The stigma of being “alone” in the Philippines

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O, bakit ka nag-iisa? (Why are you all by your lonesome?)
Solo flight ka ata ngayon. (You seem to be on solo flight today.)

If you’ve ever gone on break by yourself in the office or school, most likely you will get the above remarks from your co-workers or schoolmates, respectively. On the surface, it seems like a (pseudo-)show of concern, but you can’t help but wonder what the thinking is behind it.

Bakit wala ka pang boyfriend/girlfriend/asawa? (Why don’t you have a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse yet?)

Anybody who is single, especially when reunions and homecoming parties are involved, has had to hear this question from relatives or colleagues. Again, it seems like a (pseudo-) show of concern, but you can’t help but wonder what the thinking is behind it.

Kawawa ka naman, walang nagtetext sa iyo. (A pity you don’t have a textmate.)

Whether it’s among close friends or feeling close, a peek into the Inbox portion of cellular phones is almost always inevitable – something that I especially hate it because I’m extremely protective of my privacy. When people see that you don’t have too many text messages in your Inbox, or you have a lot of phone credit remaining, you are most likely going to receive the comment mentioned above. And for the third time, it seems like a (pseudo-) show of concern, but you can’t help but wonder what the thinking is behind it.

Is there a stigma associated with being alone in the Philippines?

Anybody who’s even just slightly familiar with Filipino culture will know that Filipinos like to consider themselves part of a community that looks out for each of its members. A female colleague of mine, as an example, was especially touched by the fact that when she travelled overseas alone, multiple messages of concern from her friends back home filled her cellular phone Inbox and e-mail.

Kamusta ka naman diyan? (How are you doing over there?)
Wag mo kalimutan pasalubong ko ha? (Don’t forget my souvenir, ha?)

Well, you get the idea.

Don’t get me wrong, on one hand it is a nice thing. It is but a natural human thing to feel good when someone “remembered you today”.

I did say, however, that there seems to be something beneath all the show of concern. Something…condescending.

Bakit walang gusto sumama sa iyo? (How come nobody wants to go with you?)
Wala ka bang kaibigan? (Don’t you have friends?)
Wala bang nagmamahal sa iyo? (Isn’t there someone who loves you?)
Wala bang gustong kumausap sa iyo? (Isn’t there anyone who wants to talk to you?)

Part of the Filipino culture on groups, it seems, is that certain individual Filipinos have become excessively dependent on the group to define their life or themselves. There is an inordinate obsession with being liked in Filipino society. It involves giving the impression of having at least one other friend, or a group of buddies, a barkada, whom you do things with together.

If you’re seen alone, other Filipinos automatically assume that you don’t have friends. Or worse, that nobody likes or loves you. It’s almost as if being alone makes you a pariah, an undesirable, in Filipino society.

Tara, gimik tayo. (Let’s go out.)
Ayoko, gusto ko lang mag-isa sa bahay ngayon. (No thanks, I just want to be alone in the house)
Napaka-antisocial mo, ang corny mo naman. (You’re so anti-social, how corny can you get.)

You can imagine how introverts in Filipino society have it hard. They don’t mind being alone. Some of them get tired of interacting with others quickly. They generally can find things to do without the need for other people, and for that they are mistaken for anti-social misfits.

I learned something rather telling about Filipino society in Art class in high school. Filipinos have a need to fill any empty available space they see. Whether they fill it with a physical object, sound, or with people, an empty space is an undesirable thing to see in the Philippines. Perhaps this could help in explaining why Filipinos have a certain aversion to being alone.

Silence is deafening. Filipinos are known for being insufferable gossips. When they know something juicy, they can’t help but want to tell it to other people. The flip side is that they would like to avoid being the topic of such gossip; one of the surest ways to become one is to give off the impression of being “alone”.

Nowadays, being physically alone in the Philippines is not advised, especially because it attracts undesirable elements. Muggers, rapists, scammers, stalkers, the drug addicts around the corner, and other types of creepy people – these types of people will see people who aren’t in groups as easy prey if you cross paths with them. Filipino society is just not safe anymore; this reality is magnified when it comes to women and those who are unable to defend themselves. Add to that the fact that you can’t expect any decent help from the police who are any or all of the following: indifferent, incompetent, or worse, in cahoots with those same undesirable elements.

For all the emphasis that Filipinos put on the group, the net result of their society is actually less than the sum of its parts. Ideally, a group setting is supposed to make the individual members feel bigger, safer, and more empowered. Filipino society seems to do the opposite; it makes the members look smaller, more wary, more fearful, stifled, and suppressed.

I generally don’t mind interaction with other Filipinos – namely those whom I don’t really know well or am not fond of, whether they be family or friend – if only I didn’t get the feeling that interacting with them was either trying my patience or resulting in a net loss of brain cells. I’ve been disappointed with my interactions with other Filipinos more times than I can count.

I hate gossip. I like philosophical topics. I like to discuss politics and current events. I don’t care much for the latest pop idol on TV or which neighbor was screwing whom. I don’t like talking to condescending windbags who do nothing but brag. I don’t necessarily need a companion to entertain myself or feel good about myself, or to give my life meaning. I don’t like having to carry the emotional baggage of other people, if I have a choice. I don’t need to see my friends all the time to stay in touch. I don’t have a need to be liked. I don’t care much for social trends and don’t have a need to be seen hanging out in high-end places just to feel “in”.

Filipinos generally like to do and discuss the things I don’t care for above, and avoid the topics and things I take interest in. The former is easy for those who like focusing on personalities and events; the latter is avoided because it has the potential to make people feel uncomfortable. But important issues do need to be discussed among the citizenry because it is an important part of being an educated, responsible member of the community.

There is an inherent danger in emphasizing groups over individuals. Groupthink has a tendency to give rise to popular ideas instead of correct ones; rarely do the two intersect. In emphasizing the group, the individual is suppressed. What if each individual has great ideas that they are unable to share or develop due to the enormous pressure involved with fitting in?

I like being alone because it affords me time to collect thoughts and to think up of stuff I wouldn’t be able to when other people are around. It’s just too much work separating and filtering the noise.

Too bad Filipinos can’t see the value of being “alone”; they can see only the stigma in it. They have a lot to learn.

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About FallenAngel

А вы, друзья, как ни садитесь, все в музыканты не годитесь. - But you, my friends, however you sit, not all as musicians fit.

36 Comments on “The stigma of being “alone” in the Philippines”

  1. “All by myself…I wanna be…” , from a song. If you are a Loner, and an introvert. It is your personality. It is what you are.

    Some people are very sociable. They have many friends. They are lonely, if they have no friends. I know, some people, who go to parties, just to find friends and have some “tsismis”. I know some people, who relish on “barkadas”. They fish, camp , hunt and play together with their “barkadas”.

    There is nothing wrong with these opposite types of personalities. It is their own way of thinking. It is their Choice.

  2. Every time when I was/am in the Central Visayas/Negros Oriental area, I cant remember one spot/place where there was/is no sound/noise/talking. So, one day I decided to take a walk “around the block” (in a small place called Argao *, Cebu). And even then and there, people start talking to me (while being all alone).

    * = home town of my ex pinay GF.

  3. I don’t think it’s about being condescending. I get the distinct impression many Filipinos can’t imagine any other way to spend one’s time. I’ve seen this before, back home, in the Projects where I grew up. People there have nothing going on in their heads: they don’t read, they don’t think, they don’t have hobbies. Most of them don’t even have jobs. Therefore, their entire life revolves around the S.O. and their relationship, which they puff up into a dramatic, soap-opera affair which consumes their every waking moment.

    1. I get the distinct impression many Filipinos can’t imagine any other way to spend one’s time.

      That’s the key concept: a lack of imagination to see things that are different from what they’ve used to.

      Something I’ve observed quite often: in the Philippines, you are defined more by whom associate yourself with than what you are. It’s as if being one’s own man is unheard of, or worse not allowable, here.

      1. True that. And in fact it IS hard to be your own man. You will be regarded as weird, or at least as a nonentity. One of the strangest paradoxes of Filipino society is the lack of social cohesion and cooperation, yet everyone’s worth is defined in terms of who they agree with or associate with.

  4. even things as simple as getting coffee or using the toilet. people seem to wilt or die when doing things by themselves. at least in the offices i worked bbefore. united we stand divided we whimper.

  5. I can relate to this article as I am an introvert. It doesn’t mean that I am lonely when I am not around people, it’s just too noisy especially those who likes to talk about themselves.

  6. You have a point.

    One reason why the Philippines fails to progress is our innate need to please our friends. That is why the “balato” mentality carries all the way to Malacanang…incompetent sincojones presidents like BS Aquino III who cannot stand up and discipline his abusive “friends”

  7. I can relate to this, I’m also an introvert. It is not that I don’t like to talk to people it’s just I hate small talks. Like the one mentioned on the article, gossips, celebrity scandals they just bore me. The worst part was probably always being called KJ or kill joy, “walang pakikisama”.

    Being alone for an introvert is way to recharge oneself so they can go and try to socialize again. Unlike our extroverted friends whom they get their energy by socializing with others especially in the Philippines where everyone I think are extroverts.

  8. Speaking of rummaging through other people’s inboxes, I gotta share this funny personal story:

    So most people know that I’m a single guy who’s more or less (usually “less” though) content with singlehood. Most people ALSO know that I’m a hardcore gamer and belong to a large international online gaming community.

    So I leave my phone unattended for a short period of time. Then, my nosy (and uneducated) cousin finds it and looks through my inbox. She then finds something to certainly gossip about:

    There’s a girl with a pretty picture with the message: “Thanks a lot Grim, I’ll be hoping to do more DPS with you next time!”

    What follows is a preposterous explosion of gossip because my cousin didn’t know that DPS stands for “Damage Per Second” which, in gaming terms means hitting the bad guy until he goes down. With a lack of respect for privacy, a dirty mind and plain stupidity, she assumed that DPS was something related to sex.

    The look on her face was gold when I finally explained the definition of “DPS” and its mechanics…

  9. I’m tempted to say, that in a largely primitive culture like in the Philippines, people can’t seem to get rid of the idea that sexual relations is a must. If some people choose to live without it, they will be slammed as weird. And we also have media and advertising that keeps on playing on the idea that you should have a partner, a “special someone.” If you don’t have one, you’re a sort of pariah to society, “undesirable” not just for romance, but even as a person. Really, one problem with Philippine society is the tendency to actively ruin or destroy someone who doesn’t seem “normal” – even if the person is not doing any wrong. Philippine culture really lapped a lot of misconceptions and made them customary. So no wonder we have a messed up society.

    1. Really, one problem with Philippine society is the tendency to actively ruin or destroy someone who doesn’t seem “normal” – even if the person is not doing any wrong. Philippine culture really lapped a lot of misconceptions and made them customary. So no wonder we have a messed up society.

      This.

  10. I’m an INFJ..
    I need my alone time to recharge..
    I don’t really care about what other people think about me.
    We’re humans..
    Not animals.
    We don’t have to travel in ‘packs’.. 😉

  11. They judge you if you’re single. They judge you if you’ve got a boyfriend/girlfriend.

    I’m an extrovert. My partner is an ambivert. And we enjoy an intimate, dysfunction-free relationship that would put showbiz loveteams (what’s public of it) to shame. Even then, both our families think we’re social outcasts because we watch Lourd and his friends, read Muhammad Yunus, and our idea of pleasure (besides sex) is playing strategy games, talking about code and design, and hammering on our keyboards until we drop.

    It’s not enough you’re not alone in personal life like me. Single-cellular Filipinos think you should have the Pinoy-standard relationships, Pinoy-grade entertainment, and Pinoy-grade tastes. God we hate those people! I’m just glad I’m not dating any of them.

    1. And when you’ve got a boyfriend or girlfriend they ask you when you’re gonna get married. When you’re married, they ask you when you’re gonna have a kid. And then when you have a kid, they’ll ask you when you’ll have the next one.

      1. Then they’ll give you advice how to raise your kids, or sustain your marriage.

        Then those seemingly innocent questions end up being the next hot topic of the chismosas among them.

        It’s hard to even talk to those people. You hang out casually with one of them over a latte or a chicken meal, then they’ll go probing about your private life.

        It’s hard to be Filipinos and different together.

    2. They’ll judge you. Period.

      If you and your partner live together unmarried, you will be judged as “living in sin.” If you and partner are a relationship not “approved of” by the rest of the community, you will be subject to all sorts of dirty-eye looks, words, and admonitions. If you and your partner aren’t mushy and showy PDA types then they will think that there’s something wrong with you.

      1. Hah! And if you show PDA you’ll be judged as dirty and “malandi”…

        In my mother’s funeral Mass I was lucky to have my partner’s shoulders to cry on. In that “Peace Be With You” part you get to kiss people you like, so I kissed my partner. Then my uncle takes us into a corner then tells us PDA during my mother’s funeral is not OK…

        Sucks to be my him, then, because we kissed again during the second Mass! ../..

  12. @FallenAngel

    You don’t know how much I loved your post and how I totally agree with you. Thank you for talking about this subject, really. What I really appreciate about GRP is that it continuously opens my eyes to stupid, ugly, and oppressive Filipino beliefs. It’s just unfortunate that most Filipinos won’t understand, or maybe never even will.

    Don’t get me wrong, on one hand it is a nice thing. It is but a natural human thing to feel good when someone “remembered you today”.
    I did say, however, that there seems to be something beneath all the show of concern. Something…condescending.

    What I really hate is false concern. What’s worse is false concern na nga, tapos condescending pa.

    If you’re seen alone, other Filipinos automatically assume that you don’t have friends. Or worse, that nobody likes or loves you. It’s almost as if being alone makes you a pariah, an undesirable, in Filipino society.
    You can imagine how introverts in Filipino society have it hard. They don’t mind being alone. Some of them get tired of interacting with others quickly. They generally can find things to do without the need for other people, and for that they are mistaken for anti-social misfits.

    Yup. From my elementary to high school days. Even up to now. I wish I realized back then that it was the best decision to be with myself.

    For all the emphasis that Filipinos put on the group, the net result of their society is actually less than the sum of its parts. Ideally, a group setting is supposed to make the individual members feel bigger, safer, and more empowered. Filipino society seems to do the opposite; it makes the members look smaller, more wary, more fearful, stifled, and suppressed.

    Feeling kase ng karamihan ng Pinoy ay kung ano ang gusto at pinaniniwalaan ng karamihan = tama, cool, astig.

    I generally don’t mind interaction with other Filipinos – namely those whom I don’t really know well or am not fond of, whether they be family or friend – if only I didn’t get the feeling that interacting with them was either trying my patience or resulting in a net loss of brain cells. I’ve been disappointed with my interactions with other Filipinos more times than I can count.

    Yup. Same here. I try, really. Even up to now, I try. But just like you, every time I do, I just end up with regret and disappointment.

    I don’t have a need to be liked. I don’t care much for social trends and don’t have a need to be seen hanging out in high-end places just to feel “in”.

    I love you. I don’t need to be liked by people I hate. And you don’t know how much I hate people who are desperate to feel “in” with this Filipino shit society.

    Filipinos generally like to do and discuss the things I don’t care for above, and avoid the topics and things I take interest in. The former is easy for those who like focusing on personalities and events; the latter is avoided because it has the potential to make people feel uncomfortable.

    Filipinos take pleasure in making people who they consider as “outcasts” feel uncomfortable.

    There is an inherent danger in emphasizing groups over individuals. Groupthink has a tendency to give rise to popular ideas instead of correct ones; rarely do the two intersect. In emphasizing the group, the individual is suppressed. What if each individual has great ideas that they are unable to share or develop due to the enormous pressure involved with fitting in?
    I like being alone because it affords me time to collect thoughts and to think up of stuff I wouldn’t be able to when other people are around. It’s just too much work separating and filtering the noise.

    This. It’s a shame that it took me a long time to realize that being with myself a lot is a blessing. Ang uso kase talaga sa Pinas ay yung sikat. Popular ideas are always correct. They love it. Automatic na, hindi na pinag-iisipan.Yung may ibang opinion, “NEGA” na agad. Ang ibig sabihin ng positive thinking sa mga Pinoy ay ang pagiging ignorante sa masakit na katotohanan.

    1. Ang uso kase talaga sa Pinas ay yung sikat. Popular ideas are always correct. They love it. Automatic na, hindi na pinag-iisipan.Yung may ibang opinion, “NEGA” na agad. Ang ibig sabihin ng positive thinking sa mga Pinoy ay ang pagiging ignorante sa masakit na katotohanan.

      And the libertarian in me wonder why the average Pinoy seeks solace in a terminally incompetent State…

  13. Great Article

    I have this sneaking suspicion that in the PH solitude or being someone who values their solitude is stigmatized because Pinoy Culture is oriented towards Mob Rule, there is a fear that not being part of the mob can result in you being the target, this maybe one of the driving force that makes most Pinoys “sociable” daw….

    1. The locals will fawn over you because of your white skin, will attempt to hitch you with a local girl as quickly as possible, will ask you personal questions about your love life,etc., be subservient to your every whim, and shower you with so much attention that it gets suffocating.

      And if you criticize them or say even just one thing remotely perceived as “negative”, they will tell you to go home.

      It’s more fun in the Philippines to be a Caucasian.

    2. I am an INFJ Australian living in the Philippines.. I do find it particularly challenging,even within my own family, with a very noisy adoptive son, and the relatives seeming to be very noisy, outspoken, its like always shouting at each other! I have found more and more the need to withdraw for a while into my own quiet room and space, maybe with my own kind of “Chillout” or other quiet music which is also almost unheard of in the Philippines. Yup, I am very weird.. and really I don’t care anymore. I’m glad that my wife is learning to understand me a little more and give ‘space’ when needed, and my daughter also.

  14. This is why i have the igdaf principle since 2014, just having small talks just to make companionship worthwhile gives me migraine, i dont mind eating alone in the pantry, but to be approached and be questioned why am i eating alone like it is doomsday is what ticks me off. I read a joke in fb, that goes like, if you say to an introvert have a great weekend, they will sleep for three days, exactly me, but my office mates are appalled when they hear this, as ive said igdaf…

  15. Thank you for bringing this up! Having been born and raised in the Philippines, I have had my fair share of people expressing surprise/concern/etc regarding me doing things alone – like eating alone in a cafeteria, etc! It gets annoying! There are times where it’s nice to socialize, network, and shit, but I can’t keep doing it constantly! It’s fucking draining for an introvert to be around people 24/7!

  16. My extrovert mom once told me (not directly to me, but you get the point) “Yung mga batang tahimik, bobo.”
    Can’t blame old people. It’s the history turned to culture. Remember, only rich people studied way back. Poor family stays on the farm. They rely on superstitious belief and whatnot. Still, they need to learn and accept our personality.

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