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Everything I know about relationships, I learned from Kathniel

By Angel Martinez Published Jul 09, 2021 6:00 am

When I was in the fifth grade, a classmate of mine shocked our entire batch by announcing she was Daniel Padilla’s godsister. Sure, she had no concrete evidence, but the idea of being connected to the country’s most famous teen heartthrob was just too glamorous to ignore. Everyone wanted a video greeting, an autographed photo, or a “Hi!” scribbled on a napkin. Even our teachers caught on and started giving her special treatment.

I, for one, didn’t understand why anyone would bend over backwards just to get the bare minimum from their beloved DJ. Besides the annoying side-swept bangs that took up half his face, I didn’t appreciate how he swaggered about with his bad boy charm and spoke like he ruled the world. That is, until I watched him act and realized that he had every right to.

On a routine trip to the movies eight years ago, my parents and I watched Must Be… Love, Daniel’s first starring role alongside the equally brilliant Kathryn Bernardo. Here, they play Ivan and Patchot, childhood best friends who begin to see each other in a different light. While it’s their cringiest release by far, thanks to the outdated fashion choices, plot devices, and choice of lingo (who has ever used the term “GHOHOL” in an actual conversation?), no coming-of-age film had captured my younger self’s reality to such an accurate degree.

At 12 years old, I sported a frizzy head of hair, a face full of acne, and a painfully unfashionable pair of eyeglasses. I was taught that conventional beauty was an ideal I had to aspire towards, a prerequisite I needed to achieve self-love. And since it never felt within reach, I didn’t bother trying and never put myself out there.

I grew so obsessed with their movie and its empowering undertones that my parents surprised me with a VCD as a grade school graduation present. Thus began a long, winding and ongoing affair with Kathniel’s entire filmography.

In one pivotal scene, Patchot enters a hair and makeup contest and is transformed into the fresh and feminine young lady she’s been hiding underneath. “You once told me that you were the girl who would always remain invisible,” says her stylist, Ivan’s Tita Baby. “But how can people ever see you if you keep yourself hidden?” A simple thought, in retrospect, but one that paved the way for a healthier relationship with myself. 

I grew so obsessed with this movie and its empowering undertones that my parents surprised me with a VCD as a grade school graduation present. Thus began a long, winding and ongoing affair with Kathniel’s entire filmography.

Though I never had the time to keep up with their individual careers, I was very much emotionally invested in their characters, with Kenji de los Reyes from She’s Dating the Gangster and Jackie Serrano from Crazy Beautiful You sharing the top spots.

In Christian Living class activities that required me to visualize my ideal partner, I began to gravitate towards the brooding type with a heart of gold. While I now believe that partners aren’t required to double as rehabilitation centers, there was just something about the idea of love being a catalyst for change that made me want to experience it for myself.

I had turned into a living irony: the single friend and the barkada love guru. I witnessed my friends stretch themselves too thin or change each aspect of their personality to cater to a boy’s needs, only to be dropped for somebody new.

Coincidentally, a year later, my batchmates and I had a soiree with an all-boys school, which served as a springboard for many relationships. I watched girls parade around their significant others during school fairs (the ultimate flex) and receive photogenic bouquets from them on Valentine’s Day. But after a few weeks, they would simply crash and burn. What was often painted as the greatest thing that could possibly happen in my teenage years seemed to lack the longevity and intensity that I craved from a genuine connection.

This continued until I reached senior high school and entered college, where I had turned into a living irony: the single friend and the barkada love guru. I witnessed my friends stretch themselves too thin or change each aspect of their personality to cater to a boy’s needs, only to be dropped for somebody new. Worst of all, they would take them back in a heartbeat, despite my words of advice. Once, I asked my close friend why she put up with such horrible treatment. All she could tell me was, “Wag ka na muna magmamahal, Angel. Ang laking sakit sa ulo.”

Relationships were a paradox, I realized, maybe even a scam. In the media I consumed and the conversations I had, it was marketed to me as the pinnacle of my youth. But in reality, it looked like such a huge pain in the ass. I wasn’t ready for the time and effort required to make it work, and yet for some reason, admitting this always came off as either a moral failing or a sad excuse for a defense mechanism.

While their former films proclaimed that love was the only ingredient needed to keep two people together, their newer offerings took a more realistic approach and circled in on something far more valuable: finding it at the right time.

But thankfully, through that important period in my life, I had Kathniel reassuring and reminding me that my doubts were valid. While their former films proclaimed that love was the only ingredient needed to keep two people together, their newer offerings took a more realistic approach and circled in on something far more valuable: finding it at the right time.

A few months after my soiree, I watched Barcelona: A Love Untold, where Daniel played Ely, a man who has yet to move on from the death of his one true love. The year after that, I saw Can’t Help Falling in Love. Here, Kathryn is Gab, a woman who gives up her prosperous career to be a doting housewife to her overbearing and ostentatious fiancé. And as I entered university, I had The Hows of Us, where she plays George, who puts her ambitions on hold to cater to her emotionally demanding boyfriend. 

All of these relationship dynamics share one commonality: the protagonists were expected to put their partners’ needs before their own as they made such crucial decisions. They didn’t bother taking time to think of what they wanted, which led to the eventual conflict in their respective stories. And if I wedged myself into something I was totally unprepared for, I could suffer the same fate. 

These days, I’d like to think the hopeless romantic in me still lives on but allows her head to operate more than her heart. I’ve finally admitted to myself that I’m not ready for any kind of romantic involvement, even if couple TikToks and anniversary posts on my feed sway me from time to time. One day, when the time is right, my priorities will shift to accommodate somebody new but, for now, I’ll make the most of what I have. And that’s perfectly okay.

Sometimes, I’m tempted to think it’s uncool to be a college junior clinging to relics from her past when I’m supposed to be diving into heady sci-fi thrillers like the pretentious film snob I am. But after countless rewatchings, I still find myself turning to Kathniel films during moments of distress. Meeting the protagonists always feels like seeing old friends and watching their stories unfold is a pleasant reminder of how their love has helped me grow.

Photo art by France Ramos