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Winning the dating game

/ 12:20 AM February 13, 2016

It was Feb. 14, 1991, and I was stuck in a jam-packed movie house somewhere on the sleazy side of Claro M. Recto. Those were the days when the old-fashioned, one-building movie houses were making their last-ditch stand against the malls that Henry Sy had begun building in the metropolis. The move to put shopping, dining and entertainment places under one roof soon pushed the few remaining movie

houses out of business.

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It wasn’t a horror movie I was watching, yet I was scared. I was worried to death that the building might collapse from the sheer weight of humanity that descended on it to watch the film which eventually broke the all-time record in tickets sold for a local movie at that time. Robin Padilla was billed the Nora Aunor of that generation, and every movie he made filled venues to the brim. This one, titled “Maging Sino Ka Man,” saw him stake his claim to stardom; he was paired for the first time with Sharon Cuneta.

It was probably the last time that theaters outside of SM would see a full house, and only because all the other SM cinemas where the movie was being shown were already packed with people and wouldn’t accept yet another warm body. At the new SM Megamall, for instance, at that time the largest shopping mall in the country, they were actually turning back people desperate to get in. We were among the

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unlucky ones, and in our desperation, we found our way to Claro M. Recto.

My personal safety was not the only thing that worried me; more importantly, I was anxious about the girl I had brought with me to see the movie. We were mere days into the relationship, and at that point we had to be content with holding hands. Since every seat was taken, we sat on the aisle, squeezed like sardines along with other warm bodies that filled every inch of space in that weird-smelling, bug-infested theater.

My date insisted that we put our bags between us, “so that our stuff won’t be stolen.” But I immediately understood what she was really trying to say: It was a subtle message that she wasn’t comfortable yet with us getting too physically close. We were still in that funny and awkward stage.

Today, I have only vague recollections of “Maging Sino Ka Man.” It was another one of those romantic comedies built around the rich-girl-meets-poor-boy, you-and-me-against-the-world theme. A million versions of this love story might have already been made yet the same recycled dish continued to be served to the fans, and they lapped it up every time.

My friends would tell me that “Maging Sino Ka Man” was a terrible movie, but I wouldn’t know for sure because it was impossible to concentrate while we were watching it. What I can remember was my date—how we held hands and tried to look in each other’s eyes in the darkness, whispering in each other’s ear from time to time and pretending to ignore what was happening around us. Which meant trying to do the impossible because all around us, people were hugging and kissing and doing all sorts of things.

I heard the sound of soup being sipped every time a couple kissed. The girl to my right, who had her back pressed against me, must have surely felt our sweat mixing in the unbearable humidity, but she seemed too busy to give a damn about it. She and her boyfriend were glued together the whole time—a pair of hungry human snakes tightly entangled. From time to time, her boyfriend’s groping hands would stray onto my back, and more than once, especially when he accidentally touched my nape, I almost jumped to my feet to let loose with a shout. But they generally ignored me and literally minded their own business.

The movie was more than halfway through when suddenly I touched something wet. Someone shouted and all hell broke loose. Somebody from behind us apparently spilled his drink, triggering a fight with the human-snake boyfriend’s girlfriend, and the ensuing chain reaction of hotheads getting into the act erupted into a free-for-all. My date and I were lucky to escape unscathed, but when we were outside the movie house trying to make sense of what had happened, it was difficult to ignore the way people stopped in their tracks and stared at me in disgust. They apparently thought I was crazy, because it looked like I had peed in my pants.

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I ended up buying a new pair of trousers, which cost my date and me our planned fancy Valentine’s Day dinner. We had lugaw instead at one of those rolling stalls parked at the street corner overlooking the Lerma underpass, in the company of taxi drivers.

It was not the worst of my dating stories although it should rank pretty close to the top in the list. I have to say that, hands down, my No. 1 dating disaster was the one that took place on yet another bizarre Valentine’s Day. We were at a rock concert on a football field somewhere in Pasig to watch The Dawn perform for the first time. It was the height of the alternative rock music revival in the

early 1990s, when a new generation of angry musicians gate-crashed every mainstream radio station and refused to go away, breaking the rules and breaking eardrums in the process.

Anyway, there was this obscure band that was doing the front act and its lead singer kept cursing at the audience during its performance, changing the lyrics of its songs to inject profanities. The crowd booed.

We never saw The Dawn get up on that stage because a riot erupted starting from the front row all the way to the bleachers. My date was almost struck in the head by a monobloc chair that came flying in our direction. That band which fronted for The Dawn and provoked the riot, those miserable psychopaths, surprisingly became famous as the Eraserheads.

I would probably fill a year’s diary if I am asked to write in detail the dating disasters that I have miraculously survived. Oh, the lengths that we go through and all that madness in the search for love. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve played and how many times you’ve lost the dating game, because all you have to do is win once, and you’ve won them all.

My own experience showed me that it pays to be persistent and to make oneself immune to embarrassment. Once we got past the holding-hands, bags-in-between stage, my fellow survivor in those dating disasters, my partner in crime, Arlene, and I decided it was time to get married and live happily ever after.

Adel Abillar is a private law practitioner with a small office in Quezon City where, he says, “I alternate between being boss and messenger.” He obtained his law and prelaw degrees from Manuel L. Quezon University and the University of Santo Tomas, respectively.

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