A Filipino 'Humans of New York' love story

MANILA, Philippines – What would you do if someone professed their love for you on a platform as public as Humans of New York (HONY), the famed Facebook page featuring New Yorkers' personal anecdotes and insights?

In May 2014, a HONY entry of a man looking out into the distance went viral in Philippine online circles. In the caption, he talks about a girl he'd met in New York and had returned to the Philippines. "Now I am wondering when we will be together again."

 

This was how Warren Villanueva became a point of interest for many lovestruck Filipinos. 

Rappler got in touch with him and the subject of his affection, Janina Pangilinan, to find out just what became of this made-for-TV declaration of love.

How did you meet?

WARREN: We were supposed to meet [in the Philippines] around September 2010 but my plan was changed as I got re-routed to Canada. Fast forward to 2013, when I found that [Janina's] grandma passed away; I asked for her number and I messaged her on Viber extending my sincere condolence to her and the whole family. We started talking every single day until we started exchanging daily devotions, up to the time she finally visited here last January 2014. I met her at a simple evening gathering but it was one of the happiest days of my life.

JANINA: Before physically meeting each other, the connection was already there. Believe it or not, Warren is the first guy to ever pray with me over a Viber call. We support the same charity groups, and I think that’s where we actually clicked.

How  did you move from being friends to being a couple/What was  the courtship process?

“One day I asked her out for a date at Central Park and when I first saw her face in broad daylight my world just stopped.” - Warren Villanueva

WARREN: To me it just happened naturally. We've had the opportunity to learn a lot from each other through Viber and since then we became good friends. When she visited New York, I told myself 'Wow she is actually a lot cuter in person.' And then one day I asked her out for a date at Central Park and when I first saw her face in broad daylight, my world just stopped. 

Her last night in New York was probably one of the most significant milestones of our relationship. That was the night we both finally opened up about how we feel for each other and at the same time I chased her all the way to the airport to let her know how special she is. The courtship continued when she returned home and our Viber messages had evolved into something more romantic.

JANINA: It was a weirdly easy and quick process. I guess it’s because there was no time to be pakipot (play hard to get). I knew before meeting him in person that I liked him already, and it was just a matter of confirming it and getting to know him more. Thankfully, he was really persistent to spend and maximize his time with me. He stayed with me during my last night and stated his intentions. As if the long talk wasn’t clear enough, he showed up at the airport the next day just to repeat everything he said to me the night before. He didn’t let go until I was back home and he suddenly decided to come visit me in April. I showed him my world – my work, my family and friends – and he gladly embraced every aspect. He even went with me for a feeding outreach!  That’s how I saw just how serious he was in making this work.

Let's talk about the Humans of New York photo that went viral online.

WARREN: When I was interviewed by Brandon [Stanton] of Humans of New York, [Janina and I] were already in a relationship. Although we were in a relationship, I was struggling with the distance and missing her a lot. I was, in fact, thinking about her when Brandon accidentally bumped into me at me around Rockefeller, New York.

JANINA: We were already together then; he just got back to New York from his vacation here in Manila. But yes, I guess it did help because it’s not really every day that a guy would shout to the world how serious he is about you, right? The photographer, Brandon, asks random questions to his subjects, and there could’ve been hundreds of other things on Warren’s mind that can be more interesting to share, but he talked about me. I think that’s really sweet.

What hesitations did you have  about getting in a relationship with someone who was living  in a different country?

WARREN: My previous relationship was also a long distance relationship (LDR) and, having said that, you would still be hesitant to get into the water again when you know that you've been burned in the past. But you know what, it's different when you know you finally found your own small portion of the beach that you can swim around in forever.

JANINA: There were a lot of hesitations on my end. I think it took Warren a lot of professing of his love before he got me convinced. I got out of a long distance relationship a year ago, and I really think that this is hard. But at the same time, I realized it’s teamwork. It takes a lot more effort to be in a long distance relationship than a normal one. But when you get a clear sense of where the relationship is headed, then I think it’s worth a shot.

What were your initial difficulties as a new couple?

WARREN: To be honest with you, I am surprised there's not a lot. Maybe because we haven't spent more time together physically yet. I'm pretty sure there will be but the difficulties I can recall are the common LDR stuff like you can't be there physically when your girlfriend is crying or when she's not feeling well. So I guess for me, it's the physical separation and the time zone difference would be another one, but we've finally mastered this area over the course of time.

JANINA: It is a bit difficult because you can’t physically be with the person, of course. Sometimes I think there are petty fights that can be solved with just one hug, but we don’t have that. Sometimes there are things or details about your day that you’re just too lazy to explain or share, but again, it takes that extra effort to make it work. Small things. Like Warren would randomly send me photos of the street he was walking at, or a building or a bench that he saw and he remembered me by. Small things like that matter.

What were your fears toward your new partner?

“Too bad, the whole world knows already that I’m in love with you. You’re stuck with me, love!” - Warren Villanueva

WARREN: When she's mad and especially if she's mad and hungry, but I still find it cute for some reason.

JANINA: Hahaha! I hate Warren’s answer. To me it’s probably him waking up one day and realizing it’s not worth it and just drop me like a hot potato. I’ve been hurt like that in the past. But then I’d remember Warren telling me (about the HONY post) “Too bad, the whole world knows already that I’m in love with you. You’re stuck with me, love!” Then I’ll be okay.

How do you keep  in touch with each other? How does technology help?

WARREN: Viber, WhatsApp, Skype, KakaoTalk, email... of all these Skype is the one that really stands out. It's refreshing when you see the person you love as if they are in front of you. But regardless of what platform we use, it is the 'content' or the way you express to your partner how you felt at that very moment that counts.

JANINA: I think every possible way to communicate. All mobile apps he mentioned are helpful, especially for our everyday communication. But his once-in-a-while flowers and personal notes are closest to my heart. Technology keeps us close because we can communicate constantly, and even send details or a clear picture of how our day went. Video calls are very important to us because it lets us see each other. I can’t imagine how it’ll be like if we don’t have all those.

How do you spice it up, since you can't physically be together all the time?

WARREN: I like to tease her a lot and always let her know that she's the most special person in my life. In our situation now, a normal date would be laughing and teasing at each other through Skype.

JANINA: It really helps that Warren is super funny. He makes me laugh a lot. I think silliness should really be a part of a relationship. 

What are your plans for the future?

WARREN: Travel a lot around North America first then around the world. Of course to have a healthy, happy family just like any other normal person would.

JANINA: Save up and travel! I think we’re both on the same page right now, and we’ll try to spend special occasions together, whether here in Manila or overseas. We talk about the future a lot. I think we have a lot to look forward to. But we also don't discount the present, and everyday is a continuous learning experience for us. 

Marriage? If so, would you ever live in different places again?

WARREN: I can't wait to marry her soon. Would I ever live in different places again? Hell noooo! Well actually, it depends on our jobs but if that happens: only for a couple of days.

JANINA: I think when that time comes, I wouldn’t want to be in  a long distance relationship anymore.

What tips can you give others?

WARREN: Distance is not for the fearful, it is for the bold. It's for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone in exchange for a little time with the ONLY ONE they LOVE. It's knowing the good and best things in life when they see it, even if they don't see it nearly enough.

JANINA: It takes teamwork and complete trust to make any relationship work. Don’t be afraid to  show your love. I think the technology that we have right now makes it very easy to express oneself more – but remember to always mean what you say.

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For those who have been biting their nails and wondering if they ever saw each other again and if it all worked out, rest easy. It seems like this love story is headed for a happy ending! – Rappler.com

For more on their story, follow Janina's blog.