Seeking love and hope in public comfort rooms

(Jon Obice)

(Jon Obice)



If you badly need to heed the ‘call of nature,’ a public comfort room in the Philippines may be the worst place to answer it.

Truth be told, the majority of these public toilets have earned the reputation of being  filthy and unsanitary. It’s quite ironic, because while Filipinos are commended for our world-class hospitality to foreigners, the state of public restrooms in the Philippines is far from welcoming.

The plight of comfort room users is quite similar to that of MRT passengers: Most Filipinos, especially males, have learned to become resilient by walking into cramped, stinky rooms just to empty their bladders.  

As they say, beggars can’t be choosers. And why should we complain? It’s a “public” comfort room anyway.


The ‘Filipino’ in comfort rooms

There are odd yet compelling stories on how Filipino comfort rooms have evolved.

For one, the term “comfort room” itself is a uniquely Filipino term. Compare this to other countries’ terms for public toilets: restroom, bathroom, washroom, lavatory, public loo, men’s room, ladies’ room, latrine, powder room, water closet, WC, and so on.

In the mall, we see signs leading to “restrooms” but some Filipinos still ask guards “Kuya, sa’n ‘yung C.R.?”

Some public restrooms still require fees based on the gravity of one’s comfort room needs: PHP 2 for urinating, PHP 5 for taking a bath, and PHP 10 for defecating. It seems weird that people still have to pay for public restrooms, but that’s how it goes and we have learned to live with it.


Unexplored stories

But of all the weird customs and habits we know about CRs, the stories written on the walls of public comfort rooms have yet to be told.

Men’s toilets are a common sight for phone numbers left by strangers. Some numbers are written plainly, while some are more descriptive, stating gender preferences for potential sex partners.

In the short span of time that we spend inside public restrooms, have we ever wondered if there are people who actually call or text these numbers? How many people have actually tried writing their numbers on walls?

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And more importantly, who are these people? Why do they vandalize public toilets?

Meeting new people can be as easy as hitting the Add Friend button on Facebook, but some people still choose to build connections by writing their numbers in public spaces, even at the risk of being ignored.

The owners of these phone numbers are often judged for their audacity to vandalize a public place. But behind these intangible numbers are real people with real-life struggles.


The NBSB type

People who leave their numbers might seem desperate, but some of them believe there’s nothing to lose if it’s “just for fun.”

Meet AJ, a 20-year-old happy-go-lucky call center trainee whose notion of love is ideal and romantic, just like in the movies.

Crushing on the likes of Xian Lim, Kean Cipriano, and Edgar Allan Guzman, AJ is a self-confessed bisexual and he is proud of it. He imagines himself being the leading lady of Xian Lim, the muse in Kean Cipriano’s songs, and the jowa of “Mr. Pogi” Edgar Allan Guzman.

“I can be attracted to a girl and a boy,” AJ said.

AJ has a checklist of qualities he’s looking for in a man: guwapo, smart, tall, and malapit kay God.

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AJ has never fallen in love with someone, making him NBSB or “No-Boyfriend-Since-Birth.” Staying true to his checklist, AJ said that his pickiness keeps him from finding the “Right Guy.”


But after 20 years of being NBSB, AJ will do all means to find love, even in the most hopeless place—the comfort room.

While looking for a job at a mall near the MRT-Boni Station, he was amazed at how many handsome men he saw in just a single day.

“Na-amaze ako sa mga tao kasi ang daming guwapo,” AJ said. (“I was amazed that there were so many handsome men!”)

When he entered a cubicle in the men’s room, he saw a lot of numbers written on the wall and he was tempted to write his own number.

“Nakikita ko kasi dun parang puro mga bisexual kaya naisip ko, baka may chance ako na makakita ng kapwa bisexual,” he said. (“There were phone numbers of bisexual people, so I thought I’d have a better chance of finding a fellow bisexual.”)

Although he had never tried vandalizing a wall or writing his number in a public place before, AJ said he did it “just for fun” and for curiosity’s sake.



A day after he wrote his number, 10 strangers texted him, most of whom were looking for hookups and sex.

Standing short and possessing the looks of an average Pinoy guy, AJ admitted that at some point, he had to lie about his physical appearance and personality when texting strangers.

At one point, he was even humiliated by one of them. But AJ dismissed this incident, believing that one day, his Mr. Right would finally text him.

And so that day arrived. Another stranger texted AJ’s number, giving him high hopes for his first serious relationship. They exchanged sweet messages and for days, AJ even skipped meals just to talk to him. 

Based on the description given by the stranger—tall and handsome—he would certainly meet the physical requirements in AJ’s checklist.

“Na-fall na rin ako sa kanya kasi ok siya kausap at hindi siya bastos,” AJ said. (“I finally fell for him because I enjoyed talking to him and he wasn’t pervy.”)

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The excitement of digital romance went on for a week until AJ started to look for something more: He wanted to meet the guy in person. But first, AJ asked for the guy’s Facebook (FB) account. The stranger refused, and their short-lived romance came to an end, causing AJ to have false hopes on love.

“Akala ko nung una siya na talaga,” he said. (“I really thought he was the one.”)

Asked if he regrets writing his number on the wall, AJ said that he does not, but he also said that it was the “first and last time” that he’s going to do it.

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Woes of a former poser

People who are hoping to find sex typically go to bars, motels, and whorehouses. There are movie houses, comfort rooms, and now, online dating sites for people looking for companionship. 

Jules is a 20-year-old closeted gay student who used to be a “poser” in online dating sites like Planet Romeo and Grindr. He describes his past self as “garbage” for having 13 sex partners in a year.

As a kid, Jules was bullied by his classmates for being small, dark and skinny.

“I see myself as someone weak, unpleasant-looking, and down, na kahit anong pilit ko sa sarili ko na ‘Hindi ako pangit, ganito ang itsura ko,’ hindi eh. Façade lang siya. It’s a mask na sinusuot ko at hinuhubad din araw-araw,” Jules said. 

(“I see myself as someone weak, unpleasant-looking, and down. No matter how much I tell myself ‘I’m not ugly, this is is just how I look,’ I know that it’s all just a facade. I wear a mask that I take off everyday.”) 

Hoping to find love despite his “unpleasant looks,” Jules began pretending to be someone else. He used his female friends’ pictures in online profiles and he recorded a female voice to pass of as his own. 

“Hindi ka makikipagkita. Magpapanggap ka ng boses mo, Minsan kukuntiyabahin mo pa kaibigan mo mag-boses babae. Kapag may gusto naman makipag-video chat, sinasabi ko sira webcam ko. Siyempre kasama rin ‘yung makukunsensiya ka kasi gumagamit ka ng mukha ng ibang tao. I feel bad din kasi baka ma-fall ‘yung guy dahil sa pagsisinungaling ko,” Jules said.

(“I couldn’t meet the people I met online. I disguised my voice. Sometimes I asked my girl friends to talk on the phone for me. Whenever someone wanted to video chat, I said my webcam’s broken. But I also felt guilty for pretending to be someone else. I felt bad that someone might fall for me because of my lies.”)


Every orgasm was a consolation

After hooking up with 13 guys from gay websites and apps like Planet Romeo, Grindr, and at some point, Tinder, Jules felt he had become a “parausan” or an open book that was readily available to anyone who wanted sex.

For a time, sex became Jules’ preferred form of escapism. He had quickies in public places and also went home with strangers.

Every orgasm was his consolation, affirming that someone truly wanted him despite being rejected many times. He slept with strangers for a year until his desperation for sex exceeded his personal limits.

“Nag-dawn na sa isip ko na ‘Shit ano ginagawa ko sa katawan ko? Parang basura na, parang pok-pok na ako. Tinalikuran ko na ‘yun kasi [at that time,] I was really impulsive.” he said.

(“Then it dawned on me: ‘Shit, what am I doing to myself? I thought I was trashy. I was like a prostitute. I won’t go back to that. I used to be so impulsive.”)


Waiting on the sidelines


As a closeted gay man, Jules believes that society expects him to wait for love to come and not demand for it. But after 20 years, he is tired of waiting on the sidelines.

Still thinking that sex can lead to lasting relationships, Jules left the online scene to try his luck somewhere else.

One day while in a Shaw Boulevard office, Jules noticed phone numbers written on the walls of the men’s room. Jules  wrote his number on the wall, hoping that he would soon find a significant other.

The next day, two strangers texted him. An excited and hopeful Jules set aside his expectations to avoid disappointment. His ideal partners are tall, broad-shouldered, manly, sexy, and understanding. On seeing the profile picture of the first respondent, he was not Jules’s type but in playing darts with closed eyes, Jules said he can’t be “choosy” with the results.

“Isasantabi mo pa ba ‘yung magkakagusto sa’yo para lang sa standards mo?” he said. (“Would you ignore a potential partner just because he doesn’t meet your standards?”)

But upon giving his Facebook account, the first stranger didn’t reply. The second one didn’t reply, too. And for Jules, the equation is easy: He is not attractive.

Already used to rejection for the past 20 years, the agony of being ignored brought back his past. The world might have conspired against him, but Jules turned every form of rejection to acceptance.

“Nakaka-depress kasi bakit ganun, ‘di ako tulad ng ibang tao na maganda ang mukha? Pero tinanggap ko na lang ‘yung rejection kasi kung ‘di ka sanay, kawawa ka,” he said. (“It’s depressing to think about: Why wasn’t I born with good looks? I’ve learned to accept rejection, otherwise, I’ll just be miserable.”)

Jules said he was pessimistic about love. He believed that sex is a window for long-term relationships and it is normal to crave for it, just like how Abraham Maslow included sex in his “Hierarchy of Needs.”

“Hindi natin puwede itanggi na kailangan natin ng sex at physical contact. Secondary na lang ‘yung friendships at relationships,” he said. (“We can’t deny that we don’t need sex and physical contact. Friendship and relationships are secondary to sex.”)

Jules said that if he came out as gay, he would not have to search for love in comfort room walls.

He said that for gay men like him, whether closeted or out, it has always been a challenge for them to find relationships that aren’t purely physical. 

“Wala ka kasing mahahanap na relationship na same-sex, hanggang sex lang. Panandalian lang ‘yun, parang hanap-usap-deal. Gusto mong gawing stepping stone ‘yung sex sa mutual relationship pero ang problema, laging hanggang sex lang,” he said. (“It’s all fleeting: you find someone, you talk, you have sex. You want to turn hooking up into a real relationship, but it always just comes back around.”) 

He regrets writing his number on the wall.

“Kung ano man makikita nila, they should learn to accept kasi hindi mo mapipili ‘yung tao na nasa likod ng number na ‘yun.” (“They should learn to accept whoever owns the number. You can’t choose the person behind it.”)

But for the time being, AJ still hopes to find love and sex through random numbers. Fact is, on the day he was being interviewed, he was meeting three other guys for an “eyeball.”


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