Like the word irog, or the gentle strumming of a guitar underneath capiz-laden shutters, or even that Parokya ni Edgar song "Harana," ligaw seems to be a concept so archaic it deserves its own Instagram filter. In today's culture, crows the millennial groupthink, there's "hanging out," "hooking up," or "sexting": Love, as it were, replaced with Likes. Still believe the power of ligaw? You might as well take the "L" from the word and hang it up on your forehead.
For most of my life, I've been terribly bad at getting a girlfriend, a revelation that would probably come as no surprise at all to a few women in and around the greater Manila area. (To them: my apologies.) I've always imagined it was because I was bad at making ligaw, which, in my naive fumbling, was supposed to be the be-all and end-all of Pinay girlfriend-nabbing. My predicaments: Do I ask her for a date before or after I tell her I like her? Were my little surprise gifts not good enough? Were roses too strong a message on Valentine's, or should I have just gone for those...those white things, whatever they're called?
I was concerned, above all, with the "friendship," which announcing your ligaw intention essentially destroys. There's always something deeply romantic about the notion of ligaw. God knows how much our younger selves responded so feelingly to that. But in actual application, it is a very blunt instrument, a very large steamroller that lurks behind a curtain of sweet words and gifts and the gentlemanly way of conducting a courtship. It is absolute, and it takes over your intentions in such a way that it turns you into a thoughtful romantic and a clingy, needy, overbearing sap.
But, to my eternal consternation, I must say: Ligaw is not dead. As long as sappy love songs and romantic notions still exist, it will be alive and kicking. And some girls like that. They'll post Cosmo.ph hugot articles on how they want men to hold doors open for them, or surprise them with flowers, or cover the restaurant bill. But that is not ligaw. For guys that's called being decent, which any guy can be without having to court a girl.
Courting a girl means the guy is only after one thing: her "yes." The stuffy starched shirts and frills of ligaw robs a romance of its nuance ("He asked me out! Does he like me? Is this a date?"), its spontaneity, its butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of "anything can happen." Even rejection is part of that grand, glorious game. I wish I had learned this earlier. Between the casualness of a hookup and the rigidity of ligaw, we should all believe that there should be a middle ground.
This story originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, May 2014.
* Minor edits have been made by Cosmo.ph editors