From GetRealPhilippines: The stigma of being “alone” in the Philippines

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O, bakit ka nag-iisa? (Why are you all by your lonesome?)
Solo flight ka ata ngayon. (You seem to be on solo flight today.)

If you’ve ever gone on break by yourself in the office or school, most likely you will get the above remarks from your co-workers or schoolmates, respectively. On the surface, it seems like a (pseudo-)show of concern, but you can’t help but wonder what the thinking is behind it.

Bakit wala ka pang boyfriend/girlfriend/asawa? (Why don’t you have a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse yet?)

Anybody who is single, especially when reunions and homecoming parties are involved, has had to hear this question from relatives or colleagues. Again, it seems like a (pseudo-) show of concern, but you can’t help but wonder what the thinking is behind it.

Kawawa ka naman, walang nagtetext sa iyo. (A pity you don’t have a textmate.)

Whether it’s among close friends or feeling close, a peek into the Inbox portion of cellular phones is almost always inevitable – something that I especially hate it because I’m extremely protective of my privacy. When people see that you don’t have too many text messages in your Inbox, or you have a lot of phone credit remaining, you are most likely going to receive the comment mentioned above. And for the third time, it seems like a (pseudo-) show of concern, but you can’t help but wonder what the thinking is behind it.

Is there a stigma associated with being alone in the Philippines?

Anybody who’s even just slightly familiar with Filipino culture will know that Filipinos like to consider themselves part of a community that looks out for each of its members. A female colleague of mine, as an example, was especially touched by the fact that when she travelled overseas alone, multiple messages of concern from her friends back home filled her cellular phone Inbox and e-mail.

Kamusta ka naman diyan? (How are you doing over there?)
Wag mo kalimutan pasalubong ko ha? (Don’t forget my souvenir, ha?)

Well, you get the idea.

Don’t get me wrong, on one hand it is a nice thing. It is but a natural human thing to feel good when someone “remembered you today”.

I did say, however, that there seems to be something beneath all the show of concern. Something…condescending.

Bakit walang gusto sumama sa iyo? (How come nobody wants to go with you?)
Wala ka bang kaibigan? (Don’t you have friends?)
Wala bang nagmamahal sa iyo? (Isn’t there someone who loves you?)
Wala bang gustong kumausap sa iyo? (Isn’t there anyone who wants to talk to you?)

Part of the Filipino culture on groups, it seems, is that certain individual Filipinos have become excessively dependent on the group to define their life or themselves. There is an inordinate obsession with being liked in Filipino society. It involves giving the impression of having at least one other friend, or a group of buddies, a barkada, whom you do things with together.

If you’re seen alone, other Filipinos automatically assume that you don’t have friends. Or worse, that nobody likes or loves you. It’s almost as if being alone makes you a pariah, an undesirable, in Filipino society.

Tara, gimik tayo. (Let’s go out.)
Ayoko, gusto ko lang mag-isa sa bahay ngayon. (No thanks, I just want to be alone in the house)
Napaka-antisocial mo, ang corny mo naman. (You’re so anti-social, how corny can you get.)

You can imagine how introverts in Filipino society have it hard. They don’t mind being alone. Some of them get tired of interacting with others quickly. They generally can find things to do without the need for other people, and for that they are mistaken for anti-social misfits.

I learned something rather telling about Filipino society in Art class in high school. Filipinos have a need to fill any empty available space they see. Whether they fill it with a physical object, sound, or with people, an empty space is an undesirable thing to see in the Philippines. Perhaps this could help in explaining why Filipinos have a certain aversion to being alone.

Silence is deafening. Filipinos are known for being insufferable gossips. When they know something juicy, they can’t help but want to tell it to other people. The flip side is that they would like to avoid being the topic of such gossip; one of the surest ways to become one is to give off the impression of being “alone”.

Nowadays, being physically alone in the Philippines is not advised, especially because it attracts undesirable elements. Muggers, rapists, scammers, stalkers, the drug addicts around the corner, and other types of creepy people – these types of people will see people who aren’t in groups as easy prey if you cross paths with them. Filipino society is just not safe anymore; this reality is magnified when it comes to women and those who are unable to defend themselves. Add to that the fact that you can’t expect any decent help from the police who are any or all of the following: indifferent, incompetent, or worse, in cahoots with those same undesirable elements.

For all the emphasis that Filipinos put on the group, the net result of their society is actually less than the sum of its parts. Ideally, a group setting is supposed to make the individual members feel bigger, safer, and more empowered. Filipino society seems to do the opposite; it makes the members look smaller, more wary, more fearful, stifled, and suppressed.

I generally don’t mind interaction with other Filipinos – namely those whom I don’t really know well or am not fond of, whether they be family or friend – if only I didn’t get the feeling that interacting with them was either trying my patience or resulting in a net loss of brain cells. I’ve been disappointed with my interactions with other Filipinos more times than I can count.

I hate gossip. I like philosophical topics. I like to discuss politics and current events. I don’t care much for the latest pop idol on TV or which neighbor was screwing whom. I don’t like talking to condescending windbags who do nothing but brag. I don’t necessarily need a companion to entertain myself or feel good about myself, or to give my life meaning. I don’t like having to carry the emotional baggage of other people, if I have a choice. I don’t need to see my friends all the time to stay in touch. I don’t have a need to be liked. I don’t care much for social trends and don’t have a need to be seen hanging out in high-end places just to feel “in”.

Filipinos generally like to do and discuss the things I don’t care for above, and avoid the topics and things I take interest in. The former is easy for those who like focusing on personalities and events; the latter is avoided because it has the potential to make people feel uncomfortable. But important issues do need to be discussed among the citizenry because it is an important part of being an educated, responsible member of the community.

There is an inherent danger in emphasizing groups over individuals. Groupthink has a tendency to give rise to popular ideas instead of correct ones; rarely do the two intersect. In emphasizing the group, the individual is suppressed. What if each individual has great ideas that they are unable to share or develop due to the enormous pressure involved with fitting in?

I like being alone because it affords me time to collect thoughts and to think up of stuff I wouldn’t be able to when other people are around. It’s just too much work separating and filtering the noise.

Too bad Filipinos can’t see the value of being “alone”; they can see only the stigma in it. They have a lot to learn.

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