To love or be loved, that is the question

Published September 8, 2021, 3:00 PM

by AA Patawaran

Our relationships are defined so much more by what we feel toward other people than what those other people are feeling toward us. Agree or disagree?

ASK ME NO MORE, painting by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema

In college, we used to do endless rounds of “Would You Rather” questions and we called it, in the vernacular, “Ano mas gusto mo (Which do you prefer)?” It started when one of our friends—we  would call her Boy Bastos, even if she was a girl—just asked us all of a sudden, “Ano mas gusto mo? Sampu lang ang buhok mo, magkakadikit o magkakahiwalay (Which do you prefer: You only have 10 strands of hair, do you want them together or scattered on your head)?

And so on and on we went with these inane questions, the sillier, the better. It was a great way to start a conversation and keep it going, whether on days off school we were in a private beach cove in Morong, Bataan or a weekend farm in Cabuyao, Laguna or some place in Baguio or the Eagle’s Nest in Antipolo or in Matabungkay, Batangas.

We used to have a lot of time to spend together, weekends and school nights and summers. On schooldays, we would spend as much time just hanging out on the UP-Diliman campus, at the Freshman Assembly tambayan, for instance, just outside the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater on the second floor of Palma Hall or downstairs at the famous AS Steps or our permanent table (about three tables that we claimed as ours) at a campus cafeteria called Greenhouse.

Ours was such a large group that, if only we did anything more socially relevant than endless rounds of tongits (a kind of poker game) or 1…2…3… pass, we could have had a large enough membership to qualify as an organization. We were from different colleges, from architecture to business administration, from biology to psychology to geodetic engineering and industrial design to mass communication. In fact, we had non-UP students in the group, a couple from De La Salle University and Ateneo de Manila University, and quite a few from Assumption College. The Assumptionistas would even hang out with us on campus or even sit in our classes in their colegiala uniforms.

To this day, through time and distance, we are still friends, ninongs and ninangs or titos and titas to each other’s children, cheerleaders and morale boosters and avid supporters of each other’s work or vocation or family—and we still call ourselves Greenhouse, after our UP campus tambayan back in our sophomore days.

SMOKE ME, charcoal sketch by mdangg

Now that we’re spread across the world, across the time zones, we have a Viber group named Greenhouse, where, as in college, we stay in touch. You wake up every morning with something like 200 messages to read just from that Viber group alone, that is if you check for messages every day. If not, I won’t be surprised if you find up to 1,000 messages to back read.

There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. —Carson McCullers

But in our Viber group, we are never alone. You can post a message in the middle of the night and someone in in New York is already trudging through the day or someone is in Iceland solo traveling through Reykjavík to receive your message.

So anyway, back to Ano mas gusto mo: Once, while we were on the floor laughing at the most idiotic dilemmas we could cook up, switching body parts or inventing obscene scenarios, one of us raised his hand and said, “Ano mas gusto mo?” and made us think do we want to love or do we want to be loved, although he made it a little more complicated, the premise being either you love but are not loved or you are loved but you do not love who loves you. Which do you prefer?

It was so serious a break from a time of folly that we could have fallen off our chair laughing, but the one who posed the question was not one you could ridicule like that, so we behaved and, although some of us tried to get us back to wisecracks, we did try to answer honestly. Too bad, I don’t remember what my answer was or what the general answer was, whether on average we wanted to be loved more than we wanted to love.

I Love Couple GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Now that I am older, I think that life really all boils down to our choices. Some choices we make carefully, but most others we choose because it seems the best one or the better one or the only one at the time, and we’re not always aware of the rewards or the consequences that will come to us as a result of that choice.

In high school, for instance, I was assigned a group and since no one was willing to take the leadership role when we were put together, I did and I told them, “Let’s all meet here on Saturday morning.” Come Saturday morning, no one showed up, except this one guy. I could have decided to go home or he could have, but neither of us did and we went out to eat and then to drink and became the best of friends for, like, decades. Think about that the next time you sit beside a stranger and you have the opportunity to make something out of it.

As for that serious question in our silly “Would You Rather” game about 30 years ago, I don’t know, it’s complicated, like love is. But in all honesty I’d rather love than be loved, if the choice is one or the other.  I think of it this way: If I love, whether or not my love is returned, it is a love story, but if I receive love, but do not value it, it’s not a love story, at least not mine. I am not championing selflessness here. All I’m saying is our relationships are defined so much more by what we feel toward other people than what those other people are feeling toward us. Someone can love us so much, but if we don’t love them back, does it matter? There is no love in the moon and the stars we receive if we are looking up to them with our hand cold in the hand of the one who loves us. All the love there is lies in the hand of the one who gives us the moon and the stars, but that love story is theirs, not ours.

Now if they love us so much we learn to love them back, then there’s the twist, but it only begins—as I am trying to point out here—when we start giving that love back, not as a token of gratitude, not for lack of choice, not for appearances, not for practical purposes, not in a marriage of convenience, not as a matter of habit, but because, as Frank Sinatra put it in 1962, “at long last love!”

Let me get back now to our game of inanity, which is how my love-filled Greenhouse group, “The House of Love,” as one of us just called it, played the game when we were young.

Would you rather you were beautiful but cold as fish, cold as dead, cold to the touch or you were ugly but hot and sizzling to the touch, warm as the hearth, explosive, rousing and stirring, your touch electric?

When you answer, keep in mind that this is a love story, OK? Or a bedtime story.