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  • Dan Albert S. de Padua

Love in the Time of the Corona Virus

The VD celebrations this year seemed, well, half-hearted. The malls and restaurants were decked out in red hearts and flowers, but this season’s theme appeared to be caution rather than passion. For one thing, bawal ang beso beso—a prohibition long overdue as far as I’m concerned (but that’s another story)—and how romantic can HHWW PSSP* really be when you have to douse your hands in alcohol every few minutes?

But it can’t all be about the viri. (Cactus, cacti. Alumnus, alumni. Virus, ?) Because if you are still wearing a mask in the mall, either you are sick and immunocompromised (in which case, what are you doing at the mall?) or you weren’t listening in class when the DOH issued its advisory on masks. Granted, there are other reasons to wear a surgical mask in public. You may believe you look cuter in a mask. You invested in sultry eye make-up. Or you’re hiding your alignment-challenged teeth. If anything, however, these other reasons should enhance the romance rather than kill it. What I’m saying is, considering the extremely short, nearly circadian, news cycle in Manila, the irrational sense of panic over COVID-19 seems to have, rightly or wrongly, faded already. Therefore, something else must be behind the lack of Valentinian ardor in the air.

Could it be that young people, rather than yearning and pining and building up to February 14, are simply swiping left and right? Gone are the days when a besotted teenager had to gather his courage through multiple trips to the water fountain before approaching that one girl who inhabited his nighttime dreams and daytime fantasies. Gone, too, and good riddance, I say, are those prudish restrictions that left young women with no option but to hope and pray that a boy might finally “make that move, right now, baby.” Today, you get on Coffee Meets Bagel and every noontime you are fed a list of quality jowa-ble candidates. I know that there’s an app for everything, but I have to wonder whether an algorithm can find one’s soulmate. Isn’t true, all-consuming, everlasting love a matter of chemistry, not math?

On the other hand, maybe romance in 2020 isn’t too casual at all, but on the contrary, overly complicated. Take a look at this year’s set of extended Jollibee commercials. In the first story I saw, this Instagrammable young couple was being torn apart by their incompatible work schedules and by the traffic that forces pretty women to take motorcycle taxis to work. In the second, an independent woman has a life of her own that this hapless guy struggles to accept. And in the third, a charming, but fat guy (named Dan) is forced to face this incredible choice between being “The Best” and “The One.” Ano ba? Too much reality! Not every relationship has to feature Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in The Marriage Story. Whatever happened to boy meets girl, boy and girl get kilig over yumburgers, then boy and girl live happily ever after?

Speaking of hard reality, maybe the roses in the flower shops didn’t sell out last weekend because of the oppressive atmosphere of economic uncertainty. If you work at a water utility, a transport company, a media giant, or any business that relies on ties with the U.S., China, or Taiwan, and you can’t predict what the government is going to do next, it’s hard to think about little cherubim with tiny bows and arrows when an economic pistol is being held to your head.

But then again, this furor over the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise produced what was, to me at least, one truly touching Valentine moment: when News5 Digital posted a heart graphic in ABS-CBN colors with the caption “Ngayong araw, lahat tayo magkakapuso.

Losing its franchise is the biggest fear of every broadcast network. It’s the ultimate punishment that the NTC and MTRCB have always held over broadcasters’ heads to keep them in line. It’s the nuclear option and, therefore, unthinkable. Until now.

These news people over at TV5 were not cowed by possible threats to their own employment. They didn’t complicate matters by bringing up messy issues of press freedom and undue influence over elections. They didn’t mention past instances of arrogance or personal slights or even the fact that some of them had been let go by this other network; and they set aside their secret plans to take advantage of the closure of a competitor. Instead they expressed their solidarity with the people who share their dedication to their work and their devotion to their country. Not romantic, maybe quixotic, but it’s a kind of love.

All of it brings back images of simpler times, of Charlie Brown and The Little Red-Haired Girl, of cutting out the perfectly shaped cartolina heart, of the “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” moment of crossing the slippery expanse of the dance floor to stick out your hand to the girl with the naturally curly hair, of sharing a popsicle.

Oh, well. Maybe next year.


*Holding Hands While Walking, Pa Sway Sway Pa

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