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Friday, March 1, 2024

A high-stakes relationship

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“Let’s not be blind. Please.”

Over lunch one day, my grown children and I got into a conversation about exes. We tried to remember the names and the basic features of their erstwhile better halves, and the factors they thought contributed to the demise of that relationship. None of the four are married yet, but three are in long-term, and apparently satisfactory, partnerships.

In case it is not obvious, our family is quite close, and knowledgeable (not nosy!) about each other’s affairs. Nobody gets official – the same way there is a Facebook official – until that fellow has met the entire bunch.

It was during this lunch-hour dissection of a particular failed relationship and its tell-tale signs that somebody declared: “Walang red flag red flag sa taong bulag!” (Rough translation – there is no such thing as a red flag for a person who is blind or refuses to see.) I don’t remember now who it was among them who uttered this, but I remember thinking, “Boy, this is one smart kid.”

It’s true, too. It is only after the relationship has ended and the parties have moved on that one can see, in perfect, crystal-clear hindsight, how the small things you refused to pay attention to were really screaming danger signs that somebody was actually a bad person, or that he was not fit to be in your life, or that you were just not a good fit to begin with.


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This is the same bunch of grown kids that I will share, for the first time, a voting experience with. We are all looking forward to May 9 where we would troop to the election precinct and cast our votes. We have, individually and as a family, been following developments in the political scene. We have been watching the debates and reading about developments, pondering what the next six years would be under such and such a leader.

Choosing a president, after all, is somewhat akin to choosing a partner. The stakes are high. You invest too much. You are talking about your future, your well-being, your happiness, the quality of the rest of your life. The red flags to watch out for are similar. I can think of a few.

Baggage. Of course, a person is not defined by his family members and the conditions in which he was born into and grew up in. But as a parent, it is always in our best interest to know the factors that shaped our child’s potential partner. Does he come from humble means? Does he hail from a family of professionals? Are they kind and decent to everyone, not just to the people they believe are important? Or does he come from a family of convicted criminals? Even the latter does not disqualify the guy as a potential partner, of course, but the question is, what is he doing to correct the wrongs that have been done? Does he even acknowledge them at all?

A pattern of brazen, barefaced lying. Dishonesty is the biggest red flag there is. Different people have different attitudes toward lying. Some believe, and arguably, that a white lie could be acceptable if it meant minimizing the harm that could be done to others. Others casually mouth off lies at their convenience and feel no remorse at doing so. Some make other people lie for them so they could maintain a veneer of respectability. In all cases, twisting the truth, denying what has been factually established, or churning out fiction to manipulate the gullible are never acceptable.

Sloth. Most Filipinos have to break their backs to earn something to feed their families – 18 hours or more a day, day after day. A mature person should at least have the compulsion to do something productive, find purpose in his life, and spend his own money. I would not want my child, for instance, to be dating somebody who has no occupation altogether, having been used to an easy life.

A sense of entitlement. Birth is a random accident. We did not have to do anything to be born to our set of parents, for instance, and not to our neighbors. Or to be Filipinos, not Ukrainaians. It was not a matter of choice that we were born into our particular socio-economic bracket. Thus, acting as though we are better or bigger than others is unacceptable. I certainly would think more highly of a daughter’s suitor who has no qualms taking public transportation – even hail an Angkas ride – just to honor an appointment, than I would someone who would feel aggrieved and disgusted if he had to fly economy class or feel he has to order people around to do his bidding.

Cowardice. Let us teach our children to show up, period. Life is hard and there are days you simply want to bury your head in the sand. But if you are serious about applying as presid— err, a partner, you should have enough guts to face everyone and answer the questions that would help them get to know you better. If you consistently refuse to show up, then that says a lot about your intentions, your state of mind, and your real regard for the people you claim to want to serve.

Empty rhetoric. Ever listen to somebody hog the microphone for a long time, without ever really saying anything of substance? Beware of these talkers and their buzz words – say, endless love, or beauty, or Unity. Their purposeless and directionless manner of speaking betrays a gross inability, or an arrogant refusal, to grasp the substance of issues that matter. Say a suitor promises your daughter that he would make her happy, but stammers when pressed for details and who does not even know the things that do make her happy. Would you even trust that person?

To someone under the spell of a larger-than-life person – okay, candidate – who possesses all these qualities, these danger warnings may not be perceptible. The tragedy is that those most zealous in playing down and ignoring these red flags would themselves suffer along with the rest of us. Let’s not be blind. Let’s not walk around as if we were blind – especially if all we have to do is open our eyes.

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