In 2011, Nicolas Mattes traveled to the Philippines to work at a research center in Los Baños as a requirement for his masters degree. It was only planned as a three month trip, and after that, he was supposed to go back to his home country, Germany, to start his thesis.
“After two weeks of getting used to the new environment and traveling a bit around Laguna, I decided to do what most gay men do when they are in a new place: to hook up with a random stranger. In my case, using a famous ‘blue’ Internet dating site,” Nico recalled.
Scrolling through the tons of faceless profiles, aggressively advertising diverse body parts, Nico decided for himself that anonymity isn’t sexy.
“So, when I stumbled upon a guy who actually cared to put, apart from (very cute) face pictures, a little information about himself, plus a link to his personal blog, I started to chat him up. After exchanging a few lines, we thought we would be ready for a tête-à-tête,” Nico said.
Nico’s first trip to Manila ended at a bus station in Cubao, where he and Ajeet Panemanglor planned to meet. It turned out that there were a bunch of bus stations in the Cubao area, so it took them half an hour and about P200 phone load to actually find each other.
“I hugged him as a greeting, which is quite common in Germany, but seems unusual in the Philippines. So he was a bit surprised with the unannounced body contact,” Nico smiled.
Nico and Ajeet spent the afternoon chatting, walking around Manila, and ended up in the Nakpil-Orosa crossing at night. Back then, this quarter was quite lively and Nico remembered being impressed with the unexpected openness of the Philippine gay scene despite being in a very religious country.
Sitting outside the club, they talked about movies, politics and other stuff people talk about when a little drunk.
“At the end of the night, of course, we hooked up in a hotel near Malate, and the sex was pretty good. Or so I remember. And I think that I might already have been in love at this point,” Nico laughed.
Nico and Ajeet saw each other again weekend after weekend, and never ran out of things to talk about, or stuff to do.
“After the first month, we even walked around Rizal Park holding hands, and I got my first ‘bakla’ shouted at me. But we didn’t care,” Nico said.
Unfortunately, the three months ended fast, and Nico had to go back to Germany, just as he had originally planned. His internship supervisor, however, offered to extend his stay for another three months. This was actually the strike of fate that pushed their relationship from a kind of holiday liaison into something more.
“Three month is not enough time to call something serious, but six might be just enough. But at the end of the three months extension, I still had to go back and, this time, it was even harder since I didn’t know if I would ever be able to come back to the Philippines. My studies were a priority, and I had to spend the next eight months finishing my masters. But after that? We didn’t know, but we still decided to keep in touch daily over Skype,” Nico said.
Nico admits that a long distance relationship is one of the hardest things one can go through, but they were able to manage it since Ajeet visited him twice in Germany over the course of the eight months.
“Even then, it was still not sure how the future would look like. But I had the feeling that this relationship was worth modifying the career plans I had envisioned before going to the Philippines for the first time. I managed to enroll myself in a Ph.D. program that allowed me to work again in Los Baños, this time over the course of three years. And that’s where we are right now,” Nico said.
Ajeet takes things day to day since, even now, nothing is sure with their future plans.
“He will eventually have to go back to Germany, even shortly, to finish the final requirements for his Ph.D. And after that, he will have to figure out what kind of work he wants to do,” Ajeet said.
Ajeet is currently in a job that will eventually require him to be posted to another country for several years.
“We plan potential scenarios, such as me maybe being posted to Europe or nearby, which would be easier for us to be together; or being posted to a country where he could follow and do research or work in line with his Ph.D. Of course, it’s complicated by the fact that my office cannot give any assistance or recognize a gay partner. But we have faced difficult situations before, and I feel that these are things we will be able to handle when we get to them,” Ajeet said.
For now, Nico and Ajeet are enjoying just being together.
“Small things that perhaps other people take for granted have become very special, such as waking up next to each other, instead of one or the other of us staying up or waking up early so we can Skype across different time zones. We cook, we explore Los Baños, he shows me arthouse movies which I enjoy but pretend to be horrified about,” Ajeet smiled.
Ajeet does his best to convince Nico that his home city of Metro Manila is the best in the world, and not the insane, traffic-congested megalopolis everyone else seems to think it is. Ajeet and Nico got a “super-friendly” Doberman that still terrifies everyone around them.
“I’ve learned that you take the time you have and do your best with it, and that, if you really want a relationship like this to work, you will both find some way to sort things out when faced with a situation, as we have,” Ajeet said.
Ajeet admits that he is not the most sentimental person around, but it does make one think. He never imagined being with someone, and figured work would always be the most important thing to him.
“It’s funny how things work out. You make plans, expect things to turn out a certain way, or go somewhere thinking it’ll be nothing big, and suddenly, a chance encounter can change everything… I guess a person can come along and become bigger than everything else,” Ajeet said.
Ajeet and Nico work to keep things going and make decisions that change things in their lives.
Ajeet came out to his family. Nico decided to pack up and move half a world away from his home.
Even during their time dating long distance, it was a decision to open Skype every day, to make the time to chat regularly, for a whole year.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is that, if you meet someone you have a connection with, you still have to work to keep things working. But sometimes the person you meet is worth it, no? Sometimes he changes your life, and then you want to do your best to keep him in your life. I don’t know where the future will find us, but I know we’re happy now, and that’s what matters. We’ll worry about the future when we get there, and we’ll figure it out, just as we always have,” Ajeet ended.