Six months later, after hours of Yahoo! chats and staccato webcam conversations, the two proclaimed their love for one another. And just yesterday, Phil texted Tin-Tin asking for her ring size. In February, 2008, exactly one year since Phil first clicked her picture, the two plan to marry.
Virtual love affairs between American men and Filipina women are unsettlingly common here, admits Tin-Tin. Often impoverished young women seeking a Green Card to “America’s Greener Pastures” see marriage to American men as their ticket out.
But Tin-Tin insists she and Phil are different. She has a stable job, isn’t your standard super-skinny beauty, was really trying to auction clothes online when they met, and ultimately believes marriage is a holy sacrament between lovers - not something to be abused.
Over the internet, Phil and Tin-Tin discovered they had much in common. They both love mashed potatoes, steak, chocolate cake, karaoke singing, and professional wrestling.
Phil is an auto mechanic in Hollywood City, Florida who lives with his ailing mother. “Life for him was working, paying bills, sleeping, then working again,” says Tin-Tin. “But when he met me he found another life; he became young again.”
The couple developed an internet routine. There’s a twelve-hour difference between Olongapo, Philippines and Hollywood City, Florida. So during Phil’s work break from 10am to 2pm Florida time, they’d chat. And then when Tin-Tin got into work at 9am Philippines time, it was 9pm for Phil. He’d chat with her until the wee hours of his morning.
Two months ago they decided they had to meet in person. Phil took a week off from work and embarked on a forty-hour round-trip journey around the world. “We were together only five days but it was like we've been together for life,” Tin-Tin says.
They ate meals out, shopped, talked and sang. They got intimate in private and in public. “Filipino men don’t show their affection publicly,” observes Tin-Tin, “but Phil would hug me and kiss me anywhere.” She found this adorable, and became convinced Phil was the one.
But Tin-Tin initially avoided telling her mother, who “was very skeptical about it all…she says I’m crazy.” After all, horror stories abound here. There are American sex tourists who promise marriage to multiple Filipina girls, visit for two weeks, sleep with all of them one by one, and then return home single. There are American men who marry Filipinas, bring them home to the U.S., but then keep them locked up as in-house-servants or mistresses and abuse them. Most terrifying for Tin-Tin, there are American men who marry Filipinas, bring them home, buy them life insurance, and then kill them to collect big bucks, she says.
“I hear a lot in the news of Filipinos being killed by their husbands in America…being put in a trunk and made to sink.” She even brought up the issue “half-jokingly with Phil” this week. Phil protested saying, according to Tin-Tin, “‘Honey, I love you too much to kill you.’”
This answer sufficed, she says, "because we are really in love!”
After dinner, Tin-Tin brings me back to her colorful, three-room apartment, where she lives with her mother and four younger cousins who’ve been virtually abandoned by their hard-drinking, cock-fighting father. Tin-Tin has a lot of responsibility here, she says. It’s been this way for as long as she can remember.
Phil fits the bill. “He’s only twenty years older than me,” she says with a big laugh. But she still calls him “‘Daddy Phil.'" He calls her “‘Baby.’” “I can have a father and a husband!," she says, still laughing, "See? We complement each other!”
Tin-Tin daydreams of growing old with Phil, holding hands on a porch in a retirement village in Florida, strolling down the boardwalk, riding across town in his Chevy truck, and singing to him.
The latter she can do from afar. She turns on her computer, sets up her webcam, and plays one of their favorite songs by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, called “Islands in the Stream.” Gazing at the screen, she belts out the final lyrics to her far-away beau:
Islands in the stream, that is what we are. No one in between, how can we be wrong? Sail away with me, to another world. And we rely on each other, uh huh. From one lover to another, uh huh.