Notes & Essays

Going to Baguio as Friends: Can Men and Women Ever Have a Purely Platonic Relationship?

It’s not as simple as you think.
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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Anyone who spends a significant amount of time on social media must have heard about the most recent local celebrity news story involving actor-couple Paolo Contis and LJ Reyes. The short version is this: after being together for years (and producing an offspring), the couple suddenly called it quits, allegedly because of that ever-present third party. 

Social media was first alerted in August when Contis unfollowed Reyes on Instagram (this generation’s version of a very public break-up). On the first of September, Reyes admitted that the two had split up and that it was “not a mutual” decision. It didn’t take long for internet sleuths to figure out something was up. One day later, a photo of Contis with a mystery girl in Baguio City started going around social media, and two days after that, it was a video of Contis with the same girl in Manaoag, Pangasinan that had gone viral.

On Wednesday, September 8, Contis finally addressed the controversy with a lengthy statement on his Instagram account. We’ll let you find the whole statement yourself (if you haven’t already read it), but there’s one specific item about it that jumped out and has become the internet issue du jour. Sandwiched between his steadfast admission of his mistakes and his profuse apology to everybody involved in this sordid tale (particularly to Reyes), Contis attempted to explain the existence of the photo of him and the mystery girl in Baguio City, who was later identified to be actress Yen Santos, his co-star in the Netflix movie A Faraway Land.

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"When LJ left for the States with the kids, I went to Baguio for 3 days dahil ayaw ko sa Manila at gusto kong makapag isip-isip,” he said. “Naging insensitive ako about the possible effects nung issue and I invited Yen for a day para may makausap since malapit lang siya sa North din.

"She went there as a friend.”

Just friends 

“She went there as a friend.” No six words have ever stirred up so much emotion and debate since perhaps that famous short story often attributed to Ernest Hemingway (“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn). We’re exaggerating, of course, but if you’ve been on Facebook and Twitter the last 24 hours, you get the idea. 

The statement brings forth a number of questions. First, is Paolo telling the truth? He was clearly upset about his relationship with Reyes. A quick trip to Baguio to clear his head is not entirely implausible. But to ask a girl who’s just a friend (versus a girlfriend) to come with you to help you through the pain—is that believable?

Which leads us to the next question: couldn’t he have asked somebody else to come with him, perhaps a male friend? Of course, who we choose to help us in our time of need is completely up to us, but during a particularly sensitive time like this one, and especially for a well-known celebrity whose face has been gracing our screens since he was a kid, perhaps a degree of discretion would have been appropriate. 

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And finally, with his admission that he asked a girl up to Baguio with him—a girl whom he insists is definitely NOT the cause of his breakup with Reyes, despite the vigorous testimonials of so-called witnesses who say that the pair were seen being sweet to each other in the City of Pines—the implication is that Contis believes there’s absolutely nothing wrong about a man and a woman hanging out together with no sexual or romantic attachments. Just friends.

Which begs that age-old question: can men and women ever be truly just friends?

“I think when (people) say that men and women can never be friends, they’re stating something that’s fairly observational,” says noted sex and relationships therapist Dr. Rica Cruz. “But people should also know that science boils the phenomenon down to the gender you’re talking to. Women are more accepting that men and women can be just friends, but men have this misconception that most friendships can lead to a romantic relationship.

“I do believe though that if two adults can openly talk about the sexual tension that surrounds them and decide to keep things simple and not become sexual, then they can be beneficial to each other as friends,” she adds.

Men vs women

Cruz’s statement is supported by this study conducted by researchers in the University of Wisconsin-Au Claire in the U.S, which delves deep into the history of cross-sex (male-female) friendships. The study notes that friendships between the two sexes is actually a very recent phenomenon in the context of the history of the human species. “Until approximately 10,000 years ago, or for over 99 percent of homo history, humans’ ancestors lived as foraging nomads. They appear to have lived in small groups comprised largely of reproductive partners and kin, as do people who live in traditional societies today (Chagnon, 1992).

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“It seems unlikely, then, that genetically unrelated, reproductive aged males and females engaged in non-sexual, supportive relationships—friendships—over the majority of our ancestral history.”

In the study, 88 pairs of undergraduate opposite-sex friends were brought into a lab and were each asked separately about their relationship with each other. 

“Men were much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa,” said an article in Scientific American based on the study. “Men were also more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them—a clearly misguided belief.”

“Men were also more willing to act on this mistakenly perceived mutual attraction,” the article further added. “Both men and women were equally attracted to romantically involved opposite-sex friends and those who were single. Although men were equally as likely to desire ‘romantic dates’ with ‘taken’ friends as with single ones, women were sensitive to their male friends’ relationship status and uninterested in pursuing those who were already involved with someone else.”

All this is to say that when it comes to men and women being “just friends,” it’ll all depend on who you ask.   

As for whether Reyes and Contis can repair their fractured relationship, Cruz says it’s all up to Reyes. 

“LJ should do whatever she deems to do as a woman and as a mother,” she says. “Thus, her healing might help her move forward from all this brouhaha. At this point, should she forgive Paolo, that’s for her to decide. What’s crucial is that she works on forgiving herself.”

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