, I was the only one left.” Fortunately, he was accepted in a bank just across his alma mater, after months of job application.

One night, on December 23, he found himself bored. He dialed a phone number randomly and a female answered. “She was to be my girlfriend,” he says proudly. At first, they just had some small talk and ADB thought it’ll end just like that. Bust soon after, ADB realized he was falling hard for her. “I did everything she said. If she told me she’ll call at me at 8 p.m., I’d immediately go straight from the office to our house. When I’m beside the phone, waiting for it to ring, I resembled a dog.” He soon had less time for his barkada and more for her. They exchanged phone numbers, addresses, and later, photos. Actually, it was only the girl who sent her photo. “I was totally scared. I couldn’t imagine her turning me down after she sees my picture.” They both sent a letter to each other together with their pictures. They were to open them together while on the phone. “When we were on the phone, I could feel from the envelope that she really sent her picture. Meanwhile, I only sent her a four-page letter.” When the girl opened his letter, she was surprised not to see his picture in it. “I acted surprised too! I said I was sure I attached it in my letter. Then, I told her I’d check my drawer to see if my picture might have accidentally dropped there. She believed my story.”

Soon, they agreed on seeing each other. “I was very nervous. I wasn’t confident about myself. I kept thinking this scenario wherein she’ll immediately storm out of the place when she sees me.” It turned out it wasn’t far from that. When they met each other, he immediately sensed her coldness. She wasn’t as sweet and talkative as she was on the phone. And she told him she had to go home shortly after. “I asked her if I could walk her to her place, but she insisted I don’t come along. It’s weird, really. The night before our meeting, while on the phone, she was telling me the things that we would do–eat, watch a movie, have fun. I knew I blew it.” ADB went to his barkada’s house and got drunk.

Days after, he decided to call her back. He was apprehensive to call her the night they met because “she might just give me excuses not to talk to me.” Nevertheless, after what happened, they were talking like good friends again. “I was very confused. I mean, I don’t know whether she likes me or not.” ADB decided to let her know his feelings. He told her how much she was in the center of his world and that it was the first time he went crazy for someone. “Night after night, I kept repeating myself to her, ‘You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.’ I even made it simple for her. I said, if she wants us to be an ‘us,’ all she had to do was to respond back, ‘I love you, too’ when I tell her those three words, usually before ending the call.

“Then one night, after saying ‘I love you,’ I was about to put the phone down, when I heard her say softly, as if a whisper, ‘I love you, too.’ I wasn’t able to move. I asked her to repeat it but she wouldn’t. Anyway, I was very contented. It was heaven,” ADB recalled, sounding childish and innocent.

He then went on a spiel of their memorable times together, all happy. I couldn’t help comparing him to a grandfather, retelling his glory days. He was so genuine, it was touching. “I’ve always considered her as my first, even if I considered my past. First love, first sex, first everything. It was only through her that I felt intimacy and love. It was a personal relationship that she gave me, and it’s incomparable to what I’ve experienced with others.”

When her girlfriend’s monthly period didn’t arrived as scheduled, they got nervous. It wasn’t something they thought about until that time. “We were praying real hard to God. We were asking Him, ‘Please not this time, not this time.’ I even promised not to touch her from thereon.” Night after night, the girl would call ADB, crying. “I couldn’t say anything to her. Basically, I just listened to her. But I assured her I was prepare to accept any responsibility that might come out of the situation.” Luckily for them, nothing happened.

The relationship though, didn’t last long. The girl had to end the affair without any explanation. However, they still remain friends and even spend hours on the phone from time to time.

His present girlfriend has been with him for five years. She works in Manila but lives in Cavite. “I’m very much accepted by her family now, though I haven’t been there many times because of the distance.” Recently, tragedy struck his girlfriend’s home. “His father died of a heart attack and I was asked to do most of the errands.” He contacted family members scattered across Manila. He himself felt drained. “I didn’t think it would be that hard and affecting.”

At his age, I can’t help but think of marriage. “I may be 27, but I’m not financially stable. I still have a long way to go.”

“Then why are you doing it?”

“I can’t help it. How about you? Why haven’t you done it?”

“I have a lot of self-control.”

“Some time soon, you’ll also feel the need. You won’t be able to stop it.”

“Well yes, maybe. But I’ll make sure I do it with the ‘one.'”

“Problem is, you are never sure who’s going to be the ‘one.'”

*not his real name


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