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LOVE AFFAIRS

Jheq and Mike: Love knows no distance

Jheq Bacsal and Michael Ellis first “met” via the former’s Google+ post. But after that chance encounter, the two fell for each other and are now making plans to live as a happy couple in the Philippines, where Michael (an American) is finding happiness with both Jheq and a growing love for the Philippines.

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All about loveJheq Bacsal and Michael Ellis first “met” randomly, from half way across the world (8,400 miles between the Philippines and Chicago, Illinois in the US) from a Google+ post.

“It’s super amazing! It all started way back on June 26, 2013, when I randomly posted something on my Google+ wall. I was trying to create a blog about it too to tell everyone how fascinating my story was. It looks like it just came out of a love story book,” Jheq recalled.

Michael then visited the Philippines from Chicago after that first chat.

“After that chance encounter, we got engaged and busy planning our future dreams. Primarily, finding a way to live here in South Luzon as a married couple,” Mike said.

Jheq admits to immediately starting to like Michael and love him since that first day they chatted.

“We talked about a lot of personal stuff and really got to know each other. It’s not really hard to love a man like him. He’s so accepting, understanding and loving. All my flaws were invisible in his eyes. As we always say, ‘blinded by love’,” Jheq said.

For Michael, his first visit not only made him realize his love for Jheq, but as well as for the Philippines in general.

“After staying with my fiance, and being treated like a member of a loving family, not to mention the attitude and hospitality of the Filipino people, I know this is my place in the world and plan to move here permanently before the end of this year, perhaps working towards a small business with Jheq,” he said.

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Michael admitted that “many challenges face us, but its truly an exciting time. Our love gives us faith, and somehow we’ll make it.”

After being engaged, Jheq and Michael now acknowledge the real struggles of being a same-sex couple in the Philippines.

“The biggest challenge that we are facing right now is the fact that gay marriage is not legal here in the Philippines. Yes there are priest or lawyers who conduct LGBT marriages, but it won’t be recognized anywhere legally. We are already engaged and have the blessings from our parents, but we must still live with the fear of not being recognized by the place we want to live in. Gay marriage is making breakthroughs all over the world, including the US,” Jheq said, adding that “the Filipino people are one of the most accepting of LGBT people in the world. It’s only natural to make it legally recognized here.”

For Michael, “Jheq and I wish to become active in the fight for LGBT legal recognition in the Philippines. Marriage was made for people like us. Something truly out of a story book. We so much deserve to make our own fairy tale, as anyone who falls in love.”

Despite the current challenges faced by their loving relationship, Jheq and Michael both mutually see the mutual growth that they have shared since they met.

Michael has struggled through two heterosexual marriages before finding Jheq. “Not understanding my sexuality due to lack of education and ignorance from the loved ones who raised me. This is often the case with people such as me who remain closeted for so long. With God’s help and Jheq’s love, I finally feel comfortable, open and proud of who I am,” he said.

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Aside from being able to practice his English, Jheq added that “the best thing is that I am not afraid of what other people think about us. I learned to accept myself, not hesitate and became a more positive person. Both of us are really proud of what we have right now that makes me more confident to tell everyone about my story. Having him in my life made me take care of myself more. I quit smoking and drink less alcohol like my partner. Living healthy is what we both look forward to so we can grow old together. The most important thing though is that I am happy everyday and treat everyday as a blessing from God.”

Jheq and Michael plan to get married soon and establish a business in the Philippines like a photo booth since Michael is a photographer and has the basic starting equipment, and also maintain a US based business.

“We like to have a business here in Philippines so he can have his working visa. If not, he will look for a job here in Philippines so he can stay here with me. He wants to live in the Philippines, and that is something that we need help with. He likes it here more than the US. He had a wonderful time here and do not want to live as a tourist anymore. Yes we can earn more money in US, but he would like to stay in an environment where everyone is happy and live with my family. He is actually staying at our house and it was my Dad who initiated it, instead of him looking for an apartment,” Jheq said.

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Jheq and Michael now want to be a part of the LGBT advocacy in the Philippines and be a good example to highlight that gender and distance are never issues to find true love.

“Love really is just love. It has nothing to do with shape, size, or gender. We are all part of the human condition, sharing ups and downs. And not least of which, looking for that special someone,” Michael ended.

A registered nurse, John Ryan (or call him "Rye") Mendoza hails from Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao (where, no, it isn't always as "bloody", as the mainstream media claims it to be, he noted). He first moved to Metro Manila in 2010 (supposedly just to finish a health social science degree), but fell in love not necessarily with the (err, smoggy) place, but it's hustle and bustle. He now divides his time in Mindanao (where he still serves under-represented Indigenous Peoples), and elsewhere (Metro Manila included) to help push for equal rights for LGBT Filipinos. And, yes, he parties, too (see, activists need not be boring! - Ed).

LOVE AFFAIRS

Same-sex wedding held in British Embassy Manila

British Ambassador Daniel Pruce officiated a same-sex wedding in the British embassy in Manila, marking not only Valentine’s Day but the 87th same-sex marriage conducted in the premises.

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Screencap from the British Embassy Manila FB page

#LoveWins

British Ambassador Daniel Pruce officiated a same-sex wedding in the British embassy in Manila, marking not only Valentine’s Day but the 87th same-sex marriage conducted in the premises.

In a Facebook post, British Embassy Manila claimed: “Love is in the air! Congratulations to Mark and Richard who were married by Ambassador Daniel Pruce on #ValentinesDay. We wish you a lifetime of love and happiness.”

It is worth noting that while same-sex marriage is not outright banned by the Philippine Constitution, the country’s Family Code limits marriage as a sacrament between one man and one woman.

However, foreign embassies are given extraterritorial privileges under the Geneva Convention. These include immunity from intrusion, damage and disturbance by the host countries.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Great Britain in 2014; and so the embassy said the UK “continues to champion the rights and equal treatment of all regardless of gender.”

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Love Guides

How social media makes breakups that much worse

Before social media, break-ups still sucked, but it was much easier to get distance from the person.

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Photo by Nick Fewings from Unsplash.com

Imagine flipping through your Facebook News Feed first thing in the morning and spotting a notification that your ex is now “in a relationship.”

Or maybe the Memories feature shows a photo from that beach vacation you took together last year. Or your ex-lover’s new lover’s mom shows up under People You May Know.

Scenarios like these are real and not uncommon, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study exploring how breaking up is even harder to do in the digital age.

“Before social media, break-ups still sucked, but it was much easier to get distance from the person,” said Anthony Pinter, a doctoral student in the information science department and lead author of the study published in the journal Proceedings of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery).”It can make it almost impossible to move on if you are constantly being bombarded with reminders in different places online.”

The research team recruited participants who had experienced an upsetting encounter online involving a break-up within the past 18 months and interviewed them for over an hour.

Among 19 who underwent in-depth interviews, a disturbing trend emerged: Even when people took every measure they saw possible to remove their exes from their online lives, social media returned them – often multiple times a day.

“A lot of people make the assumption that they can just unfriend their ex or unfollow them and they are not going to have to deal with this anymore,” said Pinter. “Our work shows that this is not the case.”

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News Feed, the primary interface that opens when one launches Facebook, was a major source of distress, delivering news of ex-lovers announcing they were in a new relationship. In one case, a participant noticed his roommate had already “liked” his ex’s post. He was the last of his friends to know.

Memories, which revives posts from years’ past, was equally heart-rending, with one participant recalling how a sweet years-old message from his ex-wife popped up out of nowhere delivering an “emotional wallop.”

Many shared stories of encountering exes via their comments in shared spaces, such as groups or mutual friends’ pictures.

“In real life, you get to decide who gets the cat and who gets the couch, but online it’s a lot harder to determine who gets this picture or who gets this group,” said Pinter.

Take A Break works – for some

In 2015, Facebook launched the Take A Break feature, which detects when a user switches from “in a relationship” to “single” and asks if they want the platform to hide that person’s activities. But people like Pinter, who don’t use the Relationship Status tool, never get such an offer.

“Facebook doesn’t know we broke up because Facebook never knew we were in a relationship,” he said.

Even when someone unfriends their ex, if a mutual friend posts a picture without tagging them in it, that picture may still flow through their feed.

And even when they blocked their exes entirely some reported that the ex’s friends and family would still show up on Facebook as suggestions under People You May Know.

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“Am I never going to be free of all this crap online?” asked one exasperated participant.

The research stems from a larger National Science Foundation grant award called Humanizing Algorithms, aimed at identifying and offering solutions for “algorithmic insensitivity.”

“Algorithms are really good at seeing patterns in clicks, likes and when things are posted, but there is a whole lot of nuance in how we interact with people socially that they haven’t been designed to pick up,” said Brubaker.

The authors suggest that such encounters could be minimized if platform designers paid more attention to the “social periphery” – all those people, groups, photos and events that spring up around a connection between two users.

For those wanting to rid their online lives from reminders of love lost, they recommend unfriending, untagging, using Take a Break and blocking while understanding they may not be foolproof.

Your best bet, said Pinter: “Take a break from social media for a while until you are in a better place.”

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Love Stories

A serodifferent love

HIV-positive Louie, 34, said that that when you have HIV, sometimes you think won’t find love. But he met HIV-negative Matt, 28, in 2016. And while many people still doubt their relationship, he says: “What’s important is we inspire each other… while loving and caring for each other.”

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People think that when you have HIV, you won’t find love, said Louie, 34, from Biñan, Laguna. “But that’s not true. This thought never entered my mind.”

Louie was diagnosed HIV-positive on July 3, 2013.

At that time, “I felt two emotions. On one hand, I was happy. My live-in partner then had HIV, and I knew he was dying. That’s also what I thought before; that when you have HIV, you die. When I was diagnosed to have HIV, I thought I’d also already die. So we can happily die together. (But) on the other hand, I was also sad. I was thinking, what will happen to my family?”

For Louie at that time, “more than my HIV status, I had a harder time accepting that nothing is permanent. Like my live-in partner who died. I had a harder time moving forward from this.”

In 2016, Louie started feeling… lonely. “I realized how I missed being in a relationship. I missed having a relationship no matter its form – as lovers, partners in crime… so long as you love each other.”

He was working as HIV counselor for Klinika Bernardo in Quezon City then, and “we have targets on the number of people we test for HIV. To reach mine, I joined group chats.”

Matt, 28 from Tondo, Manila, was in one group – HTS.

“One time, his photo appeared in my phone (via the group chat). He was skinnier then. I said, ‘Wow, he’s cute.’ So I gave his photo a heart, and I sent him a personal message. I PM’d him, and he answered,” Louie recalled.

Louie also invited Matt to get tested for HIV.

Some people may also think Matt is putting himself in harm’s way. But “people should not think I am putting myself in a situation that I can’t handle. I am an adult/a grown up. Maybe they just envy us because we lasted long.”

FINDING LOVE

“Every Friday, we (do HIV testing in a bar) in Cubao. Our team from Klinika Bernardo go there to do HIV testing, and give out condoms. I invited him to come over,” Louie said.

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They met in a bar in Cuba, Quezon City.

“I asked him (later) if he wanted to check into a hotel so we can be together. By asking him, of course, I wanted something to happen between us. But he had an (alibi not to join me),” Louie said.

On a later date, Matt visited Louie at Klinika Bernardo.

“I told him I wanted to have sex with him. He actually refused me. It was a first time for me, so I asked him: Why not? He told me he only has sex with his BF. I think this guy’s old fashioned. I told him we’re not kids anymore, we’re not teenagers. If it works out, fine. If it doesn’t, let’s part ways,” Louie said.

Louie stressed that “of course I’m aware I have HIV. But I also know there’s no risk of infecting him because my viral load is undetectable. But I also knew how to take care of myself, and how to look after him. This is why I had the guts to ask him to have sex with me.”

Even early on, Louie said he wanted to tell Matt about his HIV status.

“But I was afraid he’d get angry, he’d fear me, he’d sue me, or he’d bash me,” he said.

That moment came after their first catching up.

“What’s important is we’re happy. What’s important is we accept each other. What’s important is we inspire each other… while loving and caring for each other.”

DEALING WITH DISCLOSURE

In 2015, a radio station interviewed Louie. “I was asked to share my story. They made a ‘teledrama’ out of it. I made him listen to a recording of this,” Louie recalled.

After listening to the recording, Matt hugged Louie.

“I was surprised when he hugged me after listening to the recording. He didn’t say anything. I asked: ‘What can you say?’. It was funny; he said: ‘Nothing.’ I never felt he feared me. I forced him (to react). I told him it’s fine; I’d understand. He whispered to me; he told me ‘I love you.’ He said he loved me more.”

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For Matt: “I couldn’t care less. So what if you have HIV?”

As a side note, Matt had former partners who had HIV.

“Three BFs passed away, all from AIDS-related complications. They were diagnosed late. I knew of their HIV status after they passed away,” Matt said. “So when he told me he has HIV, I didn’t care. It’s normal for me to have a PLHIV for a partner.”

This point does not escape Louie, though.

“I had fears. Based on his stories, all his exes died. I thought: Will I be next? I said to him: ‘Maybe you’re cursed.'”

“When we just started going out, some said we won’t last. I know some of them we just joking. Some said we’d be together only for days, for weeks. We proved them wrong.”

LIVING AS A COUPLE

As a partner, Matt said Louie can be “difficult… he can get moody. At times at night, after taking his ARV, he’d complain about ailments. I really had to learn to adjust.”

But this is something he now relishes; a part of his life.

“Whenever he gets sick, his mom sends me a text message: ‘Come over, (Louie) is sick.’ And so even if I’m supposed to to go somewhere, I go to Laguna from Tondo to look after him.”

In hindsight, Louie said he knew he already loved Matt when “I miss him when he doesn’t send me text messages. If he doesn’t immediately respond to my messages, I quarrel with him. (I like that his) messages are very sweet. Almost every night, we chat over the phone. When we don’t do any of these in a day, I already miss him.”

For Matt: “It’s good to love someone with HIV because it broadens your way of loving. It broadens your adaptability skills. You will experience real love because a PLHIV will love you completely. Those without HIV can still cheat on you. But if you love someone with HIV, they won’t look for another. Like us, he won’t look for another because I give him the love he deserves.”

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Louie admitted that “a person living with HIV may not believe he will be loved by a person who does not have HIV. You may think he’s only there out of pity. That he’s only staying with you because if he leaves, you’ll get depressed and kill yourself. That was my thinking (before): I have HIV. Will someone still love me? Processing this took a while.”

Now, “if people ask me if it’s worth it, I say yes. I believe that aside from my ARV treatment, love also prolongs my life,” he added.

For Matt: “It’s good to love someone with HIV because it broadens your way of loving. It broadens your adaptability skills. You will experience real love because a PLHIV will love you completely.”

LOVE IS WORTH FIGHTING FOR

People may not support what they have, but Louie said “I don’t care what people will say when they discover our relationship. Maybe they just envy us. When we just started going out, some said we won’t last. I know some of them we just joking. Some said we’d be together only for days, for weeks. We proved them wrong. We did not focus on ‘being in a relationship’. We focused on creating happy moments together.”

Some people may also think Matt is putting himself in harm’s way. But “people should not think I am putting myself in a situation that I can’t handle. I am an adult/a grown up. Maybe they just envy us because we lasted long.”

In fact, Matt said, “people asked me: Why him? You had a lot of suitors who were better looking, who doesn’t have HIV. He’s the one I love. What do you want me to do?”

To find love, Louie said: “Just be honest. If the person (you disclosed to) does not accept you, find another. If you’re honest and he does not accept you, that’s not love. In that case, love won’t materialize. But if a person accepts you even if you have HIV, he’d love you for real.”

Now, “if people ask me if it’s worth it, I say yes. I believe that aside from my ARV treatment, love also prolongs my life,” Louie said.

There’s no “looking forward” for Louie and Matt.

“We sometimes kid: What if we break up? What if (things don’t turn out well)? We discuss these affectionately. But really, we don’t think of the future; we just think of the present,” Louie said. “What’s important is we’re happy. What’s important is we accept each other. What’s important is we inspire each other… while loving and caring for each other.”

In YouTube, follow @PLHIV Diaries.

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LOVE AFFAIRS

A happy partner leads to a healthier future

An optimistic partner may encourage eating a salad or work out together to develop healthier lifestyles. For example, if you quit smoking or start exercising, your partner is close to following suit within a few weeks and months.

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Photo by Mayur Gala from Unsplash.com

Science now supports the saying, “happy wife, happy life.” Michigan State University research found that those who are optimistic contribute to the health of their partners, staving off the risk factors leading to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and cognitive decline as they grow old together.

“We spend a lot of time with our partners,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the study. “They might encourage us to exercise, eat healthier or remind us to take our medicine. When your partner is optimistic and healthy, it can translate to similar outcomes in your own life. You actually do experience a rosier future by living longer and staving off cognitive illnesses.”

An optimistic partner may encourage eating a salad or work out together to develop healthier lifestyles. For example, if you quit smoking or start exercising, your partner is close to following suit within a few weeks and months.

“We found that when you look at the risk factors for what predicts things like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, a lot of them are things like living a healthy lifestyle,” Chopik said. “Maintaining a healthy weight and physical activity are large predictors. There are some physiological markers as well. It looks like people who are married to optimists tend to score better on all of those metrics.”

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and co-authored by MSU graduate student Jeewon Oh and Eric Kim, a research scientist in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, followed nearly 4,500 heterosexual couples from the Health and Retirement Study for up to eight years. The researchers found a potential link between being married to an optimistic person and preventing the onset of cognitive decline, thanks to a healthier environment at home.

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“There’s a sense where optimists lead by example, and their partners follow their lead,” Chopik said. “While there’s some research on people being jealous of their partner’s good qualities or on having bad reactions to someone trying to control you, it is balanced with other research that shows being optimistic is associated with perceiving your relationship in a positive light.”

The research also indicated that when couples recall shared experiences together, richer details from the memories emerge. A recent example, Chopik explained, was Google’s tearjerker Super Bowl ad, “Loretta,” in which an elderly man uses his Google Assistant to help him remember details about his late wife.

“The things he was recollecting were positive things about his partner,” Chopik said. “There is science behind the Google ad. Part of the types of memories being recalled were positive aspects of their relationship and personalities.”

With all of its benefits, is optimism something that can be prescribed? While there is a heritable component to optimism, Chopik says there is some evidence to suggest that it’s a trainable quality.

“There are studies that show people have the power to change their personalities, as long as they engage in things that make them change,” Chopik said. “Part of it is wanting to change. There are also intervention programs that suggest you can build up optimism.”

Across the board, everyone benefits from a healthy dose of optimism from their partner. For the glass-is-half-empty people, a partner can still quench their thirst. For the glass-is-half-full people? Their cup runneth over.

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LOVE AFFAIRS

Unhealthy and unhappy – The mental toll of troubled relationships

A study found many victims of intimate partner violence at 21 showed signs of mental illness at the age of 30, with women more likely to develop depression and men varying anxiety disorders.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash.com

Some forms of domestic violence double victims’ risk of depression and anxiety disorders later in life, according to University of Queensland research published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

The UQ School of Public Health study found many victims of intimate partner violence at 21 showed signs of mental illness at the age of 30, with women more likely to develop depression and men varying anxiety disorders.

Intimate partner violence classifies physical abuse as pushing, shoving and smacking.

UQ researcher Emeritus Professor Jake Najman said the team also found equal levels of abuse by men and women.

“The number of men and women who experience intimate partner violence is very similar, leading us to believe couples are more likely to abuse each other,” Professor Najman said.

“People generally don’t end up in the hospital or a shelter, but there is a serious mental burden from this type of abuse.”

The research showed defacto couples and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to be involved in these types of abusive relationships.

Emotional abuse involves comments that make the person feel worthless.

Then there is harassment – a constant and distressing nagging that may have long-term consequences for those on the receiving end.

“It also raises the question, to what extent is this type of violent behaviour not just a characteristic of the relationship the couple has with each other, but with other people around them and possibly their children,” Professor Najman said.

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“There is a range of treatment and counseling programs available for couples and families to try and improve the way they relate to one another.”

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LOVE AFFAIRS

6 Unique ideas for date nights

Date night provides a dedicated evening you can spend together while avoiding the usual busy-ness of everyday demands and allows you the chance to reconnect and try something new without life getting in the way.

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Date night should be a priority for any couple, whether you’re new and starting out, or whether you’ve been married for years. Date night provides a dedicated evening you can spend together while avoiding the usual busy-ness of everyday demands and allows you the chance to reconnect and try something new without life getting in the way.

With that in mind, here are six great date night ideas if you’re looking for inspiration. 

Exploring a new town or city can put you both in the same position to discover and experience a great new place together.

1. Explore a New Location Together

There may be a lot of pressure during date night for one person to make a suggestion based on what they know and enjoy. However, why not do something entirely new, in a place neither of you have been to before? Exploring a new town or city can put you both in the same position to discover and experience a great new place together.

2. Catch a Sports Game

Whether you’re both big sports fans, or perhaps neither of you have ever been to a sports game before, a live game can be an exciting experience, especially if you’re always been curious about a certain sport. You can grab tickets for games like the NFL at Ticket Sales, for a variety of different teams, and you can make a whole night of it with some great food and drinks too. 

3. Try a New Hobby

There’s nothing like getting stuck into a new hobby and learning a new skill – so why not do it together as part of your date night? Maybe there’s something new you’ve always wanted to try, like painting, so you could always head out to a painting class together. There are many art classes which now offer drinks and all supplies included in a set price for the evening, making your date night easier to plan. 

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4. Take a Cooking Class 

If you’re both foodies – or perhaps you’re both simply awful cooks and would like to learn how to improve – then a cooking class can be a fun (and delicious) way to spend an evening together. You could even spend your next date night at home practicing the dishes you have learned to cook and trying out new recipes going forward.

A cooking class can be a fun (and delicious) way to spend an evening together.

5. Head for a Spa Treatment 

You need rest and relaxation sometimes, and a little TLC, especially when it comes to health and beauty treatments. While your date night is about caring for your relationship, go a step further and care for one another by spending time at a spa, either to simply relax using the facilities or by booking in treatments. You could even do joint treatments like a couple’s massage to ensure that you’re spending the time unseparated.

6. Have a Games Night 

Whether it’s spent at home playing classic board games, video games, or heading out to the nearest arcade to get stuck into some nostalgic gameplay like Pacman or racing games, an evening spent together like this is a must for gaming couples – and there’s nothing like a little friendly competition!

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