Asking for a friend
Hope and despair are an inseparable couple; the absence of one becomes the fulfillment of the other. But hope always prevails — because hope is intrinsic to the human soul.
We live in a problematic society inhabited by problematic people. When these people ask for help, they are ready to listen to a piece of advice. They are ready to welcome hope, embrace it, celebrate it.
This I found out more clearly when in February this year I began writing a weekly online column Asking for a Friend at PhilSTAR L!fe. Sheila Paras, its publisher, wanted an advice column from the point of view of a “real person and not from a psychiatrist.” So every Sunday, I cull from my own experiences or from the experiences of people I know to give advice. And if there are questions that I cannot answer, I ask experts and authorities to help me help others flesh out their problems and come up with a workable solution.
In reality, however, not all problems have solutions. But all problems can be managed. Most of the letters — and there are plenty in the inbox to prove that many are troubled — essay concerns about relationships and mental health. Most of the mental health problems were brought about by the recent elections.
For example, at the height of the election fever, a letter sender wrote lengthily: "My relationship with my wife is on the rocks due to our political views. What do I do?"
I answered: “To avoid big fights on your domestic front, don’t discuss politics at home. Each of us has the right to choose. We are all sentient beings who are given the chance to think, choose, and embrace our own truths and beliefs.
“If you and your beloved fight over your choice of president, ang hina naman ng pagmamahalan ninyo (your love for each other is weak). Whatever happened to ‘respect your spouse’? (Please tell her this, too.) The way you will save your relationship with your wife is a referendum on the maturity of your love for each other.”
Yet from another letter sender who identified herself as “Stressed Voter:" "Politics is destroying my relationship with my family. What do I do?"
This time I talked to a family psychologist named Noralle G. Collado — a sought-after speaker and counselor in Region 4-A — to address the distressed letter sender who fought all the misinformation hurled against her by her entire family.
“That’s bullying. That’s verbal, emotional bullying. What happens to her is a familiar kantyawan or asaran because it comes from her family. When it is done recurrently at home, that’s bullying, whether it is a joke or not. Nobody deserves to be bullied. There should be respect at home—regardless of who your presidential bet is,” said Collado, a guidance counselor for 27 years who shifted to family counseling for five years now.
“Mental health is a serious problem. She needs to reach out to someone who can bridge her to her family. Someone who can tell them that Stressed Voter is already affected by all the false information and unfounded accusations against her preferred candidate,” she added.
“I’m dealing with election anxiety and stress. What do I do?" wrote another letter sender. The following week, one concern of the same problem cropped up: “I’m feeling too down to function because of election results. How can I cope?”
My reply: “Detox from social media if you must. Facebook is a sordid source of sorrow and heartbreak… Stay away from conflict. Your mental health is a collateral damage.”
Some letters I need to attend to border on being scandalous. Like that one of a cheater who wasted his eight-year-old relationship with his partner.
“Cheating is incomprehensible. Cheating is a choice. A bad choice,” I answered.
“You can only love your ex. But it seems she’s not the type to believe in second chances, if at all you tried to woo her back…You have to forgive yourself, too. You also deserve to be happy. Cheaters who had a change of heart also deserve to be happy.”
On the subject of matters of the heart, a lady named “Forbidden Lover” wrote: “I’m in love with my cousin. What do I do?”
“Hold your horses,” I said. “The answer is already in your sobriquet — forbidden.” According to the law, first cousins can’t get married.” And then I jumped the gun and began to give her the advice of experts.
In the legal front, I asked my college friend in the UPLB Com Arts Society, lawyer Jennifer Jimeno-Atienza.
“According to Article 1, Section 38 of the Family Code, it is not legal for cousins to get married. Any marital relations between cousins within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity will be void,” said the lady lawyer.
Atienza added: “There is no legal impediment to marry second cousins as they are beyond and outside the prohibition of the fourth civil degree of consanguinity. Second cousins are somewhere in the sixth degree or beyond.”
In reality, however, not all problems have solutions. But all problems can be managed.
I also asked an OB-gynecologist, Jasmine Alimagno-Enriquez, to address the concern about first cousins falling in love and eventually wanting to have kids.
“Childbearing is many times impossible if the union is between two first cousins. Much more between two siblings. Pregnancy is difficult to achieve if parents have identical DNA components. Infertility and miscarriage are results of inbreeding,” said Dr. Alimagno-Enriquez.
She added: “The risk of a child developing an autosomal recessive disorder increases with inbreeding…That causes the chromosomal abnormalities.”
Problems emanating from relationships come aplenty. “I’m having feelings for my best friend. Should I tell him and risk our friendship?” asked a woman letter sender.
I gave her all the successful best-friends relationship anecdotes that I knew that led to altar dates. I also mentioned my past personal experience: “I told my best friend my feelings and the friendship we built in four years crashed in four months.”
Some letters are depressing, like domestic verbal and emotional assaults. Some concern business, as simple as a sari-sari store that became a failure. “Don’t get your entire family supply from your store. Or better yet, pay for every item you get from your store,” advised my brother Roderick Tenorio, who owns a sari-sari store in the barrio.
I get involved in every letter I answer. I enjoy learning from answering the letters. At the end of the day, it is always a great consolation to give people hope.
Hope floats. Hope matters.
Got a problem you’re too afraid or embarrassed to share out loud? We’re here for you. E-mail us at [email protected] to get some lighthearted advice you need to hear.