I can still remember how I met Mark*. It was back in 2004 when I was 23. I was about to break up with my cheating boyfriend, and my friends took me to the beach to help me clear my head.
My vacation wasn’t going well because my cellphone and camera were stolen while drinking at the bar. Instead of heading back to the hotel room to sulk, I decided to dance the night away. Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but I spotted the hottest guy in the beach. He was 6 feet tall, chiseled, and looked mysterious under his bucket hat.
“Ask him to dance with you,” my gay friends told me. “No way!” I said, but I wouldn’t stop staring at him from afar. I took a shot of tequila and mustered the guts to walk up to his table. “Wanna dance?” I asked. He looked surprised. I felt like he was about to reject me, so I grabbed his hand and said, “C’mon, let’s go.” I felt so confident. It was the first time I did something like that.
Mark looked like a half-Latino model—abs and all. We had small talk while dancing. I found out he was indeed a model. He asked for my number. I told him that my phone was just stolen. He looked at me like I was lying. We went back to our tables. I was sad that this could just be one of those summer stories you tell your friends, and you never see the guy again.
Moments later, he and his friends stood up. He went up to me, whispered to my ear, “Ito pala number ko,” and gave me a small slip of paper with his name and mobile number on it. I played it cool and said, “Thanks!” I watched Mark walk away with his posse. My heart pounded with excitement. It’s like I was 16 again.
Back in Manila, I finally broke up with my boyfriend. Weeks later, I kept looking at that slip of paper Mark gave me. My friends nudged me to finally text him. And I did. “Hi. Is this Mark?” I typed. His reply, “Hu u?” Cringe. I explained that I was the girl he met at the beach, and soon we were texting daily.
He asked me out on a date. I prayed that it wasn’t just intoxication that made him look hot at the beach. When I met him at the mall, his toned bod and killer smile were just as I remembered, only this time he was in jeans and a white polo instead of a tank and board shorts. I swooned. It’s like he just stepped off the runway. We had dinner and coffee.
Weeks later our relationship was official. My family liked him because he was kind, soft-spoken, and thoughtful. The first few months were like scenes from a romance chick flick. He showered me with presents, took me on dates at the park and zoo, and we would give each other CD compilations of our favorite R&B songs.
He loved shopping, and I didn’t even have to teach him about fashion, unlike previous boyfriends. His sense of style came straight from a magazine spread. He looked like a mannequin with clothes that seemed tailored to his chiseled frame. He always smelled good, and his resting broody face always looked like it was ready for a photo shoot.
Had Instagram been invented during that era, we would have been one of those annoying couples who took too many PDA selfies. I’m usually the non-romantic 500 Days of Summer type of girl, but with him it was like living an alter ego.
He was a budding chef, so he would pack gourmet meals for me to eat at my office where I was an editorial assistant. Imagine me opening a plastic container with grilled New Orleans-style shrimp with lemon butter. My officemates asked me who made my lunch, and I pointed to the hot fashion model that had just walked into my cubicle to visit me. My gay officemate from the other table kept saying, “Ang gwapo naman!” while my female editor had something else to say: “I feel like he’s the Kevin Federline to your Britney.” Ouch.
We were both budding models at that time, but because I had to focus on my day job and had gained a little weight from work stress, I couldn’t attend as many VTRs and go-sees as he did. Mark did ramp modeling full-time while waiting to get a job as a sous chef.
I remember one particular date we had. We were walking in a mall when a modeling agent discovered us. From that day on, we would jokingly refer to our dates as, “Rarampa ba tayo?” which meant that we would dress in stylish outfits and sashay down the mall in hopes of getting discovered by talent agents. And they often did approach us, although it was mostly him that got the attention.
The gay talent managers often treated me like the “saling pusa.” We would both get invited to test shoots, but I noticed that they’d spend only 15 minutes to take my photos, but with him they spent 1-2 hours, complete with stylists and modeling coaches.
Whenever I watched his fashion shows, I could spot female models and managers flirting with Mark backstage. He had a lot of secret admirers who pestered him via text and drop-calls. He always reassured me that he wasn’t the type to fool around with other girls on the side or sleep with talent managers just to book bigger gigs. Yes, some of his colleagues did that.
In fact, I learned a lot about the ugly side of modeling from Mark’s backstage stories. He said that while some models can eat whatever they want without gaining a single pound, others resort to bulimia and anorexia to stay waif-thin. “Sobrang common noon,” he told me.
One time I caught him taking a suspicious-looking pill after dinner. He disposed the packaging under the plate and I took it when he wasn’t looking. I looked it up online and found out that it’s a hypertension pill that some athletes use to boost their workout performance.
I confronted him about it and he promised he would never do it again. He then came clean and told me about the craziest regimens his co-models do just to stay fit. Some abuse drugs; others resort to steroids and supplements, while many have eating disorders. “Minsan kasi hindi talaga enough 'yung diet and workout lang,” he said. He started naming celebrities and famous models whose bodies are the results of steroids.
Whenever we went out, I often saw people ogling at him, but I was proud to be with my handsome man. Whenever he kissed my cheek in public and lifted me a la Ryan Gosling and Emma Watson in Crazy, Stupid Love or “I-Dawn Zulueta mo ako” (for a more local reference), I felt euphoric.
But soon the honeymoon stage was over. I started looking beyond the sweet nothings and picture-perfect snapshots. I realized that we had nothing deep to talk about. Our conversations were about repetitive mundane things. We had a lot of cricket moments (complete silence) after we’d give each other a rundown of our day. Mark’s supermodel smile and hand reaching across the dinner table to touch mine were no longer enough to keep the fire. I was bored.
I suddenly looked forward to meeting other friends to have intellectual conversations, or to just have someone to understand my weird, dorky quips about life. My first language is English, but because Mark preferred speaking in Tagalog, I had to tone things down and translate everything in my head. We were able to converse decently, but I felt that my humor and wit got lost in translation.
I tried to make him read the articles I wrote, in hopes that he’d see a different layer to me. His reply, “Hindi talaga ako mahilig magbasa eh. Basta nakikita ko na pangalan mo dun, okay na ako. Masaya na ako at proud ako sa'yo.” I didn’t know what to feel.
Soon he found a job abroad, and we had a long-distance relationship. He wasn’t a techie, so he refused to open a Friendster account (pre-Facebook era) or learn Yahoo Messenger. We had to settle for expensive phone calls. I got frustrated at the limited topics we could talk about. I was dying to have an intellectual conversation, but I knew I couldn’t blame Mark because that simply wasn’t who he is.
I cried because I knew I wasn’t happy and had to break it off, but I did not want to insult him by saying that I couldn’t find depth in our conversations. He was kind, thoughtful, and did everything he could for me, like call me every day and constantly reassure me that he loved and missed me, but there was a big chunk missing from our relationship—depth.
So I lied. I said that I was breaking up with him because couldn’t handle the long distance thing anymore. I said I wanted to remain good friends, but instead he went home for a vacation to try to win me back.
As soon as I saw him again in person, the familiar butterflies came back, which is how I realized that my attraction to him was more on the shallow aspect—his good looks, the romantic walks, and all the sweet nothings we had. But beyond that, he didn’t really see the deeper levels of my personality. I asked myself, “Is this the man you want to grow old with and have endless conversations with?”
My heart said no.
So I broke it off for good. He got mad at me for not trying hard enough and not appreciating all his efforts. I apologized, but he stopped returning my calls and texts. A few years later, I found out he quit modeling for good and got married abroad.
In the meantime, I explored the dating scene. I dated different kinds of guys until I met the love of my life, Miguel*, in 2010. He’s not the model type, but with him I learned that falling and staying love goes beyond just good looks.
It’s about finding someone who attracts you physically, emotionally, and intellectually. It’s about being with someone who complements your personality and cliché as it may sound, makes you a better person. I sincerely hope Mark found the same.
*Names have been changed