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Feb 11

The Explainer: Let’s do it

Time and again, I’ve been told by doctors and nurses, that the peak time for births in our country, is nine months after Valentine’s Day. Beyond being a Hallmark Holiday, Valentine’s then is not just about wine and roses, fancy dates and chocolates. It’s about well- how does the Cole Porter song go? Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it, let’s do it, let’s fall in love.

And, apparently, making love, too.

So as we look forward to, or dread, the day of hearts, let’s look at the things that make our chests go thump-thump. The pitter-patter called attraction: it’s tunnel of love night on The Explainer. And I’m Manolo Quezon.

 

I. From Valentine to Valentino

 

It is the best story I’ve heard in a long time, made all the more delicious because it is true. At a party a girl recounted to me how one of her boyfriends asked her to go out with him. It was at a wake. He came up to her and asked her if they could talk. She said, yes, why not. So he took her to a pew near the front of the chapel, where few people stay during the wake, and began to whisper sweet nothings into her ear. He proclaimed his undying love. She replied that she’d have to think about it –she wasn’t sure if she felt the same way.

Then came the clincher.

“Why,” she asked him, “did you decide to propose to me here, in a wake, of all places?”

The man’s eyes brightened. He looked at her intently and proceeded to explain.

“Look,” he said, “at how romantic this place is. There are lots of candles. And lots of flowers. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s nice and cold.” And as if this weren’t enough, be pointed to the coffin of the deceased and said, “and look, we even have a witness.”

That, obviously, was that, as far as the courtship was concerned.

Everyone, it seems, has all sorts of courtship stories to relate. There was the girl who caught her date sniffing his armpit, at which point he looked over his arm at her, pointed his index finger at her, and said, “bang, bang!”

And there was the girl invited, at long last, to meet the family of her boyfriend. She was a nervous wreck. Halfway through dinner, she had the unbearable urge to pee. But she wanted to make a good impression and so asked the mother of her boyfriend, most politely, “May I use the powder room?”

“Why certainly,” graciously responded the mother of her boyfriend. “It’s over there.”

The poor girl found herself in a real powder room, complete with vanity mirror, large sink and tons of expensive soaps and frilly hand towels. But no commode.

Desperate, and at her wits’ ends, she resorted to extreme measures: she hoisted herself onto the sink in order to pee.

But the sink was slick and she slipped off; the startled family heard a shriek and a loud thump, and then groaning. The concerned boyfriend knocked on the door and heard no response. He broke down the door, and found his girlfriend on the floor, panty around her knees, unconscious. No one has told me what happened to the poor couple after that.

That’s the mating game for you.

I recall watching a BBC documentary in which a study of the mechanics of attraction was discussed. It involves more than pheromones, which will doubtlessly come as a relief to the lemme-shower-in-musk school, who feel that reeking of eau de bull moose will facilitate a fatal attraction. According to the program, when a woman meets a man for the first time, she looks at his feet first of all; then she looks at his hands, then his whole body, and then his face: first the teeth, then the nose, and finally the eyes. The things the woman looks at aren’t the things the average male would consider as on the list of must-sees.

As soon as a woman meets a man, the man’s feet are looked at because many men who try to impress others with their dress often overlook their shoes; see a man in a fancy suit with cuffed shoes and you know he’s a fake -or worse, sloppy! Then in the next few seconds,  the hands are looked at (after all, in the West, men commonly shake hands with women; I suppose as a part of our being oriental we either smile and bow or, in a throwback to our Castilian past, we make beso-beso). Immediately the woman knows if the man has psychological problems, for example if he chews his nails or has those little white flecks in them that are a sign of a potassium deficiency, and if the man is relatively clean or not: if she detects little black deposits you can be sure she will not bother to check out anything else about that person.

Once introductions are finished and conversation begins, the man’s teeth are examined, too, to check on his state of health and cleanliness -which makes you reflect on Mao Zedong’s good fortune for having been born Chinese, and having become dictator of the Middle Kingdom: he loathed toothbrushes and was noted for the greeness of his seldom-cleansed teeth. In fact it seems British women at least, are obsessed with hygeine, something I find strange, based on the stories of friends who have studied in perfidious Albion (their female classmates bathed maybe once or twice a week, a little more often than the males, and both sexes often left thick encrustations of grime around the tub or in the shower, to the horror of Filipinos obsessed with bathing); but then since Filipinos are also conscious of hygiene, the British method of summing-up men may apply here.

The end result is that women manage to undertake a thorough evaluation of men within the first half-minute of contact, about the same amount of time it takes for a more primitive man to lick his chops in appreciation of a girl’s watermelons or her butt.

But once interest, shall we say, is aroused by a look-see, other things can make or break a potential attraction.

My father once told me a story about one of his contemporaries, the son of a famous Filipino journalist-diplomat. This fellow ended up spending some time in France, and fell in love with a French girl. They dated. But the relationship didn’t prosper. The man had to end up calling off the budding romance because, he explained to her with a great deal of embarrassment, he couldn’t get used to her body odor. The girl was shocked. “Why I thought you’d find it attractive,” she cried. “Men find this kind of body odor  attractive!” But the man wouldn’t budge. No go, he said; we Filipinos like our women scentless. And so, they parted.

I was reminded of this story while reading the section on Smell in Diane Ackerman’s marvelous book, A Natural History of the Senses  : “In a famous letter,” Ackerman wrote,  and Pat, could you read the rest?

“Napoleon told Josephine ‘not to bathe’ during the two weeks that would pass before they met, so that he could enjoy all her natural aromas.”

Now lest you start thinking that among his other oddities Napoleon was a perennial body-odor lover, he had more cultivated tastes, too. Ackerman further informed her readers that

“But Napoleon and Josephine also adored violets. She often wore a violet-scented perfume, which was her trademark. When she died in 1814, Napoleon planted violets at her grave. Just before his exile on St. Helena, he made a pilgrimage to it, picked some of the violets, and entombed them in a locket, which he wore around his neck; they stayed there until the end of his life…”

Ackerman even informs us that the British Navy gallantly allowed ships bearing violets for the Empress to pass through their blockade unhindered.

But what the Emperor of the French exhibited -an unabashed pleasure in the scent of his woman, we all exhibit, too. While our brains are infinitely more complex than all other creatures on this earth, scents can reduce us to acting like the male moths who go berserk the moment a lady moth squirts an infenitesimal amount of pheromones in the air. Complex creatures that we are, our pheromones can be the real thing, or manufactured substances, or a combination of the two.

Ackerman is frank about the power of smells, mixing sold facts with disarming candor.

“Research done by Robert Henkin, from the Center for Sensory Disorders at Georgetown University, suggests that about a quarter of the people with smell disorders find that their sex drive disappears. What part does smell play in lovemaking? For women, especially, a large part. I am certain that, blindfolded, I could recognize by smell any man I’ve ever known intimately. I once started to date a man who was smart, sophisticated, and attractive, but when I kissed him I was put off by a faint, cornlike smell that came from his cheeck. Not cologne or soap: It was just his subtle, natural scent, and I was shocked to discover it disturbed me viscerally. Although men seldom report such detailed responses to their partner’s natural smell, women so often do that it’s become a romantic cliché: When her lover is away, or her husband dies, an anguished woman goes to his closet and takes out a bathrobe or shirt, presses it to her face, and is overwhelmed by tenderness for him. Few men report similar habits, but it’s not surprising that women should be more keenly attuned to smells. Females score higher than males  in sensitivity to odors, regardless of age group. For a time scientists thought that estrogen might be involved, since there was anecdotal evidence that pregnant omen had a keener sense of smell, but as it turned out prepubescent girls were better sniffers than boys their age, and pregnant women were no more adept at smelling than other women…”

The greater adeptness of women at detecting odors may account for why men are often so clumsy when it comes to handling their personal odors. From the furtive, deep inhalation of one’s armpits that characterize the adolescent males dating behavior, to the drown-me-in-cologne school of men.

When we return, we’ll look at a snapshot on our changing behavior and tastes. And then we’ll ask a pretty famous lady, about what it suggests about the way we are –and the ways we love.

 

II. Love, Actually

 

In 2006, McCann Worldgroup Philippines conducted what it calls an Inter-generation Study. This was a follow-up on their landmark 1992 and 2000 McCann Youth Studies. The findings from that study have been circulating for some time, but I thought I’d share with you the bare bones of that study, to situate ourselves in terms of the overwhelming majority of our population.

I won’t bore you with the technical details, which we’re flashing on your screens:

 

Technical DetailsThe 2006 Inter-generation Study is the latest major research initiative of McCann Worldgroup Philippines and the follow-up to the landmark 1992 and 2000 McCann Youth Studies. This study aims to profile a holistic understanding of the different generations of Filipinos in terms of their lifestyle, mindsets, beliefs, value systems and personality archetypes.

 

The Inter-generation Study is comprised of extensive qualitative explorations and a quantitative survey among Filipinos aged 12 to 60 from Class ABCD homes in urban areas nationwide. McCann Worldgroup worked on the study in partnership with TNS Trends, one of the most experienced research firms in the country.

 

Prior to the qualitative phase, consumer panels across different generations were set up. Unconventional research methods and activities like space audits and photo diaries were used to profile the respondents.

 

For the quantitative phase, face-to-face interviews using a structured questionnaire were conducted among 2000 respondents chosen randomly via multi-stage cluster sampling. Weights were applied to ensure that the aggregated data represents actual population proportions. A base questionnaire design similar to the previous McCann Youth Studies was used so that results could be comparable to previous findings.

 

 

But let’s go through the ten main findings of that study. Since many of the findings here claim to reveal truths about young people, let’s hope our audience reacts as we go along.

 

  1. Virtual is real

Teens are watching less TV, listening to less radio, reading less books and magazines, doing less sports, interacting with friends face-to-face less frequently, and spending less money on traditional consumer items…thanks to virtual connectivity technology like text messaging and the internet.

More and more, their lives are being lived out virtually.

 

  1. Technology sets the bar for the obsolescence of people

On the other hand, older generations do not give up on beauty products, personal care, clothes, and beauty parlors/salons. Forty is the new thirty…and today’s adults know how to make this a reality.

But clearly, the use of technology and virtual connectivity create the great divide and 30 seems to be the cut-off. Ugh.

 

  1. Learning = Earning

Despite the pull of the internet and cell phones, teens are more committed to school work. From 100 minutes spent studying per day in 2000, this has increased to about 122 minutes in 2005.

But school is not about academic or scholastic pursuits. It’s a practical means to reach a set of goals that are clearer, more tangible, and more reachable than ever.

  • Finish a course that is marketable globally (e.g. nursing)
  • Leave the country to earn money
  • Help out or repay one’s parents (which is not just a sign of gratitude but also a badge of success)

 

  1. The hopeful generation

Teens from OFW homes are happier with certain aspects of their life – standard of living, community & housing conditions (thereby pulling up the national average ratings on these areas).

And other teens are encouraged and inspired by them.

Teens are planning their futures around finding work abroad, too.

 

  1. The death of the classical career builder

Pressured to rise above financial difficulty, exposed to new opportunities provided by the OFW and call center boom, raised on a culture of immediacy through technology and aware of the phenomenon of 20-something IT millionaires, the new generation of workers are different. They no longer want to nurture long careers that can take them from the cubicle to the corner office like the yuppie of the 80s and 90s.

Rather, they are looking for jobs that promise to pay well sooner than later.

“Nag-practicum ako sa **** and grabe talaga. Doon ko nakita yung hirap na mag-umpisa sa mababa. I was willing to do that before pero parang ngayon, over na.”

 

  1. The single 20-something: The big spender

They have the longest shopping list among the generations – spending a lot not only for themselves but also for the family.

They have the voracious consumer appetite of a teen, but in many cases, the earning power of an adult with little family responsibilities.

 

  1. Adults are more liberal than teens

And here’s something particularly relevant tonight. Teens are not “wilder” than the older people. On the contrary, they are more conservative particularly versus the 20-somethings.

However, teen values are fragmented – conservative Luzon, liberal Mindanao, and Metro Manila evolving to more liberal norms.

 

  1. The fragmentation of family during teenage years

Only about half of teens live their everyday lives with both parents present (versus 65% in 2000).

While most of this is due to some need (e.g. having to leave home for work or school), divorce/separation is becoming more real.

    • 15% of fathers who are away from teen kids are divorced/separated from their wives.
    • Less than half of teens believe divorce or separation is wrong

 

  1. Plugged in, stressed out

Teens are learning, seeing, and experiencing more things sooner. They are more “sensitized” and more aware of everything.

It is no wonder then that they are such a stressed teen generation: their counterparts five years ago worried only about having to find work and earning a living. Now they’re worried about so many things from pollution, to drugs, criminality, getting sick, failing to provide for their families, and even growing old alone!

They’re 14 turning 40.

 

  1. The reality generations

 

They are aware of and are worried about more things than ever. Armed with more information from more sources along with the ability to choose the content they want to consume, one cannot mask, sanitize, or romanticize things for them. They cannot be fooled because they know what’s real.

 

It’s no wonder then that the reality TV genre is a hit, the internet has become a more credible source of information, and traditional advertising seem fabricated.

Well, there you have it. At this point, I’d like to invite our guest to join us, and tackle this conservatism versus liberality thingie. Does she agree or disagree?

 

My view

 

Pardon me if I turn clinical for a moment, but a survey once revealed that an alarming number of Filipina women thought Coca-Cola, if used as a douche, would help prevent pregnancies. The day of hearts is quite obviously a day for lovemaking, too, and while we’re all 100% in favor of abstinence, quite obviously too, many chose not to abstain on the day of hearts.

So the question is, do we make it hard for people to make informed choices, or do we arm them with the information to know what kind of birth control best suits their conscience? Do we shut down the motels, declare a liquor ban, tell everyone to be chaste, and chastise them if, particularly when young, a kiss leads to more than an innocent goodbye?

A French public service commercial endorsed birth control and other means to have safe sex, with this tag line: live long enough to find your true love. This applies to all, on the day of hearts.

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