Metro Manila was two weeks into quarantine when we started dating.
It did feel a bit odd to call it dating when all we had as proof were the Zoom dates in our calendars. I only ever saw her through screens. We didn’t even swipe each other right on a dating app—although it was on Bumble that she discovered that I—her former colleague whom she thought was very straight—was apparently into girls, too. Why didn’t she swipe right? That was the question that started it all.
We can take a little bit more accountability (or credit)—we didn’t let the lockdown stop us from shooting our shot. When quarantine began, we only felt sure that this would all be over soon and we could do all the things we couldn’t do in the early stages: invitations to drinks, where there would have been knowing glances and arm touches, gym dates followed by a polite fight about where to eat back all the calories, holding hands in the car, the possibility of a kiss every time she leans close.
In their place we had lovingly-written Zoom date calendar invitations filled with inside jokes. Me cooking for her, and her sending handpicked bottles of beer or wine. Memes, emoji, and GIF reactions as love language. Surprise packages for everyone in my household, specific to their likes, while waiting for the day I could finally introduce her to my family. Updating our friends via conversation screenshots. Show and tell after the obligatory quarantine Konmari of our spaces. Scrolling deep into each other’s IG grids, and talking about each other’s pasts.
My company fell under essential services, so I had to report to the office weeks ahead of GCQ. My consolation prize was finally getting to see her. Transportation was an issue then, and she offered to drive me home from work. “Hatid na kita” made me melt in a way the same words never did before. It was going to be the first time for us to be in the same breathing space again.
My friends were worried, and she was, too. The droplets in the enclosed space of her car were enough cause for concern, add to that the chances of real-time rapport falling short of built-up expectations. I always felt our connection was natural even before we started flirting—that the thought of us not hitting it off in real life never crossed my mind. When I got in her car and greeted her with my most excited hello ever, it was strange and at the same time familiar. The masks were in the way of seeing each other’s full facial expressions. But her voice, the way she moved, and our chemistry the same.
The droplets in the enclosed space of her car were enough cause for concern, add to that the chances of real-time rapport falling short of built-up expectations.
As government restrictions slowly loosened, things between us accelerated, making up for lost time. The place she wanted to bring me to was finally open. She called me to get ready, she was picking me up in 30 minutes. We were accidentally in matching outfits, and I was kilig at seeing how cute she looked and how nice her perfume was that night.
It was our first time to dine in at a restaurant again, and despite already being out and about for over a week by then because of work, every adjustment the restaurant made for their guests’ safety was a reminder of the threat of getting infected. The sterilized utensils came in sealed plastic bags. The menu was no longer in its charming cardboard and kraft paper form; it was now in the contactless QR code. The familiar staff was harder to recognize through the masks and shields.
It could have been extremely awkward being on separate tables, but we were lucky there were no other guests yet that evening so we let the conversation go where you normally wouldn’t in public. There was something about vocalizing my fears about us out loud, and in such an open space.
Even without a pandemic, some of us already carry bits of anxiety, even around love—especially around love. Is this good thing for real? Do I deserve this happiness? How long can I enjoy this before something goes wrong? What, of the many possible reasons, will be the one to break us up?
Going down the spiral of my worst thoughts mimicked how I would “mentally prepare” for apocalyptic scenarios I imagined after reading the news. And with all the uncertainty that comes with trusting someone, wrapped by the uncertainty of our times, I am taking the risk of hoping. That things will turn out fine. That we can weather the worst. We all long for a promise that we’ll be okay, and nothing will harm us, but sadly that’s just not how the world is. Losing my father two years ago taught me many things, but the most important lesson is “to love each other as much as you can, while you can.”
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For The Fickle by Reese Lansangan was on my friend’s IG stories. It reminded me of our human longing for assurance when nothing is certain. “Your love’s uncertain won’t you hold it down in chains?/ Or won’t you break me now so I won’t feel the pain? / But all I want is steady love. Leave my heart in steady love.”
Our first date conversation became a difficult one. I couldn’t reach across the table to hold her hand when something I said made her uneasy, but this is one of the gifts of social distancing: a heightened awareness of what we say and how we say it, because a well-timed hug or kiss is currently disabled in our arsenal. I struggled to find the right words to say (it’s harder when you’re both copywriters), but she listened.
This simple, yet sometimes challenging act of love was a welcome green flag. At least for that moment, it was all I could ask for, and I was grateful for it. In the future we can make bigger promises to each other, but we are still human and there are no guarantees. Despite that, I’m already grateful for her. And her cute hair, her amazing coffee, her thoughtfulness. And for everything else that will be difficult, that will always be my antidote.