It was 5 am on October 18, 2015 and I just finished stuffing my travel bag (Technopack) with clothes that I would need for the next three days.
Aside from the Technopack bag, I brought with me a small bag where I hid a stuff toy I secretly bought for Joan as a parting gift at Blue Magic! (So highschool, isn’t it? LOL).
Joan and I would be spending the weekend together for two nights at one of Tagaytay’s most scenic hotels: Taal Vista. We were also planning to do some food trips around the area and make our last few days together special since we were basically clueless when we would meet each other again. It should be fun!
Or so we thought.
What we didn’t see coming that day was a typhoon. What a bummer, right? It crossed our minds to back out of the trip that day due to the bad weather, but we both insisted we would continue with the trip because we had no choice. We couldn’t cancel anymore because the whole trip was already booked and paid for and Joan was flying back to the States in a few days.
We carried on.
At around 7 am, we were already at South Luzon Express Way where we stopped at a petrol station to gas up and also to have breakfast and coffee. Other than the heavy rain, everything was going perfectly as planned.
Going on a trip together, as a couple, is always a great idea. You see, when you plan and go on a trip together, you get the chance to know the other person better. You see how they act when it comes to planning, how they react when they are stressed, and how they behave when they are pressured. It is a venue where you get to see the other person, in the most genuine way, without any sort of “trying hard to impress”. Trips like these as a couple, would allow you to see the true colors of the other person and easily spot any differences in character that you two may have.
It’s like a compatibility test, but in a more fun and informal way.
At around 10 am, we arrived just in time in Tagaytay City. Since it was a Sunday we attended mass at Lourdes Church.
Afterwards, we drove to Sonya’s Garden and had an organic lunch made of veggies and salads. Yes boys, I’m not a huge fan but the healthy choices make up for the bingeing we’ve done in the past few days.
The rain was still heavy and so after we had lunch, we went straight to Taal Vista to check-in, drop our bags, rest and lie down in our room for a while as we wait for dinner time. We booked reservations at the fine dining restaurant Antonio’s and we were both excited to try their famed dishes.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. The rain continued on and on and on. It was virtually non-stop. We were ready to brave the storm to Antonio’s despite the heavy outpour of rain, but after trying to call them to confirm our reservation, they informed us that they would be closing their operations for that day since there was a blackout and they had no power.
Sucks right? Now, what do we do?
Of course there was a change of plans.
As an IT guy, it has always been inculcated in our minds to have backups in case things don’t go well as planned. So I had a plan B, which is to just have dinner at Taal Vista’s Cafe Veranda. We had a sumptuous dinner. Food was great and it compensated for the part of our trip that was cancelled. LOL.
After dinner, we still found ourselves stuck in the hotel, so we just headed to the lobby to listen to a musician playing saxophone. He was playing “Moon River”. Joan and I liked the music because we both grew up listening to classics – thanks to our parents.
Make or Break
As much as we were trying to avoid the topic about our future together, we had to do it in one way or the other.
We were trying to avoid it at all cost because we knew it was going to be one very difficult and tough conversation, but we just had to do it anyway.
In fact, one of the primary reasons why we drove all the way to Tagaytay, was for us to talk about how our relationship would proceed from here without any noise and influence from other people. We wanted to talk about our future, together, as grown-ups. We wanted only the two of us to talk about our next step from here.
And so, I started the conversation by saying what I liked about her, what I didn’t like about her (yes guys, honesty is the best way to make a relationship work) what was important in my life, what are dealbreakers for me and what are not.
She also did the same. She mentioned what she liked about me, what she didn’t like and what I could improve on in the relationship. She mentioned her dealbreakers too.
So far, so good, until I dropped a statement that goes something like this:
Joan, you know I like you and I want to be with you. I mentioned to you that there are things here in the Philippines that are also important to me. My ageing parents, my brother, my career and also my blog, PGG, which is basically my alter ego and one which kept me sane through the years when I was single. I also love my country. If I fly to New York, with you, I lose all that, my identity, my soul and my sanity.
I am sorry, but I cannot move to New York… maybe someday, far in the future that might change. But not in the short term. Not in the next 10 years. Not this time. I just cannot. I’m sorry.
People would think that I’m a fool to blurt out that statement. Perhaps, even you, reading this would think: “What a moron, Chris is! I can’t believe it. How could anyone turn down the opportunity of going to the United States and make a living there, have kids, be rich and not be stuck in a third world country like the Philippines? How could he?”
Yes guys, I fully understand that. I’m aware of it. I’m not a fool. I, too, have said the exact things to myself and even tried to beat myself at one point for making that decision.
What if I was making a huge mistake? – I even told myself.
But before I made up my mind and made that final decision, I prayed to God about it. I asked Him to equip me with the intellect and wisdom to make the right choices on what would be best for me, what would be best for Joan and our future as a family in case things work out.
I made a decision and then I prayed to God for Joan to understand what my decision was, whether it was favorable for her or not. I also thought that if God thinks that we were meant for each other, things should work out and fall into place.
At the end of the day, it’s all about choices and all about what is important to you, what you value in your life and what makes you happy.
I also believe that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
You can make it, wherever you are, as long as you put your heart to it, and believe in your choices.
I then continued by asking Joan:
Would you consider moving back and start a family here in the Philippines?
When I said that, I started to see Joan’s eyes fill with tears. I knew it would be really difficult for her because I put her on a very tough spot. The ball is now on her and she had to choose between two things she loves and two things she worked hard for.
Me or New York City?
New York City is every young person’s dream. Even the song “Empire State of Mind” claims that if you made it there, you can make it anywhere.
She now has to decide whether she would leave all that.
If she picks me, she loses NYC and if she picks NYC, she loses me.
It never occurred to her that she had to choose between work or love. But this time, it happened, just like in movies. Just like in songs.
She paused, then afterwards said:
This is really hard and I know that I can’t change your mind. It looks like you’re already decided.
Here is the thing: I like New York City but it’s not all sunshine and roses.
I love the ease of getting around via the subway, I love the restaurants, I love the views, I love Broadway, I love the big city, I love the four seasons, but I know and I’m fully aware that despite all that, it’s not the best place to build and start a family. The cost of living is too high.
I was smiling and deep inside I was thinking that maybe, she will be convinced to move back here with me, at least for now, to get married, build a family and have kids.
Can you give me two more years, before I come back?
I was extremely frustrated.
Two more years? That is too long! Let’s face it. We are not getting any younger. We’re both 30 now, we’re both ready to settle down and have kids. Or at least, I know that I am.
She responded calmly as tears started to roll down her cheeks:
I’m ready too. It’s just that…
I interrupted with a slightly frustrated voice:
We are not getting younger anymore. And you know that anything could happen in the next two years. What if you meet someone else while you are there? What if I meet someone else when I’m still here? Two years is too long and too difficult for a long distance relationship. We already waited for two years before we got here and you’re saying we wait another two years?
As we were talking at the hotel lobby, the storm outside got stronger, the rain poured out heavier and lightning and thunder started. It felt like the thunder was riding along with our heavy and tough conversation.
She then continued:
It’s not that simple.
I answered back:
What’s not simple? Help me understand.
At this point, she couldn’t handle it, she cried to me. And I got teary-eyed too because I know it’s not easy for her. I hugged her and let her cry on my shoulders while we were at Taal Vista’s lobby.
I then whispered with a calm voice:
I’m sorry I had to put you through this. I’m sorry for making you cry and making life difficult for you. It’s just that this is the crossroad in our relationship that we need to face and the one which would determine how we should move forward. We can’t be forever stuck in a long distance relationship. We both don’t want to and we know that.
She was still crying, breathing heavily and couldn’t say a word.
Every relationship has only two possible endings. There’s the happy ending where the couple gets married, have kids and live happily ever after. Then there’s the sad ending where things don’t go as planned. The couple grows apart, then eventually breaks up and everything falls apart.
At this point, I was losing hope. I thought that the latter is what will happen to us. I thought we were about to break up. I was terrified, but I didn’t know what to do at this point. The words have been uttered and the choices have been made.
Then Joan started speaking:
How much time would you give me?
It was October 2015. I replied to her saying:
Until June 2016 then we could get married at that time.
Joan was frustrated. Still in tears, she replied:
That’s not reasonable! That’s eight months to go. I can’t. I’m not prepared. I have to resign from work there and look for a job and relocate here in the Philippines. And not only that: my New York apartment has a contract until October 2016 and I have to pay thousands of dollars if I don’t finish the contract.
Give me 1 year. Please?
At this point, I thought that 1 year seems to be a reasonable amount of time. Also, I have to compromise something and I believe this is it.
OK, 1 year.
Joan smiled and she said. One more thing. Can you promise to visit me in New York in the next few months before I come home to the Philippines?
I promise. You have my word.
A Brighter Day
The following day was a brighter day for us. As we opened our hotel room’s window, we were happy to see that the storm has passed and the sun was up.
Not only was it literally a sunny day, it was a brighter day for us too, figuratively. Because the storm had passed in our relationship and we were now laser-focused on what we wanted to do in the future and to which direction we wanted to go. We’ve both decided that Joan would move back on the following year and we would stay here in the Philippines and build a family here. And as promised, I would be visiting her in New York City before she returns to Manila.
We both knew and were fully aware that people (friends and family included) may agree or disagree or have something to say about our decision. We respected whatever that was, but we also hoped that they would respect our decision because that was based on what we thought was best for both of us given the situation.
During our last day in Tagaytay, we had breakfast at the hotel, and we began opening up more and becoming transparent about every aspect of our lives. I told her how much savings I had in the bank and she did the same. We talked about our salaries and Joan’s plans on how to tell her boss about her moving back to Manila. We also talked about how to plan the next year because we knew it was going to be a real struggle and a lot of hard work especially on Joan’s part but I assured her that I would do everything I could to help her and be on her side as we sort and figure how things will pan out. I promised her that we would make it all work together.
Now since the beginning of our relationship in 2014, I haven’t explicitly said “I Love You” to her.
Surprised? I knew you would be but I had my reasons.
The reason why I didn’t say it is because I wanted to make it special. I wanted to say it the first time face-to-face and not via chat or via video call to see her reaction and make it more memorable. I knew she was waiting for me to say it first but I was reserving it until this time.
And so, before we checked-out of the hotel, I pulled out the stuff toy I bought at Blue Magic which I was hiding from her the whole trip. The stuff toy was a white bear which has a rose in its hand and a heart inscribed with the words she had been dying to hear. As I handed over the gift, I said “I Love You!” and teary-eyed she said to me: “I Love You too.”
I told Joan to bring the stuff toy with her to New York City when she flies back and hug it whenever she feels lonely or whenever she misses me. She laughed and said that yes, she would definitely bring it.
Before we left Tagaytay, we went to Sky Ranch and rode the giant ferris wheel. This was where this memorable photo was taken.
In the next couple of days, we found ourselves, again at the airport. Yes, it would be a long distance relationship again, for one last year, but we are pretty satisfied that we had something real and something tangible to look forward to. Because now we know that we are on the same boat and headed for the same direction.
As I waved goodbye to Joan at the airport I whispered to myself:
“Here we go again. One more year of LDR”
Now as I walked towards my Uber which was waiting for me to take me back to my apartment, there was something that started to brew in my mind. Something I knew I had to do the next time we meet.
To be continued here…