¡hola papi!

‘Am I Undatable? What Am I Missing?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

¡Hola, Papi!

I’ve always had trouble when it comes to romance. I’ve only ever dated one person, and it’s all been downhill from there. Since then, every time I’ve had romantic feelings for someone, they don’t reciprocate those feelings. This last time hurt the worst. I thought we were both interested in each other, but they told me they’re in love with someone else. I’ve been crushed since then. 

I can’t help but wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Am I missing some quality that makes me desirable as a partner? Is there a secret to being wanted that I just don’t know? I’m really tired of feeling like I’m not partner material, that I’m not interesting, and that no one would want me. Where do I go from here?

Signed,
Missing Piece

Hey, there, MP!

What a great opportunity to talk about myself. You see, for the first time in my life, I brought a man home for Christmas last year. I drove us out to the Wichita Mountains, conveniently located behind my house. The drive to the mountains is one I’ve taken countless times. I used to go that way for school. My abuelos lived out there. It might be the most familiar stretch of road in the world to me.

Growing up in Oklahoma, where things are often flat (save the mountains, though they are more like glorified hills), I had the sense I was from a particularly boring place. Everything was a dull, dry yellow from the wheat fields to the grass in the summer. Everything was probably better somewhere else: Colorado had real nature. New York had a real city. Texas had … H-E-B. You get what I’m saying.

But taking that drive for the umpteenth time with someone I was into, someone who was into me and who’d never seen it before, was an entirely different experience. The road’s mundane curves and gravel driveways, the horses idling by the barbed-wire fences, were transfigured by some mysterious alchemy into an altogether more appealing scene. Huh, I remember thinking, this is kind of beautiful.

I share this not to brag about a successful romance but to focus instead on how our sense of self colors the world around us, how it has the capability to arrange absolutely everything into its design, how a regular stretch of road, rote and familiar, can become enchanting when appreciated through the tint of affection.

Driving out to the mountains with this guy, I felt I was sharing something intimate and special. It wasn’t that the trees were suddenly greener or the houses suddenly more charming. It was that this place was mine, that it was me, to an extent, and that it was special because I felt special holding the hand of this person who found so much about me to be interesting. The act of sharing it in a meaningful way literally transformed it.

I don’t mean to say you need to go out and find someone to make you feel this way. What I mean to say, MP, is that in all likelihood you’re not missing anything — in all likelihood, you’re struggling to see the appreciable, beautiful things about yourself because they are so familiar as to be invisible. When you’re feeling over yourself, it’s the same as feeling over the world.

And if you, like me, struggle to take an interest in yourself without the help of another person telling you just how interesting you are, then getting into a relationship can feel like the key to unlocking everything essential about yourself. That alchemy I mentioned earlier, the one that turns your life to gold — it sometimes feels as if another person is the missing key ingredient. Unfortunately, there won’t always be another person.

The truth is, MP, that good things, spectacular things, golden things, all have a way of settling back into regular life. A new partner brings excitement and a new perspective on ourselves but also responsibilities, obligations, and logistics. Indeed, being in a relationship can introduce yet more anxieties and highlight more perceived shortcomings. Life continues, you know. The credits don’t roll right after the perfect kiss in the rain.

Loneliness, I find, continues, too. Our relationship with solitude is one of the most important ones we have in this life. No matter how full and vibrant and loud we make things, the quiet always finds us. In those moments, it’s important to be able to affirm, without anyone else’s eyes on us, that we have what we need. That we are what we need.

It might not always be apparent, but you contain fascinating stretches of self. You contain things worth sharing and appreciating. The trick is to believe that even when you’re driving solo.

Con mucho amor,
Papi

Originally published on August 18, 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 Lessonshere.

‘Am I Undatable?’