The Art of Making Ligaw: Traditional and Modern Courtship in the Philippines


Writers:  Jerwin Regala, Shane Wendy Sarabia, and Alvin Joseph Mapoy 
Translations: Richardson Mojica, Tobey Calayo
Editor: K Ballesteros, Richardson Mojica
Researcher: Angelica Jane Evangelista, Nel Fortes, Jomari Gimongala
Graphics: Krystle Mae Labio, Jacklyn Moral
Tweet Chat Moderators: Angelica Jane Evangelista, Raven Gavino, Ian Stephen Velez
Documentation: Marc John Paul Agbuya
Spaces Moderators: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Richardson Mojica, Azie Libanan, K Ballesteros, Kamille Huelgas and Christine Joy Salva Cruz


“Panliligaw”, the Tagalog word for courtship, is the most romantic and the sweetest stage of every Filipino’s  lovelife. Courtship, in general, is a period of development towards a sexual relationship wherein a couple get to know each other and decide whether there will be an engagement. It may be an informal or private matter between two people, a public affair, or a formal arrangement with family approval [9]. In the Philippines, Filipinos developed unique and symbolic courtship and dating customs and traditions, influenced by its collective culture, both indigenious and colonial. 

Classic Ligaw: Traditional Way of Filipino Courtship 

Influenced by Spaniards and Catholicism, Filipino courtship is described as far more subdued compared to Western cultures [5] . Although having a series of friendly dates is the normal starting point in the Filipino way of courting, Courtship usually begins with tuksuhan or the process of teasing, a process of pairing off a potential couple [7] . The process helps in discerning whether the feelings of the people involved are mutual, and this process ends either in avoidance or further courtship [2]. If the manliligaw or the suitor really takes it seriously, one has to visit the family of the nililigawan, or the one being courted, and introduce oneself formally. This particular importance on the family has been part of the Filipino tradition even before the pre-colonial era. Paninilbihan or the custom requiring a certain man to work for the woman’s family was a “long, arduous and expensive process of courting in ancient Philippines[4]. The practice of harana or serenading is a very popular practice in Filipino courtship.  Banding along with their friends with guitars at hand, young men would sing underneath women’s bedroom windows at night, in the hopes of getting their attention, and the eventual acceptance of their romantic advances [5].

Inspired by Dr. Jose Rizal’s fondness in writing, sending love letters is another courtship norm [20]  In this dating move, the suitor asks the close relative or friend of the nililigawan to hand in the letter, which requires a sufficient amount of patience and understanding in the past as sending letters through mediators takes a lot of time [20] . Then when postal mail was introduced in the country, the penpal system became a craze. 

Courtship, traditionally, takes a year or more;  if the couple decides for a serious engagement, the pamamanhikan will follow. The man and his parents, together with some pasalubong or gifts, will visit the woman’s family and ask for her parents’ blessings to marry their daughter. It is also an occasion for the parents of the woman to get to know the parents of the man [9].

PDA: The Trending Public Courtship 

For sure, you have witnessed ligawan in high school, which is done publicly, catching mass attention and public display of affection. Whenever we hear girls screaming and see boys pushing each other, there is something romantic happening on the school grounds. The suitor, who are usually men, would invite some of his friends to join in serenading the girl he has been courting for quite some time. Along with the traditional harana, comes gifts of flowers, chocolates and letters with cheesy messages plus the banners held by a  company of suitors.  It is in this age where we also learn to accept romantic relationships and attractions between two boys or two girls. Courtships take effort  to make the nililigawan give the sweetest “yes”, and lose the fear of being “basted”.

As a high school student, it was never easy to approach someone you like. At the back of your mind, you hear your grandfather’s voice telling you to follow traditional courtship advice. But you want to approach someone using your tech-savvy techniques. It starts with ligaw-tingin. You become comfortable and proceed with ligaw-biruan and proceed with panunuyo [1] . But for most people who never went through the ligaw phase in high school, we are with you. Sometimes, the big move is just letting your sincere emotions shine through.

Online Ligaw: Courtship in the Modern Age and in the Time of COVID-19

Throughout the years, Filipino dating culture has evolved, and the traditional customs have become  more westernized. If we compare, modern courtship is far different from traditional courtship. Courting can now take place without personal contact: virtual dating, chatting online, sending text messages, conversing over the telephone, and instant messaging [12] .

The pandemic crippled us with unrelenting waves of anxiety, where we feel like our lives have been flipped upside down. The thought of going through it alone is equal parts terrifying and overwhelming. Modern dating has been here for a long time. However, since the pandemic started, dating publicly has been  prohibited.  Online dating is now a thing. In the past, single people may have met potential dates mostly through family, friends, or colleagues. These days, people can increase their dating choices exponentially via online dating services such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder, Tantan, Grindr, Blued, and Fem etc. These online dating sites are still  very  profitable.

On the grounds that these applications  speed up what is a “slow and arduous task” for some, technology-enabled platforms have become a virtual bar where  singles lurk and look for a potential partner [11] . Texting is more suitable to contemporary Filipino society and social conditions. The rapid change in society can be attributed to increased use  of technology. Texting as part of courtship opened more doors to the possibility of younger age groups to experience romance and to participate without hindrance from parents.

However: dating online appears to be prone to dishonesty. In general, no matter the setting, people are more likely to lie when looking for a date than in other social situations [16]. We have heard of many catfishing stories, where one is being tricked by someone who assumes a persona different from their  real identity. “Posers”, the Filipino term for catfish, display fake profile pictures and fabricated  biographies or completely deceptive  profiles. Different things motivate each of these people. It’s most commonly a need to be liked or hide who they are because of a confidence issue [13] .

However, research suggests that major lies are actually rare. People who are into online dating realize that if they do want to pursue serious relationships, they have to be serious too in sharing their identities [19] .

Ligaw Attitude: How modern forms of panliligaw may affect our mental health

Filipino Psychology provided insights about courtship. In a study by Billedo (1995), panliligaw was  defined by Filipino college students as a process with the aim to build a romantic relationship. During the 90s, the act of panliligaw was supplanted by gender stereotypes. The cultural behavior of men and women in the process of panliligaw was dictated by societal norms. For example, the first confession of love should come from men. Meanwhile, women are expected to be more secretive in their expression. 

In the United States, non-marital sexual relationships have become increasingly acceptable. The prevalence of one-night stands contributes to the hook-up culture. This is defined as “one that accepts and encourages casual sexual encounters, including one-night stands and other related activity, which focus on physical pleasure without necessarily including emotional bonding or long-term commitment.” [12] . While hook-ups become  increasingly acceptable, the negative impacts of hookups were positively associated with psychological distress [14] . 

Online dating, another form of modern courtship practice, is also a practice that is associated with  psychological distress. Holtzhausen and colleagues (2020) state that dating app users face approximately three times the amount of distress compared to their non-dating app user peers. Further, online dating has also been found to be associated with poor body image [21] . 

Ghosting is another issue that is prevalent among modern courtship practices. This “occurs when someone you are dating or have a friendship with disappears without a trace” [3]. Ghosting brings out different emotions such as sadness, anger, loneliness, and confusion. 

 How can we protect ourselves over the negative implications that panliligaw may pose?

Find a new source of joy. Make time for self-inquiry and self-reconnection. We might have been ghosted, but peace, joy, and a new source of inspiration may help you cope [15] . 

Allow your emotions to flow. It may be helpful to find a close friend to let all your frustrations be heard. If we are not comfortable with sharing our experiences, we can consider writing them down or creating an artwork that expresses our emotion [15] .

Do acts of self-care. Investing in physical health, hanging out with people, reading books, and other activities of self-care [10]  can help you cope with the stress you may experience after a failed panliligaw stint. It is okay to say, “ako naman muna”.

Whatever the case maybe, love is still worth trying. In Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love (1986), panliligaw is at the level of liking and infatuated love based on the cultural descriptions of Filipinos about panliligaw. Liking involves the intimacy component of love, while infatuation reflects the passion component of love with the absence of other components. While liking is typically constant in close relationships, infatuation is less stable and less predictable (1986). It is therefore important to evaluate the love that we accept and receive when committing in a long-time relationship. After all, as Stephen Chbosky says, “We accept the love we think we deserve”.

Pre-Session Activity:

1.Guess the Love Team or Romantic Movie
2.Traditional or Modern Courtship?
3.What traditional way of courtship do you want to retain in the modern age of dating?
4.Share your most memorable experience in courtship?


1. What traits or characteristics do you look for in a potential romantic partner?
2. How do you provide mental health support to your partner-to-be?
3. How can Filipinos use new communication technologies to establish long-lasting romantic relationships?


[1] Cariga, C. & Dimaano, M. (2014). Retrospect: The art of courtship. 

[2] Cohen, M., (2017). How is Technology Shaping Romance?. 

[3] Field, B. (2021). How to Cope With Being Ghosted. 

[4] FilipiKnow (2018, October 7). 12 Surprising Facts You Didn’t Know About Pre-Colonial Philippines.

[5] Garcia, L. (2020, February 3). Traditions of Courtship & Engagement in the Philippines.

[6] Hampton, K., (n.d.). Technology and Relationships: The Pros and Cons. 

[7] HisOur Archives (n.d.). Courtship in the Philippines.

[8] Holtzhausen N, Fitzgerald K, Thakur I, Ashley J, Rolfe M, Pit SW. Swipe-based dating applications use and its association with mental health outcomes: a cross-sectional study. BMC Psychol. 2020;8(1):22. doi:10.1186/s40359-020-0373-1

[9] Internet Archives (2020, February 19).Courtship in Philippine Culture.

[10] Kassel, G. (2020). How To Love Yourself Again After A Breakup: 18 Acts Of Self-Care. 

[11] Loresco, S. (2015). Love in the Time of Online Dating.

[12] Lumen Learning (n.d.) Reading: Marriage and Courtship Patterns.

[13] McClellan, D. (2021,June 7). Catfished: What is Catfishing Online: History, Meaning, Psychology and More About Catfish Scams.

[14] Napper, L.E., Montes, K., Kenney, S.R., LaBrie, J.W. (2015). Assessing the Personal Negative Impacts of Hooking Up Experienced by College Students: Gender Differences and Mental Health. Journal of Sex Res. 53(7), 766–775.

[15] PsychCentral (n.d.) 10 Tips for Healing a Broken Heart. 

[16] Rowatt, W. C., Cunningham, M. R., & Druen, P. B. (1999). Lying to get a date: The effect of facial physical attractiveness on the willingness to deceive prospective dating partners.

[17] Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119–135.

[18] Suttie, J. (2015). How is Technology Shaping Romance? 

[19] Toma, C. L., Hancock, J. T., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Separating fact from fiction: An examination of deceptive self-presentation in online dating profiles.

[20] Torres, I. (2019, March 20). Filipino Dating: Evolution of Courtship in the Philippines.

[21] Zlot Y, Goldstein M, Cohen K, Weinstein A. Online dating is associated with sex addiction and social anxiety. J Behav Addict. 2018;7(3):821-826. doi:10.1556/2006.7.2018.66

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July 20, 2021  Writers: Azie Libanan and Tobey Fhar Isaac Calayo Editor: K Ballesteros Researchers: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Jerwin Regala,