The evolution of Pinoy courtship

Photos by Keith Calayag via

Photos by Keith Calayag via

By Leslie Anne Mahusay and Alexis Romero/ – When Saturnino Yumul was courting his future wife Linda in the 70s, he was not allowed to bring her out to a date.

“We did not go out on a date. It was prohibited then,” the 63-year old Kapampangan said in Filipino.

It wasn’t clear why dating was a taboo that time but Saturnino still followed his elders.

“I was still studying then so I would only visit her every other week. When we became a couple, I would visit her every Sunday,” Saturnino said.

“We met in her house. We never went out, not even once,” he added.

It took six months before Linda accepted Saturnino’s offer of love. They got married nine months later. Saturnino and Linda claimed that in their 43 years of being together, they never had a serious quarrel.

Unlike Saturnino, 21-year-old Sam does not need to wait for two weeks before he sees or talks to his girlfriend Nicole again.

“When I was still courting her, I would wait for her in her school everyday and then bring her home. After that, we would talk again through Facebook and sometimes through Skype,” Sam said.

“Sometimes, (our online chats) lasted until dawn,” he added.

Sam would also fetch Nicole when she is sick or when no one else is available to do it. His strategy seemed to have worked as it did not take too long before he got the “yes” that he longed for.

“I courted her in October 2012 and we became a couple in January 2013,” he said.

The experiences of the two couples showed how technology changed courtship and relationships in a country where strong family ties and traditions are valued.

And while technology has made it easier to express one’s feelings, some experts believe it could also create distracted lovers who hide behind virtual identities that do not represent who they really are.

Handkerchief and firewood

Xiao Chua, a history professor at De La Salle University, said lovers back then had to abide with rigid courtship practices.

“Before, lovers could not hold hands easily. Now, it is allowed … A male lover should go to the house (of his beloved) and chop firewood,” he said.

During the time of the Spaniards, young ladies expressed their feelings through handkerchief gestures as they were expected to be quiet.

“If you kissed a lady then, you were supposed to marry her,” Chua said.

Courtship became more democratic as the stringent rules imposed previously on lovers were set aside.

“My concern is couples do not appreciate the place of courtship. During my time, you have to go to the girl’s house but now courtship can happen anywhere. It’s a more democratic manner of courtship,” said Michael Demetrius Asis, theology professor at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Chua said one of the things technology took away was the art of writing letters, an expression of love used by many prominent Filipinos including Jose Rizal.

“The effort to come up with a beautiful poem or letter is disappearing. In text messaging, what you see is what you get,” the historian said.

“Couples can now talk real time. It’s also easy to flirt through text messaging unlike Rizal who really exerted effort to come up with well-written letters,” he added. “The lives of people are becoming fast-paced. We live in a complicated world.”

‘Connected but disconnected’

Lloyd Luna, life coach and author of the book “Why Am I in Love with You?” said technology has destroyed the traditional way by which Filipinos relate to each other.

“Now, everybody has an iPad, an iPhone, Samsung Android phone and they no longer talk even if they are at the dinner table,” Luna said.

“We can now communicate with our friends and loved ones cheaply. Somehow, we are connected but on the other hand, we are also disconnected,” he added.

Luna said one cannot really be intimate in the Internet because it lacks physical interaction.

“You are just talking about words and emoticons. These are not real emotions. You cannot look directly in the eye even if you are using Skype,” he added.

Luna noted that while it is now easier to meet people, it is more difficult to gauge sincerity.

“I think the keyword is easy, you can literally get a girlfriend in a minute or two or three just open your Facebook and chat and find a good-looking girl who became good-looking because of Camera 360,” Luna said.

“It also brings about a difficult situation. You entered into a relationship but you are not really sure about it. You do not know the level of sincerity. Appreciation has become shallow,” he added.

“Before, people invest a lot of effort. You have to commute to bring her gifts. Now, you just have to send an emoticon through Facebook.”

Modern gadgets, Luna said, could also create distractions that would affect a couple’s quality time for each other.

“Before, the only distraction was when an attractive girl passes by and the boy looks at her. Now, aside from pretty girls passing by, you also have an image of an attractive girl in your news feed,” he said.

“The value of intimacy is very high now. Quality time is now expensive because our attention span has shortened.”

Virtual identities

Modern means of communication also allow people to assume different identities and embolden them to say things they would otherwise keep to themselves.

Jason Principe, author of the book “Bakit Masakit Magmahal?” said this creates a façade that does not necessarily reflect one’s true self.

“Before, there were a lot of personal interactions, a lot of face-to-face encounters. For me, it was better. Now, some people could represent themselves as this kind of person with their profile picture in a different angle,” said Principe, whose company Trance Manila offers hypnotherapy services on self-esteem issues.

“People have a façade wherein some people are good at texting or good at chatting or good at internet gaming but once they’re face-to-face with another person, they’re not that good and that is somewhat frustrating for women,” he added.

Ironically, the same technology that enabled shy types to express their feelings can also create individuals who are not confident enough to face other people.

“If men rely on the internet, their confidence might not be that good and it might be passed on to future generations and the future generations can’t talk to other people and can’t express themselves really confidently,” Principle said.

Experts, however, clarified that the manner of expressing love does not determine the success of relationships.

“It’s not up to technology, it’s up to the person,” said entertainment personality and academic Ramon Bautista, author of comedic best sellers “Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo?” and “Help! Ayoko Na Sa Syota Ko!”

“The old-fashioned and the new style are basically the same. Only the medium used is different,” he added.

Bautista said shorter attention spans would not be an issue if one is determined to enter into a serious relationship.

For his part, Luna said the success of a relationship is dependent on the depth of conversation among couples and not the manner by which they communicate. He noted that some relationships work even if they blossomed online.

“It’s always a case-to-case basis,” he said.

Principe agreed, adding that it’s also about knowing one’s intentions towards another.

“If you know what you really value, if you met him on the internet and you find that person to be the right one for you, it doesn’t matter,” Principe said.

“If you know what you want and you know what you need and another person can provide that it would be a long-lasting relationship,” he added.

Will traditional courtship die?

Experts are divided on whether the traditional way of courtship would survive in the age of smart phones and instant online messaging.

Luna said the traditional way of courtship would eventually die a natural death.

“Probably it will survive but generally, I think it will die because fewer people are practicing it and each generation has it own requirement,” Luna said.

“Even if you want the traditional way, you probably won’t pursue it if the girl you like prefers technology … I guess it will die a natural death as the requirement changes,” he added.

Despite the availability of advanced communication gadgets, Luna believes couples need a little time away from each other.

“Give yourselves a break. It doesn’t mean that you are connected, you have the license to know what your partner is doing by the minute,” he said.

“Find time to turn off your social media or cell phone.”

Asis said the old-fashioned way of courtship would remain in the future but the process would be shorter.

“There will be families who will remain conservative. I think couples will take it upon themselves to shorten the process,” the theology professor said.

“Before it [would take] months or years, now it takes days. In the future the courtship process would be shorter and shorter,” he added.

Asis also sees changes in gender roles as women become more expressive of their feelings.

Bautista commented more Filipinos would rely on websites and mobile technology to satisfy their need for intimacy.

“That is the option for the shy types while many others are too busy or cannot leave their homes,” Bautista said.

“People are more open to courtship, sex and intimacy. We watch a lot of things in YouTube and the new media so those who project themselves to be conservatives will be more open-minded somehow,” he added.

For Principe, the old-fashioned courtship is here to stay because face-to-face interactions cannot be replaced by virtual ones.

“There’s a big difference between a person exerting that much of an effort on the person they really like or love,” Principe said.

“No amount of chat, no amount of fun could replace a person giving you gifts, making you feel like a princess in front of other people face-to-face.”

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