This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
Last year, I made the sudden discovery that I had deep-rooted romantic feelings for someone I considered a good friend (while simultaneously realizing I was gayer than Kate Winslet fossil-hunting on a beach). This was during a drunken evening about two hours before she climbed into a taxi and moved away forever. The feeling seemed mutual for a very brief moment, but there was no time for anything else before she was gone.
I coincidentally ended up moving into her dorm after she left, and now I literally use her old comforter and sleep in her old bed. Nothing ever happened between us and now she has a cool new girlfriend. That’s fine, but I can’t stop wondering what could have been. I feel like the ghost of our non-relationship keeps following me around, especially since I use her pots and pans every day. It doesn’t help that I don’t live in a particularly queer-friendly town and don’t have many queer friends.
How do I move on from feeling like I’m in a period drama made by a straight male director to living like an actual person?
Hey there, NS!
First of all, you got moved into your crush’s old dorm? Is there not some sort of international gay bureau that can prevent atrocities like this from happening? I specify “international” because if your dorm has room for pots and pans, I’m assuming you’re in some country that has its shit together.
In any case, aside from the fact that your situation should be illegal, I think I can help you out here. I’m somewhat of an expert on “almost relationships.” It’s a pretty common phenomenon. Two gay ships pass in the night, and for one brief, exhilarating moment, an ocean of possibilities fills the gap between them — movie nights, meeting parents, passionate kisses, and so on.
Of course, in the cases of our romantic “could have beens,” these possibilities fail to materialize. They die as they live — seductive mirages, glittering on the surface of the water. Reach out to touch them, and the shadow of your hand will snuff them out. For the grizzled realists who’ve been through this many times before, we might shrug and say, “Ah! Got me again.”
But the problem, NS, is that these darlings are not so easily killed. We might grow attached to the idea of a person, or, more specifically, to the idea of ourselves with that person. It’s a bit like trying on an expensive outfit we absolutely can’t afford. We look at ourselves in the mirror, at the illustrious person we could be, and we start weaving delicious possibilities: In this outfit, I’d go to the theater. I’d go on a fancy first date. I’d be beautiful and desired and eccentric.
That’s how boutiques on Instagram get you to break your bank!
Anyway, yes, it’s human to get attached to your daydreams. I don’t think it’s all misguided delusion either. I think most relationships require a healthy dose of whimsy. That’s what makes it fun! That’s how we get poetry and love songs. You know. Gay shit. It’s not about erasing the fantasy. It’s about maintaining a healthy relationship between fantasy and reality, and the thing about “almost relationships” is they are 99 percent fantasy.
Reality is often disappointing. At the very least, the good parts of it are buttressed by responsibilities, less pleasant moments, mundane tasks, and, well, pain. What makes these “almost relationships” so easy to romanticize is also what makes them so potent — they are mostly blank canvases. We can fill them out with whatever we want.
This is why you get so many people swearing, swearing, that their perfect relationship was on the very cusp of happening right before they moved or something interrupted the dynamic. I’m not saying they’re always wrong. I’m just saying it’s so, so much easier to think that way when you have all this room to picture what might have been.
All that to say, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re up to some very classic, very human, very homosexual behavior. It won’t be easy to brush aside those delicious “what-ifs,” but you can remind yourself that the pigments are all there to paint a nice picture. I have no doubt you’ll have another chance to do so with someone else.
As for action items, I must ask: Is it at all possible to get out of her old dorm? As a dramatic person who needs literary short-story material, I’m jealous. As an advice columnist, I must question the Saw-like cruelty of your living situation and urge you to take action.
I would also say that while living in a town with precious few queers is tough, there’s always the internet! We’re all (mostly) inside these days anyway, so maybe now is a good time to get digitally involved with some groups you’ve been interested in. There’s a queer group for just about every hobby. Queer knitting. Queer anime. Queer paleontologists. Queer … taxidermy …
You know what, be careful with the internet, okay?
I’ve also noticed that we’re all kind of lonely at the moment, so there’s never been a better time to shoot your platonic shot with someone you think you might hit it off with. I’ve been doing that, and I’ve made more friends this year! Some would say too many. The cull will begin soon.
Good luck with your yearning! Gay.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on December 2, 2020.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.