I have these times in my life when something pretty important happens and it stays with me for a long time. Usually, it’s not actually the actual external event that causes this baggage but my internal reaction to the situation. I guess that’s only normal and part of being a regular, run-of-the-mill human being…
Anyways, let’s get down to it.
A while back, Michell and I had broken up. I felt very bad about it, but – being the typical shallow, self-serving male – it didn’t take long for me to notice that there was a bright side to the whole depressing scenario: I wasn’t in a committed relationship anymore, and I was free to “play the field.” Woo hoo!!! And being in the world’s biggest candy store for the single guy, oh the possibilities they were so very varied and endless…..
A buddy of mine gave me expat gave me the number of an available gal, so I sent her a text stating that I am just looking to meet people and hang out now and then. She lived an hour or so from Dumaguete, but comes in on her one day off, which was just happened to be the next day. Waking up, I took a rare shower, dusted off my one nice shirt, and we rendezvoused down at good ole’ Robinson’s Mall. She was very cute and has obviously dolled herself up for this occasion. A looker for sure. We chatted for a bit and I found out that she is the oldest daughter, her younger siblings are still in school, her older brother ju st kind of hangs around, and she works 14 hour days answering phones at a massage parlor. (No, not that kind of massage parlor…) We talked a bit about that, and – following pointed inquiry from yours truly – she admitted that she sometimes resents having to spend her money on necessities for the family, like food, rent and utilities.
She then asked if I live alone, if I am allowed guests and notes that she is not going back to her town until tomorrow morning.
Eventually the conversation was lagging due to her English (or perhaps my lack of bisaya, illongo, or Tagalog, all of which she speaks fluently), so after an hour or so, I thanked her and headed off to do some shopping. Afterwards I felt so bad it churned my stomach.
I am no saint – far from it. I’ve done some really messed up stuff in my life and hurt a good number of people. That said, I just couldn’t find it in myself to take advantage of such an obvious situation just to have myself a little bit of fun. This girl was nice and sweet but obviously desperate to make a good impression on me, going so far as to imply “Hey, let’s go to your place and cement this relationship.” And it wasn’t because I was so gwapo or charming – it was so that she could find someone to help her family out economically and (possibly) increase their perceived social status.
I later found out that a good number of these young woman – mainly the eldest daughters of the family – are under a good deal of pressure to bring home the bacon – hence their 12 plus hour days six or seven days a week. And yes, even though they might not work all that hard, just standing there for 12 hours a day for very little pay is something in and of itself. The more I thought about it the more I realized what a staggering responsibility that was – imagine devoting more of your early life to working long hours to take care of your family…. Ugh.
It was a lot for my little Western mind to take in.
Ultimately the situation left me with a few conclusions. First off, I got big respect for these woman – not just the hours that they work but the sacrifices that they make in providing for their families. Second – and this one comes with a bit of disappointment-based anger – I realized that I’m simply not the type of person that can use my leverage as an apparently wealthy (which I’m not) Kano to take advantage of the one thing that these woman possess as leverage. It’s not because of puritanical values or a lofty sense of morals (I pawned those years ago for a night of beer and strip clubs) – it’s just something that I can’t do. Transactional relationships just aren’t my thing. Finally, the situation left me with a sense of relief – I had learned something important about myself and now these clouds of “what if’s” could finally clear from the sky….
It’s funny – I was talking about my feelings on this with a group of fellow expats this past week. When one of them asked, “What about companionship?” I replied “I’ll just get a dog…..”
One of the (many) things I appreciate about Michell is her work ethic and that she has a job. She also knows just how little money I bring in every week, and with all the other available, much wealthier Filipinos and Westerners around, I know she is not with me just for the money. Michell also has goals for a career – and I want her to continue to be financially independent so that I know she’s with me for the right reasons.
Anyways. I just wanted to say that I can’t do it.
I just frikken can’t.