Table for One

BOHOL, PHILIPPINES – As I write this, I’m sipping native (Filipino) hot chocolate while listening to the crashing of waves in Panglao Island in Bohol, a popular tourist province in the Philippines. I was here to attend a tech conference called Geeks on a Beach then decided to extend my stay and take some time to think and write.

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I’m here on my own, and it’s become apparent that locals don’t know what to make of a woman traveling all by herself in these parts.

While I was checking in at the Bohol Bee Farm, there was an automatically-filled-out form that indicated, “2 pax.” I corrected it, crossing out the “2” to scribble, “1.” They still put “2” on the computer. Then when the porter came to take my bags, he asked where my companion was. When I told him I was traveling alone, he said in Filipino, “Oh, I thought you had a partner.”

And in the car on my way here, the driver wondered out loud why I was on my own. “Usually, the Filipina passengers here come with foreigners.”

There are times when that stereotype irks me, but because I have been dating non-Filipinos over the past couple of years, and because I don’t see myself being with a Filipino man ever again (let’s save this for another blog post), I had to mentally stop myself from feeling judged.

And while I was getting dinner last night and breakfast this morning, I got awkward looks for requesting for a table for one. I seem to be the only person in the entire resort who is dining on her own.

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Table for One. Taken at the Bohol Bee Farm. Photo by Niña Terol.

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In writing this, I’m expressing my amusement over the expectation that women should be traveling or dining with someone. (Does it apply to men?, I wonder.) Maybe it’s because that’s what people have gotten used to for centuries, so I can’t blame them. But I’m also writing this to say that, in fact, I thoroughly enjoy being on my own. I wish more restaurants and cafés had Tables for One so that people like me can take their places in these establishments without feeling guilty over occupying a table for two or four.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still very much a hopeless romantic and still have hopes of finding a good partner in the near future, but being at peace with my solitude also means several things:

1. It means I’m at peace with myself and can stand solitude and silence without the need for distractions. (Unless you consider writing to be a distraction.)

2. It also means that I’m more purposive about the time I spend with others. If I invite you into my life and spend time with you, it’s because I value your company and am choosing time with you over other things. I interact–and live–by design, not by default.

3. I also don’t do things out of loneliness, so I doubt that I’ll be clingy. Yes, I do get lonely, but I won’t do things “just to have someone there.”

4. I won’t need you–or anyone else–to “complete me.” (Shudder.) And vice-versa. I believe that a healthy relationship is one where two healthy wholes come together to share who they are with each other, like a nice Venn diagram of intersecting circles. (Sorry, that was a geeky way of putting it, but I’m a nerd, so there.) I won’t expect you to fill my gaps, because I should do that myself, so don’t expect me to do that for you as well.

(And yes, we can complement each other, but we should “complete” ourselves and not expect anyone else to do it for us. I’ve learned that the hard, painful, gut-wrenching way.)

5. I take my time seriously and respect others’ time. We all have only 24 hours in a day and a gazillion things to attend to. If we decide to do things together, I will be there on time and I will make it count. I will value the time you choose to spend with me because time is the one thing you can never, ever get back.

6. I won’t play games–ever. There are so many more important things to do than that, seriously.

7. All this also means that I’m probably a bit too independent, a bit too strong-willed, and a bit too “intense” (as one guy I’d dated had once told me). But, hey, that’s what you get when you find people who are at peace with themselves. They won’t try to please others just to be “liked” or to have company.

8. I also take seriously the time that I spend working on myself and making my life count, so I will tend to make my own plans that don’t involve others. While I do consider the input of family, loved ones, and trusted colleagues, I won’t necessarily wait for “approval” or, worse, “permission” in order to take a particular course of action.

In saying all these, am I therefore scaring people away and setting myself up for a lifetime of solitude? I don’t know, and I certainly hope not. I believe that people of the same “frequency” will naturally gravitate towards each other and find reasons to be in each other’s lives. In the meantime, I shall enjoy this precious time bonding with myself and will be deeply grateful for the ability to do so.🙂

One Mom, Three Dads: Lessons on Love, Forgiveness, and Family from Mom and our Extremely “Modern Family”

“For me, love always wins—which is why I have three children with three different dads.”

This was how my mom began her speech during my sister’s wedding—tongue-in-cheek and irreverent, with the kind of wry, self-deprecating humor my siblings and I were raised with.

It was an apt opening, too, for the “wedding” we were in was one not sanctioned by either Church or State; it was a “commitment ceremony” that my sister and her female partner chose to undergo, to seal their love for and commitment to each other.

LOVE WINS. The Terol family (right) with the Garcia family at the Terol-Garcia commitment ceremony in March 2016

LOVE WINS. The Terol family (right) with the Garcia family at the Terol-Garcia commitment ceremony in March 2016

Mom was right: in our family, love always wins.

* * *

Biologically, my siblings and I are all half-siblings with a multi-cultural twist: my biological father is British, my younger sister’s biological father (whom my mom married and who gave us all his surname, Terol) is Filipino-Spanish, and our youngest brother’s biological father is Australian. Despite the genetic differences and despite the fact that none of her relationships with our fathers worked out, Mom raised us all as one tight unit. As far as we all were concerned, we are siblings who came from one womb; we were raised by one strong woman whom we will love and protect; and we will always have each other no matter what happens.

Niña with her siblings Ena (right) and Alex (top-left)

WHAT?? WE HAVE DIFFERENT DADS?? Niña with her siblings Ena (right) and Alex (top-left)

DIFFERENT DNA STRANDS FROM ONE WOMB. Ena, Niña, and Alex in their work outfits.

DIFFERENT DNA STRANDS FROM ONE WOMB. Ena, Niña, and Alex in their work outfits.

And even when we discovered that we (technically, just my sister) had a half-sister on our dad’s side (technically, just my sister’s dad, but we grew up with him as “Dad”, so this should simplify things), my mom welcomed her into our home with open arms, too. We had play dates and sleepovers, and there were times during our childhood when we kids would be happily playing in the room while our moms were chatting away in the living room like old friends.

Those early memories gave me a glimpse of the kind of woman that my mom was: magnanimous, forgiving, and very open-minded. For her, our dad’s past was really all in the past; what matters was that we kids grew up knowing each other as siblings and without any issues among us.

“None of you asked to be born this way,” Mom would say. “The adults’ issues are our issues—we should leave you kids out of it.”

* * *

In 2001, my mom had a series of mild strokes that had her (and me as her caregiver) going in and out of the hospital for weeks at a time. The reality of mortality dawned on her, and she called for a family meeting that involved everyone—including our dad’s partner at the time.

“If something happens to me, you’re going to have to learn to live with her as your dad’s partner,” Mom had told me then. “So she has to be part of the family meeting—and you have to build a relationship with her.”

It felt strange that my mom didn’t think it disloyal for us to spend time with our dad’s partner, but it also gave me a sense of relief. Throughout my college and early adult days, when I was getting really close to our dad and rebuilding a relationship with him, I also softened up on his partner and began treating her as a tita and a friend. There was girl talk and adult talk between us, and I started accepting that if our dad loved her, then we should at least get to know her, too. Knowing that this wasn’t a “sin” in my mom’s eyes lifted a huge burden on my shoulders, and allowed me to accept and love them all as human beings—and as part of a circle of love that, in the end, was going to be good for us kids, too.

The scenarios and characters have since changed, but those days taught me important lessons in openness, non-judgment, forgiveness, and compassion.

* * *

Our family has had more than its share of drama, but to me, what really defines us is how we turned a horrifying event into one of our greatest blessings ever.

In 1999, my then 16-year-old sister conceived a child out of one of the worst things that can happen to any female (and one that I wouldn’t wish on any human being, even as a joke). Our parents were outraged and heartbroken, but we did what we’ve always done in times of extreme hardship: we rallied together and made sure that my sister and her baby would feel our love and care when they needed us most.

The journey certainly hasn’t been easy. My parents lost the cases that they filed against the perpetrator; our family had to move several times in the years that followed that, to avoid being followed and harassed; and, in the meantime, we had a little girl to raise in a world that we knew was far from ideal. Through it all, my mom became my niece’s staunchest protector and her second mom.

When my niece was seven, my friends asked her who her best friend was. “My Mamang (what she calls our mom) is my best friend,” she said matter-of-factly.

At every point that my sister and my niece needed my mom, she was there. She was there when we needed to explain some of life’s toughest realities to my niece—when she finally learned about her birth history, her mom’s gender identity, and a host of other issues that must have been overwhelming for a child. My mom has been my niece’s dearest mentor and most ardent cheerleader, all the while showing us, her own children, what it means to always expand the heart’s capacity to forgive, love, and care.

Now that my niece herself is 16, we ask her what her friends think of her quirky “modern family.”

“They think we’re cool,” she says. I once asked her if she had ever been bullied because of her family background, and her answer had been, “I won’t let anybody bully me, Nini. Don’t worry.”

THIS QUIRKY FAMILY IN BALI, 2015.

THIS QUIRKY FAMILY IN BALI, 2015.

To me, THIS is my mom’s greatest victory: that our family has been able to raise a teenager with the kind of confidence and self-assuredness that can only come from a sense of security—despite all our issues and struggles. “It takes a village to raise a child,” a saying goes, and I know this to be true because of how my mom has raised us all and how, in turn, the whole family is working together to raise my niece.

* * *

“Different strokes for different folks.” This is how my mom would define her parenting style, and was her line of defense whenever I’d ask her why she’d treat me and my siblings differently. Instead of adopting the same parenting style and the same cookie-cutter methods to me and my siblings—and, now, my niece, too—my mom would always treat us as individuals and give us what she thought was best for us, irrespective of what the other family member did or had.

In hindsight, it was this respect for our own individuality that made us all the strong, driven, and independent people that we are today. Mom never lorded over us “because she was the mom.” She always gave us enough space to explore, learn, get hurt, get back up, and learn and explore all over again. She respected our individual choices and decisions, but was always there whenever we needed back up. She never said, “I told you so,” (that was most often me, the ate, saying it) but she would simply open her arms to us whenever we needed her. She is far from perfect—and it was, perhaps, her flaws, too, that forced us all to grow up sooner than later and be as independent as we could be early on in life—but she was always loving. Always.

 * * *

Our family is far from the textbook-type of family you’d be proud to introduce to your parents. We would need more footnotes and disclaimers and would probably require our own user’s guide. You’d need to be more politically correct with us, even if we’re as politically incorrect as it can get, because we’ve shattered way too many taboos. But my mother has raised us all to turn our potential weaknesses into some of our greatest strengths, and if there’s one thing you need to learn about us, it is this: we probably love more deeply, more intensely, and more loudly and expressively that most families because in here, in our family, love always, always wins.

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THE TEROLS on an impromptu workday lunch, April 2016

Date a Man for Breakfast

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Date a man for (Sunday) breakfast, and see if he keeps his word and respects your time enough to show up at 8AM–or even shortly before that–even after he stayed up late (studying and meeting deadlines) on a Saturday night.

Date a man for breakfast, and get to see him in the full light of day, with the sun shining on his face, with his laugh lines and silver strands visible, and with his every expression as transparent as the windows of the café.

Date a man for breakfast, and get to know him without the veil of alcohol, without a layer of booze-induced bravado, and without the fear that all he’s after is what’s under the breakfast table.

Date a man for breakfast, and expect nothing but good food and good conversation. Observe how he begins his day; take note of the flavors that satisfy his palate; and see if he listens fully, with his eyes aside from just his ears.

Date a man for breakfast, and be at your most natural and most unguarded, too. Order a hearty omelette instead of a healthy salad; drink hot chocolate instead of red wine; and be candid and playful and sunshiney as you’d like to be–because that’s how you are and that’s how you’d like to be seen.

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Date a man for breakfast, and you’ll soon discover if he makes you feel completely at ease–enough to share life details and family photos, random hopes and dreams, and candid ideas for your next meal together (even if you’re not sure when or how you’re ever going to see each other again).

Date a man for breakfast, at a quaint and lovely café you’re both trying for the first time. Hop on the back of his vintage motorbike and see his city through his eyes, in a way even he hasn’t seen yet before. Make a shared memory you would both like to keep, and you will soon wish you had more time for more moments that you’d like to make with him.

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And after that date, wish for a miracle, and pray, and allow serendipity to unfold.

Because if you’re lucky–extremely, extremely lucky–you’ll soon find him on a plane en route to your city, where you can make plans for more than just a breakfast date.

When that happens, don’t let that rare chance pass you by. Go out on a limb to get to know him, and you’ll soon discover that there is more to him–and more to you both–than just a breakfast date at a quiet café named Hideaway.

Let the early-morning breakfasts roll into leisurely lunches; let the afternoon walks turn into dinner talks. Take the time–really take the time–to know what else is beautiful and rare and true about the person in front of you.

You might soon discover that, more than your complementary tastes in music and movies and poetry (!), you also know a thing or two about having loved and lost and given it all; or that you share similar values at home and at work; or that you can have the most fun just staring at a volcano and making up silly stories, or playing board games that let you conquer or save the world.

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You just might find someone who holds your hand in just the right way, someone you’d love to share your joys with, someone you’re not afraid to cry with, someone who makes you believe that you can still fulfill those deeply-buried and almost-forgotten dreams– because he sees it in you and you believe in what he sees.

And yet again, you’ll find yourself wishing for more time, because you’ve found somebody who makes you unafraid to fully love again.

When that happens, wish for a miracle, pray, and allow serendipity to unfold.

Because you never know what the future will bring–you never know when you’ll be in the same physical space again–but you’ll just have to trust that everything that happens, happens for a reason. Your mere meeting was a product of serendipity, and everything else that happened after that, a miracle. Everything was unexpected; everything was a gift.

Be grateful for every moment, every memory, every word–because as fleeting as they may be, they were real and they were true, and they are now a part of you.

So my dear, date a man for breakfast–and dare to open up your day to what could lead you to the greatest discoveries of your life.

Dedicated to my beloved street name, M, from your Little Rich Girl.

~ N

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