Bad, Bad Romance: On Toxic Notions of Love & Other Issues [Part I]

Introduction

About two months back, amid the social media uproar over Xian Gaza’s billboarded coffee date request to actress Erich Gonzales, Girls Got Game put out a call for contributions. We asked people willing to share their stories to speak up about toxic attitudes all in the name of “romance” and “love”. Over a dozen submissions later, the trend we’re seeing is distressing. Each of these stories all come down to the same things:

  • Effort ought to be rewarded.
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re not attracted to the person or aren’t interested to begin with.

The issue with Xian was been “resolved” with Erich declining via a diplomatically-phrased “as long as my friend comes along”. Many netizens, however, continued to claim that she should have given him a chance.

The pressure on women (girls, really) to entertain regardless of whether they are comfortable with the attention is real.

It doesn’t help that society at large seems generally okay with dismissing the value of consent. There’s this idea that any effort should be rewarded, if not given token consideration. The Philippines isn’t the only country that buys into this.

*To include all of the submissions sent in, we have elected to split the article into three parts. Names have also been omitted to protect the contributors’ privacy.


From G.

toxic notions of love Jacuzzi (Copyright: Pam Celeridad - 2013)
“He messages again: “Let’s have coffee.””

I hate the Friendzone Spiel. People wield it like a weapon. Whatever you do, if you’re the girl – you’re always somehow in the wrong.

I had a good friend. We talked about a lot of cool things: books, my nerdisms for historical fantasy, and most importantly – music. Because I love getting recced music. All the time. Whatever kind.

I don’t know what I did to give him the impression that spending time talking about all these things friends can just TALK ABOUT meant I was interested. I never gave any indication that I was. I just really enjoyed his company.

When I text or message back, it’s to show that I enjoy spending time with you, no strings attached. I love socializing with my friends through whatever means available, because my schedule has always, ALWAYS been challenging. I can’t always hang out, as much as I’d like to. I can’t catch up with people as I’d hope to because life and obligations often get in the way.

So we communicate often enough. We share our interests with each other. He asks if I want to catch a particular Disney movie because I’d been talking about it forever at the time. I reply that it’s a nice gesture, but that no thanks, it’s cool. Besides, I was already seeing it with my siblings and my folks. I also couldn’t afford at the time to watch multiple screenings of a film I was happy to see in theaters just once.

He messages again: “Let’s have coffee.” I told him I couldn’t. I had grad school to focus on, and my comprehensive exams were underway. My month was also honestly booked, because other friends had asked for hang out time well in advance and I didn’t want to have to bail on them.

And then he sends me a kilometer-long email.

He tells me how difficult it is to get a hold of me. How he was upset and hurt that he’d been doing all these nice things for me: birthday presents, recommendations of things that he knew I’d like. That he’d come by to hang out with me after my shift on the week of my birthday. All these nice, generous things – and I couldn’t be assed to give him the time of day for a DATE.

He’s mad. And it’s somehow My Responsibility.

Suffice to say, we’re no longer friends. I unfollowed him on Facebook and took him off my social media feeds. But it doesn’t change that I find myself uncomfortable when he says hi in the few public events we’ve seen each other at. Because that incredibly long email had come at a price.

Our Friendship had come with the steep expectation that I would return his affections. Affections that, as far as he was concerned, I had been too preoccupied with other things to consider.

What’s worse? I couldn’t even be upset about it. I felt like I wasn’t allowed. It still feels so trivial, to be angry and hurt that the expectation of connecting with someone meant his feelings – not mine – were my responsibility.

If the price of being warm means baggage dumped at my feet, that is not my goddamned problem.

From J.

toxic notions of love Cloak by Isobel Francisco
“Removing someone’s agency, someone’s ability to say “no” is never okay.”

It was my first rodeo as a co-organizer on a relatively large scale and a lot of things hinged on its success or failure. As the event wound down, I was cornered by my ex because he wanted us to talk. I said “no” repeatedly, but he did not leave me alone until he managed to wrangle a yes out of me. (I eventually agreed to meeting him when I had time.) Before anyone asks, no, I couldn’t just walk away. He was blocking my only way out of the area. (We’re okay now, but that incident is something that will always serve as a reminder for me to not always think the best of people.)

It’s nowhere near as bad as Erich’s situation. But it does show a disturbing trend where people are forced into a position where they cannot say no. Erich is a celebrity and will be vilified if she turns him down. In my case, the giant Organizer ID I wore prevented me from showing any untoward behavior.

Persistence is not always romantic.

Sometimes, being on the receiving end of someone’s persistence is fucking scary. My ex didn’t see anything wrong with what he did until another friend explained why it was a dickbag move. I was lucky I had someone to defend me and my actions. On the flipside, I’ve known people whose friendships were severed because their friends took the other person’s side. Because they thought it was admirable and “why couldn’t they appreciate the effort that went into the gesture”. Because anyone would be “lucky” to have such affections showered on them.

No. Removing someone’s agency, someone’s ability to say “no” is never okay. It’s insensitive, intrusive, and more often than not, creepy af. So just stop, please. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

From P.

toxic notions of love Neringa (Copyright: Pam Celeridad - 2013)
“…He insisted. Came over anyway. Gave me a ring and shit. According to him, it was all a show of “support”, cos he cared and was worried about me.”

I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in my last year of college. Obviously this fucked me up. There was a guy courting me at that time. Obviously, I couldn’t really concentrate on that anymore.

He texted me one night when my family and I were having a quiet dinner. This was after I took a leave of absence and everything. He said he wanted to come over. I told him that now wasn’t a good time.

…He insisted. Came over anyway. Gave me a ring and shit. According to him, it was all a show of “support”, cos he cared and was worried about me.

You can imagine how I didn’t take that well.

What happened next? Heard later he was shittalking. How dare I not let him be my hero in my time of need? How dare I for rejecting him? How dare, how dare, how dare.

He alienated me from many of my friends. They took his side.

That extra year in college? Had to find new people. Wasn’t fun.

Consent is important.

Ignoring consent is not romantic.

Women are not objects for men’s egos.

Effort shouldn’t mean that a girl MUST respond favorably to you.

Get your heads out of your fucking asses.

From A.

toxic notions of love Kiss by Isobel Francisco
“Don’t you know how long I’ve wanted to touch you? To kiss you? Why are you like this?”

I was in my junior year in high school, back when the K-12 program wasn’t yet implemented; I was sixteen and just discovering a persistent attraction to girls. At the time I knew him, The Guy – let’s call him Don – was in his second fourth year in the same university my high school belonged to. I first met Don through senpais – it was the height of anime popularity, and I had aggressively convinced friends of his (also older siblings/cousins of my classmates) to teach me their nerd ways. He was always in the background, lingering whenever I was hanging out, and I never really thought much about it.

Eventually, Don’s friends moved on to more adult pursuits and I circled back to social circles made up of peers closer to my age – but he stuck around. Don slowly became friends with my guy friends. He learned the names of my girl friends. I never thought about it being weird back then, that someone who was more than five years our senior was hanging out with a bunch of high schoolers.

See, he was nice. Whenever he was around, he’d buy snacks for us, and was especially attentive towards me and my girl pals. A warning sign, I know; hindsight’s perfect that way.

When I found myself on the college campus after class, he’d “chaperone” me through the grounds. He went out of his way to walk me to the jeepney stop. He listened to my teenage whining. I had a different, more naive mindset about people back then. I thought, why can’t more guys be like this?

I remember when I started getting creeped out.

He’d been asking if he could walk me home. Sounds sweet, right? But I live outside of the city – going home means a two-ride trip that takes up the better part of an hour each way. From there it’s about a quarter of a mile’s walk from the main road. It’s Out of The Way.

At first I said no because I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. He kept asking. I kept turning his offer down, each instance coming with a growing apprehension. He kept asking despite my telling him that my father didn’t want me hanging out with boys, let alone being walked home by one. And kept asking no matter how many times I’ve asked him to stop asking me.

He persisted despite my explicit “No”.

The whole situation with Don came to a head during the university’s foundation week. Foundation week was a big deal; classes at the lower levels were put on hold so we could host sports intramurals, band showcases, fireworks, crafts booths, the works. For my circle of friends, it meant we could hang out with older friends who had moved up to college without compromising schoolwork.

As soon our respective classes’ beadles said we were done with attendance, my friends and I piled into the club room of the Arts & Theatre club and watched as many indie movies and anime we could fit before we had to go home. Don was there, too. He wasn’t a club member, but he was friends with nearly everyone who was, that he could walk in and out of the club room without anyone blinking twice.

It was a Friday or a Saturday, when The Thing happened. I remember that it was the tail-end of the week, and someone had brought in a gaming console. My friends were jockeying for a turn to play.

I wasn’t. I didn’t like video games, and was already feeling guarded because Don had progressively gotten closer over the past few days; from hanging in the back of the room to being seated firmly next to me. My best friend at the time had even asked if I was feeling okay. But I figured maybe I was just having an off day, you know? Not every day was going to be fun, whether or not Don was around. He wasn’t even doing anything!

But then I moved out of the club room and headed up two floors, where it was more quiet – campus urban legends claimed the whole floor was haunted. I sat down and picked up where I left off with a book I had with me. I don’t remember the title anymore. I’ve lost a lot of details about what I was reading, or what I was doing before It happened.

“It.”

Like a sore thumb, It sticks out in my memory. Don had followed me. I was all alone on a deserted floor, and as soon as I saw Don turning the corner of the hallway my instincts told me, get up!

I’ll always be thankful that I listened to my instincts back then, manners and “thinking the best of others” be damned.

Don asked me why I was ignoring him. Why I was brushing him off. He demanded to know why I had gotten cold, why I didn’t trust him to even walk with him on the way home. From an outsider’s point of view he was being calm, talking to me in a low voice, but something about the way he was talking was freaking me out. And then he grabbed me.

He took hold of my arm in a painful grip. I was in a jersey shirt; I was on the volleyball team for the sports intrams, and the shirt didn’t have sleeves. He was touching my bare arm and I went from “creeped out” to flat-out terrified.

But he wasn’t doing anything, you know? Why was I scared? He wasn’t being bastos (lewd), he wasn’t hurting me; he wasn’t acting in a way that I was taught was manyakis (perverted). He was just holding my arm.

Then Don said, “Alam mo ba, antagal ko na gusto yung hawakan ka? Na ma-kiss ka? Bakit ka ganyan?” (Don’t you know how long I’ve wanted to touch you? To kiss you? Why are you like this?)

This wouldn’t be the first time that I would be assaulted like this. But this was the first time that I really, truly understood that “nice guys” aren’t all that nice. He towered over me; was twice my size. He had a firm grip on my arm, and I still shudder to think what would’ve happened if I’d pulled away instead of gently, kindly, near-sweetly telling him that we could just be friends; that I didn’t want things to be like that – dating and such.

He let me go when a group of nursing students walked up towards us; we were in the middle of the hallway, blocking the staircase. I pretty much ran my way back to the club room, and my best friend asked me if anything bad had happened. I told her it was nothing; that I just scared myself with the thought of ghosts. In a way, it was true.

It would be almost a month later when I met Don again, and he wasn’t happy to see me or my friends.

I asked him if he wanted to get waffles with us, as a peace offering, feeling like I owed him an apology after his confession (I know better now). He told me to “fuck off” – direct quote. He was like a different person all of a sudden; like the person I knew had been replaced by a total jerkwad and it was all my fault.

I’d find out years later that Don pulled the same thing on my other girl friends – my best friend included. He’d be nice to them, then start creeping into their personal space, and when he makes a move and they turn him down, he abruptly gets mean and angry.

I still see him around. We have too many mutual acquaintances for me not to. Last I heard – just two days ago from sending this in – he’s still doing the same thing to other girls. Because the masses continue to celebrate this type of manipulative behavior as “romantic”, there’s little I can do beyond warning friends about him.

“Give him a chance,” a former gal pal told me. “He’s just misunderstood,” a mutual guy friend said. “Dapat kasi sa simula’t sapul nagtaray-tarayan ka na,” another commented, basically saying that I should have just been bitchy towards him from the get-go.

See, what he did wasn’t on par with renting a billboard and asking me out for coffee, but it’s the same principle. “Buy their attention, then buy their affections.” Don’s treats and lunch-outs were his version of Xian’s Bobbi Brown shopping spree. Don’s chaperoning me was his more insidious version of a badly designed tarp. It was all set up so I wouldn’t just feel guilty for saying no – I would be shamed for it, too. Look at this great guy! He’s done all of this for you! You should go out with him, let him treat you right!

No. The arm-grabbing was just icing on that turd cake of Nope.

That saying about nice guys finishing last? It’s not because they’re nice, per se. It’s because this particular kind of niceness always – always – comes with strings attached, and those strings aren’t fucking worth it.


The submissions from G and P feature art from Pamela Celeridad. The first piece, “Jacuzzi”, has been sold already. The second piece – “Neringa” – is still up for grabs. The submissions from A and J feature art from Isobel Francisco. The featured image is courtesy of NINE.

Did any of these stories resonate with you? Have you had similar experiences in the past? Working against toxic notions of love and similar issues is a war that can’t be waged on one’s own. Let us know what you think. If you’d like us to publish accounts for you, let us know too. Until then, stay tuned for the other parts of this series.

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Noey Pico

Audioromantic, geek and gamer. Currently a contributing editor to both Girls Got Game and What’s A Geek, while occasionally moonlighting as fictional characters online. Flails a lot. A LOT.


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