What even is the Good Kuya’s place in today’s dating?

Art by Gianne Encarnacio

I refill the wine glass of my sister’s newest suitor as he brings another plate of seafood. I take this chance to get to know him more. Around the long table where toasts to my sister’s college graduation are raised, our titos and titas smugly exchange glances.

Certain factors made our siblinghood more of a friendship often seen in barkada groups. Born one year apart. Raised in a neighborhood where kids still go out to play. Enrolled in exclusive boys’ and girls’ institutions that eventually have their school interactions with each other.

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As a child she complained she didn’t have a pellet gun while her kuya did. She used her fists on a playmate who was pummeling me after some horseplay got nasty. Once, when our “faction” was holed up in a truck locked in (pellet gun) combat with another “faction,” she stood up and took a pellet or two and shot back thrice as more to protect our “commander” (still our best friend to this day), who was choking, trying to spit a stray pellet out.

These memories stood out in the tapestry of our relationship, highlighting the fighter in my image of her.

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We went to each other’s proms and graduation balls, sharing tables. Members of the other’s barkada asked us out. “Isn’t that awkward?” We’re cool that way.

Before one of her suitors left for Canada, and as she cried and fought with our parents, I tried to arrange a secret meeting between him and her. “Won’t you be more protective of her?” I trust her, and him.

I carried the origami flowers and illustration board made by a girl who professed her love for my sister, offering all she and her fifteen years could give.

There was another whose pursuit spanned six years. We took trips to her school, cut through EDSA traffic, rushed to buy flowers, rehearsed songs he wrote for her, served as crowd control when he needed quiet talk with her. “It’s almost like you’re pimping her, man!” She doesn’t need me to protect her, she’ll be the first to kick your balls. Those days, this would be my standard reply to concerned friends’ standard questions routinely. Security guards on their fifth year in the compound rarely expect an emergency at this point

At 21, she had a total of eight serious suitors, not counting the boys and girls who pined for her in secret, scrolling through her profile pictures at the wee hours of the morning or trying to catch glimpses of her in the hallways. She doesn’t need me to protect her, she’ll be the first…

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More wine, and less food, was in demand. The questions were pretty tame, however. Where are you from, what college course, how did you meet, the rest-of-the-family’s opening barrage which the suitors are prepared for thanks to target practice with the siblings.

I remained silent through what could barely be called a grilling for this new couple. He was really courting the family here. Would he be willing to enter the mess of my sister’s life and the lives shared with hers? It’s not that dramas surfaced over time, rather, the veils hiding them frayed with growing familiarity.

I’ve always understood my role in giving space for my sister to scrape her knees from time to time. Under the veneer of the “you do you” way of life, the real work is making space and time in one’s life for our loved ones to heal their wounds.

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At 18 when she got together with her first (official) boyfriend, I was little prepared for the mess she’d go through. The mess of another man’s life. We saw how an abusive relationship damaged her as the red flags rose up through the months until the last day. The once confident girl I grew up with was breaking, her near-daily sobs shaking her foundations as the details of their relationship slowly revealed themselves.

For the first time in life, I earnestly asked for resbak from my friends, almost plotting murder and how to get away with it. Looking back, it was bound to happen as it happens to all of us. Not abuse, per se, but one’s reckoning of how much of another’s mess one can take. Compared to past adventures and drama, there was no ordeal as difficult as being unable to act for someone suffering next to you.

And it struck me, as a kuya, that I had one job, one job which today I’m still trying to convince myself I didn’t fail: to be with her through the baggage spilling over into her life. I think this is what it means to be a protector. If that archaic word still has meaning today, it’s this: to give a person back to themselves. In a way, to protect is to open oneself to the web of our loved ones’ relationships — and the spillover, when it comes. When rules and expectations crumble, what’s left is relationship. I’ve always understood my role in giving space for my sister to scrape her knees from time to time. Under the veneer of the “you do you” way of life, the real work is making space and time in one’s life for our loved ones to heal their wounds.

To create a nest, build a roost, make a home. And at one point, you just have to let the bird fly into the horizon, into the storms. To continue the metaphor, the best one can do is prepare a sturdy branch and some shade for when they come home.

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That was the last guy she dated before this new one. Tonight, the gentle buzz of wine hovers over all of us. My sister won’t be going home with me and my father tonight. At the very least, we both trust this latest suitor to bring her to our house. Finding myself standing by her new suitor while she was at the washroom, I ask, what exactly do you see in my sister that makes you want to be with her? He answers that at this point, he doesn’t know. I feel a pang of alarm, replying by looking him in the eye. Only after he sustains eye contact and stands his ground do I feel relief. She returns from the bathroom and we go to separate cars both driving into the deepening night.

Tags:
#family #love

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