CULTURE

How are we supposed to fall in love now?

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Every kind of romance now feels like a fantasy — even at its most realistic, it feels so removed from reality. Illustration by CNN PHILIPPINES LIFE STAFF

Isolation has only amplified the loneliness many of us have been feeling. I don’t feel lonely exactly, but even while stuck in a house with four other people, two dogs, and an abundance of lizards living on the wall, never have I been more aware of how far-reaching solitude can really be.

But how could I think of romance, of dating, of sex when all I worry about is surviving the next day? There’s no room to satisfy my personal needs when the emotion that rules my waking hours is dread. I am often paralyzed with worry that the next time I check the family Viber chat, I would be met with some degree of distressing news.

Still, the world doesn’t pause for solitary hearts like mine; the desire for companionship remains strong for so many of us. I still have friends who continue to make the most of dating apps — with no clear intention to meet in person, they use the safety of the internet to find a meaningful connection somehow. I know of a couple who met online a month into the enhanced community quarantine; five months ago, they got married while most of their guests watched them on Zoom.

RELATED: The slow dating movement: how COVID-19 changed romance

When I heard about that, I was mildly freaked out. You mean, y’all have been busy falling in love all this time while I was learning how to make banana bread? What the fuck! I thought we were all suffering alone, together. In fact, in a YouTube video by content creator Maddie Dragsbaek, she says, “After like, seven or eight months of quarantine and not speaking to strangers, I can definitively say that I am the horniest person alive. Period.” That can’t be true, I remember saying out loud, because all this time, I thought that was a title held by me.

Dragsbaek’s video is headlined “What to wear on a first date,” and in it she tries on different outfits that she envisions herself wearing when she heads out of her one-bedroom apartment and starts dating again. But it goes beyond discussions of style — the New York-based vlogger weaves thoughtful insights into what dating can be like for a plus-sized person: the insecurity, the fetishization, the disappointment. (It’s a good one.) And before she shows off the outfits she’s prepared, Dragsbaek talks about how much she regrets everything she’s ever said about her city’s dating scene. This time around, she says, she will no longer complain about the silly little things that used to irk her. “I want you to take me on dates for three months and lie to me the whole time!” she yells into the void.

And I hear her alright, but I’m not sure if I share her sentiments.

At this point, it feels like I have unlearned every single bit of knowledge I’ve gained from dating in my twenties. While I certainly feel the natural urges of a person who has been on her own for a good year or so, I can’t seem to put myself in a romantic mindset anymore. It became more apparent when I read the work of Filipino-American author Sarah Smith, who released two romantic comedy books in the past two years: her debut novel “Faker” (2019) and “Simmer Down” (2020).

Sarah Smith's novels feature Hapa women who find love with Caucasian men in their respective workplaces. Photos from PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE

Smith’s novels exist within the same universe, and tells the stories of two Hapa women who find love with Caucasian men in their respective workplaces. In “Faker,” the heroine Emmie is a copywriter for a power tool company who keeps up a tough facade at work, lest she be bullied by her mostly male coworkers. She’s in a battle of wills with social media manager Tate, who is repeatedly referred to as having Thor-like biceps and pale white skin. Oh, and before we forget that Emmie is half-Filipino, she spends a good chunk of her free time watching “Eat Bulaga” reruns on YouTube and cooking pancit for white people as her form of love language.

In “Simmer Down,” we’re brought to Hawaii where we meet Nikki, who eschewed her big city life in Portland to help her mom run a Filipino cuisine food truck. She gets into turf war with the British chef of a rival food truck that serves fish and chips (of course) and they sabotage each other through harmless pranks. At one point she sticks a sign behind his truck that says “Mediocre imperialist cuisine!” which I personally thought would have been a great alternative title of the book.

Seeing it from the lens of someone living through a pandemic, I couldn’t help but feel anxious about all this pre-COVID romantic fiction. What do you mean people go to the office without masks? I can’t feel kilig about a kissing scene if the previous chapter doesn’t involve the main characters getting an RT-PCR test first.

I love enemies to lovers tropes. I love workplace romances. (The answer is yes, my Venus is in Capricorn.) A younger, bouncier, pre-pandemic me would have probably enjoyed these books way more than I did now. Although I had a few raised eyebrow moments in both books, I appreciated how Smith attempted to write from an experience that was true to her. But seeing it from the lens of someone living through a pandemic, I couldn’t help but feel anxious about all this pre-COVID romantic fiction. What do you mean people go to the office without masks? What do you mean people go on vacation in Hawaii and go to nude beaches? I can’t feel kilig about a kissing scene if the previous chapter doesn’t involve the main characters getting an RT-PCR test first.

Every kind of romance now feels like a fantasy — even at its most realistic, it feels so removed from reality. This perhaps, is how despite the weight of solitude boring heavily on me, I can’t imagine putting myself through an actual date to meet a potential partner. There are so many logistics involved that remove all the trappings of excitement and sexiness that used to make the entire exercise actually fun.

To be fair, consuming all this romantic-focused fiction and YouTube content made me reconsider if I am perhaps ready to venture out there, mask, vaccination card, and alcohol spray at the ready. I re-downloaded Bumble with a determination to make a connection. I chose a nice photo and a friendly-ish bio. Two days later, I noped out of that thing and deleted it.

Maybe this feeling won’t stay with me forever — I’d like to hold on to a bit of hope that one of these days, I will no longer view relationships with apprehension. The fear and fatigue might go away soon, and maybe then I will open myself up to the possibility that the love of my life is the owner of a rival food truck, or a broody social media manager with Thor-like biceps. Maybe they will try my pancit and fall in love with me. (Note to self: learn how to make pancit.) But I still can’t shake off the uncertainty that things will never be the same again. When this is all “over,” will things get better? Maybe. Maybe it’ll be worse. It’ll definitely be different. Right now, I don’t know how to feel about such an uncertain future.