This photo was taken on the day I first met Babes.
Before our official wedding photo, and before any of our travel selfies together, it was at a gathering of Mindanao Alliance, a community of Filipinos in Hong Kong. They are from the Philippine island of Mindanao. She served as an usherette in the program that included beauty contest, song, and dance performance. The event was held in Bradbury School in Hong Kong’s Midlevels district, and just a week after I arrived from my first trip to Sydney — hence that shirt.
Fast forward, we’re now married for 11 years, and boy, time flies so quickly! Last year marked our first decade, and the first time we couldn’t celebrate. The situation was repeated this year, not just because of the pandemic, but also because she has a medical condition. Heck, I couldn’t even send a postcard to my wife for our wedding anniversary.
Despite that, her current medical condition and the struggles of being far from each other, we remain devoted to the wedding vow ‘in sickness and in health.’
Yes, time flew by so quickly, but 11 years is relatively short to be together as husband and wife. During these years, we learned 11 valuable lessons in marriage so far.
The more we laugh on my corny joked the less we argue
I am not gifted with a sense of humor; I am bad at recalling jokes told by other people. But I still attempt it because I know it helps eases the mood for us. Whether it’s poking fun at each other or turning everyday observation into a comedian’s material, I’ll take whatever I can get to get us to laugh. Not that we argue often, but laughing together just reduces the risk of potential tension on topics we don’t agree on.
Be ready to say ‘I am sorry’ when you make mistakes
“The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.” The word ‘sorry’ isn’t some weapon you can utilize and an excuse to make mistakes. Babes is a person who easily forgives, as long as I own my mistake — I forgot the key, we were left by the bus or dismiss her earlier reminder. Of course, a mistake or failure is a great teacher, and that’s the silver lining that I should draw from every time I say ‘I am sorry’.
Being generous with gratitude goes a long way
At 6:00 pm while I was still at work, Babes sends me an SMS asking what I’d like for dinner and what time I’ll arrive home. ‘Southern fried chicken, arriving at 7:23 pm’ By the time I get home, dinner is ready.
She may be tired from school, but because she gets home early, there’s that energy left to serve me a heartwarming meal out of her great cooking talent. Though this is a usual event I could easily take for granted, thanking her as if this is a rare occasion is a validation that her effort paid off in a big way.
Go out of your way to make her feel special lifts up her spirit
When I was still courting her, I didn’t mind bringing flowers and take the crowded tram to hand it over to her in person. Though I am not so comfortable doing it, I find it rewarding to see her awkward smile of embarrassment and sincere gratitude.
I burn a CD of my favorite songs for her to listen to. I randomly pick her up from work with, again, a bouquet of flowers. Doing that 10th-anniversary video from our library of travel footage — even though with hesitation at the beginning — will be a great reminder of our great time on the road.
Accept imperfections and failures but lead each other to improve
I make fun of her singing skills and she berates me with how I deal with clutter at home. That’s just part of the package included when we had each other: our imperfections. However, we try not to remind each other of such weaknesses but instead set an example of how things are done. One good thing about having partners who have such limitations is that we are there to help them overcome these limitations and show empathy and support.
May friends ask why we don’t have kids, and I feel bad for her about it. But through the years, we’ve dealt with this type of failure, and hopeful for what’s to come.
Working as a team is better than the sum of parts
It takes two to tango, and victory feels more rewarding when experienced as a team than an individual. So taking a cue from our strengths and skills, we play roles that complement each other.
During service to the MFC community, I do the lifting, technical, or video setup while she takes care of the human relations part. During household meetings with the singles ministry, I pick the topic and discuss it, while she looks after the cooking and ensuring everyone has a plate and space in the table.
When we plan for travel, I do the itinerary planning, money management, and navigation while she does the packing, food preparation, and arranges what to wear the following day.
Team Cagape isn’t just a moniker; it exists for a reason.
Understand that women are from Venus and men are from Mars
During the first three years of our marriage, we argued a lot. There was just a disconnection between us. I felt she says something but she meant something else. Then I figured out that while I am more literal in a manner of speaking, she might ask rhetorical questions to drive her point. If she asks me would I like to have pasta for dinner, it actually meant ‘I like to have pasta for dinner, and I hope you do as well.’
Like many other women, Babes needs care and understanding. Me on the other hand, feel more empowered if she trusts me to do things, and acceptance if I botch it. This man-woman dynamics may take a lifetime to learn fully, but we’re making good progress so far.
Don’t forget the milestones
I sometimes remind her what we ordered on our first meal together or where she bought the shirt I wore. So it’s important to cover the basics such as birthdays and anniversaries, but if you keep a system similar to Facebook’s Memories and recall those wonderful times you spent together, it’s an added bonus.
Support each other’s decisions — even if you don’t agree with them all the time
When Babes decided to pursue early childhood education as motivation from a school incident, I jumped to offer my support, though I was just doing my freelance work and not having regular income back then. We all have dreams and the last thing we’d like to happen is to find out our spouses extinguish these dreams with a negative response.
There are times when she sneaks up with a request to buy that luxury bag to add to her collection. Her carefully handpicked Prada or Hermes bags have price tags that immediately evokes a practical perspective, “wow, we can also spend this money on two and half month’s worth of rent!” So I am vocal to say NO. But she is persistent and sometimes I feel bad to consistently reject her guilty pleasures. Hence, that Goyard bag in San Francisco.
When I told her we’d be moving to Australia, she threw her support even if she already had a good career going as an early childhood teacher. For the decision to take hold, we must be in agreement and take responsibility for our decisions.
There’s no use thinking of ‘what if’
We don’t have kids yet, so it deprived us of the chance to experience and accept the responsibility as parents. We can only look at our friends both enjoy the bliss and deal with challenges with their children — getting placement in a school or finding a venue for children’s party. We can’t sulk in the corner and feel sorry for ourselves. We instead devoted it to each other, building experiences and learning through travels. By the time we’ll have children, we might put a stop to this habit of traveling three times a year.
God put us in this situation and so we can only make the most of it and avoid looking over our shoulders and check what others are doing. What’s important is that we enjoyed every moment of it.
Treasure every moment
Speaking of enjoying every moment, we put that in mind no matter what happened in the course of our marriage. We packed our Facebook posts with travel experiences instead of children’s photos. We managed to do things like swim with the whales in Oslob, ride the camel and witness the sunrise in Saharan desert and Nordic midnight sun, watched NBA and Major League Baseball games, tried the A380 and business class flights, and played bets — and lost — in Las Vegas.
So far those experiences were more rewarding than buying stuff like a new pair of shoes or high-end personal computers. I am glad we’re on board with the idea and look forward to more adventures in the future.
As of writing this blog, there’s no date yet when I will see Babes in person. As we celebrate our anniversary, what I can do is just remember those memories, one photo at a time. Looking back on the highs and lows we’ve been together, there are no regrets. We did what we wanted to do.
Cheers to the past eleven years and here’s to many years ahead.