Blame Instagram or the slew of rom-coms I regularly binge on Netflix, but I have a skewed idea of what I want my early 20s to look like. I know it’s unhealthy, yet I ache for so much more than what I have in front of me.
Yes, I have friends, I have a passion, I have a family that loves me, and I’m comfortably well-off. But where are my crazy adventures? Where is my life-changing romantic encounter? Where are my eye-opening travels, the happy accidents, the starry-eyed stranger bumping into me? You know. That kind of stuff!
I’m aware this sounds like fantasy, which has been further confirmed by my therapist. But as I sprawl out on my bed, I feel my youth slipping away by the minute. I have a sense of urgency to experience everything I’m missing out on. Am I delusional?
The Whimsy Wanter
Hey there, WW!
Sounds like you’ve got a serious case of Yearning™. For one reason or another, it seems I’ve become the resident expert for diagnosing this. Not sure what it is about me that attracts so many letters about leaving the country in a fit of passion. Perhaps it’s because I’ve done it myself several times. Well, more than once, at least.
It’s not entirely as romantic as it sounds. It’s a lot of waiting in line for customs at airports and getting yelled at in multiple languages by men in various uniforms. Some people are into that, I guess, but my big takeaway was that Germans take trains and tickets very seriously.
To make a long story short, yes, you’re delusional. But what’s life without a little delusion? To survive being human, one needs a robust garden of fiction. To lust, to dream, to hope, to want — we depend on such flowers to illustrate our lives. We just can’t let the garden get overgrown and start taking over the house. You can’t live on flowers alone, you see. You need bread. Some vegetables. Meat or meat substitutes!
I don’t think you need to cut out all the rom-coms yet. But I do think you should practice being present, or as the motivational posters would call it, “living in the moment.” We can’t materialize a private jet that will take you to some small, ambiguously European country where a handsome prince is waiting in a castle to woo you. If such a thing were possible, I wouldn’t be in the advice business. I’d be in the “that” business. Since we can’t, let’s think about what we can do.
“But Papi!” you might reasonably protest. “Why on earth would I want to live in this moment?” It’s hard to argue with you there. There have been better moments to live in. These are stressful times, and it’s no small wonder that escapism is such an attractive option, as you are undoubtedly aware.
But I don’t think being present, being mindful, is the same thing as embracing the cold, harsh reality of whatever broad cultural moment you happen to find yourself living in. I think it’s about eschewing the hypothetical and the non-realities that crowd our minds in favor of the visceral and the manifest, the things that actually fall under our influence, the mundane miracles, worn from daily use, that come with being alive.
I suggest planting more substantial flora in your garden. It could be anything that grounds you. It could be journaling, yoga, cooking, drawing, or any new activity that gives you something to look forward to in your day, something that will reward your patience with it. That’s something fantasizing doesn’t do. The more time you put into it, the less it gives back.
As with most things, WW, it’s about balance. If we’re not rooted, we tend to fall over. Find something that grounds you in the present, something that makes you appreciate being a human who is capable of giving and receiving: time, effort, progress. The future, rest assured, is littered with twists and turns.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on January 27, 2022.
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.