‘Momol,’ ‘cocol’ and more
I just finished a week of orientation workshops for parents of our new freshmen. Amid all the parents’ anxieties, I just had to deal with the issue of boyfriends and girlfriends. My position is that the worst thing a parent can do with their college-age (remember that’s 18 now) children is to forbid such relationships.
College is a time not just for academics but for personal development. The students — I’ve consciously tried to avoid calling them “kids” and “mga bata” — are young adults, and they have to learn to deal with life’s challenges; that includes relationships with someone special.
I believe this foray into personal relationships can start even as early as high school, with parental guidance (okay, okay, with parental vigilance). One important reason for this is that we’re getting college students who know little or nothing about these special relationships, and then get into trouble because they haven’t learned the values involved, the need for give and take and respect.
The world is getting more and more complicated now, with changing definitions of social obligations and responsibilities. In the 1990s, when I was researching young adult sexuality with the late Dr. Tess Batangan, we found that “MU” or mutual understanding meant “We’re on, and we’re in an exclusive relationship.” In recent years, I’ve found MU evolving to mean “We’re on, but we can be open to other boyfriends or girlfriends.”
The situation becomes more complicated when sex enters the picture, sometimes as early as high school, which might be in an MU relationship, exclusive or not.
Or, it could be in a relationship that used to be described as “friends with benefits” — best of friends but with no romance, no attachments. Lately, the term seems to have given way to “momol” — “make out, makeout lang” — also sometimes known as “momo extreme.” While friends with benefits still has some feelings involved, supposedly for friends, momol is brutal in its “lang” (only).
I suspect momol, or its underlying principles, may have first emerged with our overseas workers. I’ve talked with so many of them — from seamen to caregivers — and they tell me how difficult it is to be away from loved ones, including spouses, and to stay alone. What we call momol today would have come about, a way of saying, “Let’s keep each other company, be friends with benefits, but only here, while we’re away from the Philippines.”
Are young people becoming “immoral”?
No, let’s not forget that even today, for low-income communities, early courtship and marriage is the norm, given the lack of other options in life. In contrast, for those who do make it to college, we’re asking them to wait when it comes to relationships, and to wait even longer with sex.
Ironically, momol might actually be a response to parental advice: “Don’t make any commitments yet.” Which ends up with MU but seeing other people. Or, with momol, sex without commitments or attachments.
Young people aren’t that naïve, though. In the friends with benefits era, I would hear people say, “Talo ang babae (the woman loses).” But now, I hear “sa momol, lahat talo (in momol, everyone loses).” The “losing” used to be couched in terms of female chastity, but now, there’s a recognition that the losses, on both sides, can be severe when you play emotional charades.
Parents and guardians need to talk with their children about this momol, without being judgmental but explaining the complexities of feelings and the risks involved in playing with emotions. Give your own experiences, but don’t expect young people to always relate to your era.
More importantly, young people themselves need to be more honest in talking about momol and its possible consequences. A female friend of mine, in her 30s, separated and now dating, and reluctant to go into new relationships because of her children, tells me that another option is to go slow even before going into momol.
There are other terms, she says, that young people use. There’s “cocol” or “coffee coffee lang.” There’s “wowol,” “workout workout lang” (in the gym — but who knows if wowol takes on other types of workouts?).
She describes with a laugh how, even with cocol and wowol, emotions and attachments can develop. She has preteen daughters and is aware that, sooner rather than later, she will need to talk with them about the complicated alphabets of relationships.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.