May 17, 2008

Looking for love on the world wide web

Something Like Life
May 16, 2008

WHEN I interviewed them, I was almost half-annoyed as they absentmindedly gazed into each other’s eyes, held hands and gave each other affectionate pats. They playfully bantered and laughed at each other’s funny—and not-so-funny—remarks. “Inggit ka lang!” the voice in my head jeered. And I couldn’t help but chuckle myself. Cerisse and Lucas looked as though they’d been together for quite a while, as there was a certain tender acceptance of each other like a long-time married couple. I thought of my own parents, who had their own nasty spats which none of us kids could stand. But still, when it was just them alone—or so they thought—I would observe them quietly just sitting on the couch watching TV and joshing each other with affection.

As for Cerisse and Lucas, they had only known each other for a year and were already thinking of getting married as soon as Cerisse’s annulment from her ex came through. They are some of the growing number of couples who met and dated via the Internet, and subsequently gotten married or are thinking of making their relationships permanent.

Just a year before, Lucas was chilly in merry old England sitting at his computer linked to a chat application and typed: “Are there any lonely ladies out there?” Cerisse, at her own PC trying to beat the heat and humidity of Manila, responded.

I googled for data on Internet romances and cyber love, but unfortunately, couldn’t find any to show just how many have gotten hitched in this manner. However, according to a US News and World report cited by an ongoing research on online dating at the University of California-Berkeley, “In August 2003 alone, 40 million unique users visited online-dating sites in the United States alone...that’s about half the number of single adults in the US.” As of August 2005 there were about 1,000 online-dating sites with a number of them devoting themselves to specific racial types, geography and age groups. So it appears that more and more people are turning to the World Wide Web to find true love and their happy ever after.

Because of growing Internet usage, the computer has become a powerful tool enabling people from literally every corner of the globe to “connect” and carry on long conversations and even relationships with the click of a mouse. Already, certain applications enable one to “chat” via the Internet using one’s cell phone, further extending the possibilities of carrying on cyber romances.

Sixty-four and twice divorced, Lucas is giving up what many perceive as a comfortable retiree’s life in England for the smog and traffic of Manila just to be with Cerisse.

Cerisse, 14 years younger than Lucas, braved criticism from her own family, especially from her older brother who now stands as the patriarch, just to be with her man.

Lucas said he didn’t go online to land himself another wife; after all, he already had been married twice before and they ended up with a lot of heartaches. But he was thrilled at meeting Cerisse “because she was on the other side of the world.”

As for Cerisse, she was just incredibly joyful for having found Lucas because he was “so mabait.”

There was just that immediate “connection” once they started chatting online after a couple of e-mail exchanges. “I know what he’s going to say even before he says it,” laughed Cerisse.

They added that from the very beginning, they never told any lies to each other. They bared their backgrounds, told each other stories about their lives, their families, their jobs, etc.

“Cerisse mentioned something about soul-mates and after what’s happened [us hooking up with each other], I think it might be true,” Lucas added.

As with any relationship, of course, Cerisse and Lucas’ is not without hitches.

As mentioned earlier, Cerisse’s brother was initially vehemently against the relationship and even had Lucas investigated by the London police. “He thought I was after her money,” Lucas chuckled. “What money?” Cerisse said under her breath, bristling at the thought. But Lucas said he understood her brother. “Putting myself in his shoes, I would do the same,” he told Cerisse gently. “He was just trying to protect you.”

On the other hand, Cerisse’s other siblings were more supportive. They even tried to convince the eldest to leave her alone, as she was old enough to make decisions in her life. Her own son also had her back and just wanted to see his mother take another chance in a relationship she seems happy in.

When Lucas first visited Manila and met Cerisse’s family for the first time, he didn’t know what to expect. Her siblings sat him down and tried to discourage him from marrying Cerisse because of the mistakes she made, especially in her first marriage. But he remained unfazed because he already knew about all that.

He eventually got around to speaking with the family patriarch and bared his plans and his feelings for Cerisse. Grudgingly, her brother realized that his opposition to the relationship was futile. Besides, Cerisse said, “it would have split the family,” which was very important to her brother.

Back for another visit, Lucas said he hardly agonized over his decision to marry Cerisse. “I honestly believe I’ve never been in love before.”

His sons didn’t have any objections to the relationship, but it was Lucas’s sister who told him he had to be the one to make adjustments in his relationship to Cerisse because of her different cultural background. “Because she speaks English, I tend to forget she’s different. And my sister told me, for it [the relationship] to be successful, I’ve got to be the one to change.”

Of course, Lucas has already undergone his baptism by fire, getting a taste of life with the extended Filipino family. But he is accepting of this and is prepared to make the move to the Philippines.

As we walked down the street to hail a cab, I sneaked a look behind me and saw the couple holding hands and giggling like teenagers. If I could have some of that, I thought, maybe I should get on one of those online-dating sites fast. Hmmm....

(My column Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

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