¡hola papi!

‘Am I Unlovable?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

I’m a cool young lesbian in one of the gayest cities in the U.S. and no one has ever been in love with me.

I do everything I’m supposed to do. I go out (when that was possible), I flirt, I make eyes across the bar, I go to events, I message first, I dance, I swipe right on people I’m not sure about just in case something’s there. I’m funny and smart and my friends think I’m great! I’m comfortable with myself, and I think I’m at least decent looking. Everyone keeps saying I’ll find someone eventually, but it doesn’t happen. 

I’ve been out and dating for a decade and I’ve never even come close to a serious relationship. I’ve only had two that lasted more than a month and both of those people were ultimately way more into someone who wasn’t me. It sucked.

No one seems to believe me when I say I could end up alone against my wishes. I’m trying to come to terms with this, but that’s pretty hard to do when my friends and family keep telling me to be patient, or they tell me I must be doing something wrong, or I’m too picky. But I’m not. I just want people to believe me that I’m not. On God!

Isn’t it possible that a cool, fun, sexy person won’t ever find somebody who loves them? In the whole stupid infinite universe how can anyone say it isn’t a possibility. I go out there to get rejected and embarrassed and all people have to say to me is that I’m the one messing it up. Like I can’t even be trusted to understand what’s happening right in front of me, that people plain and simple just don’t want me like that.

I don’t need a partner and I never have. I feel whole! It would be really cool if someone loved me back, but what if they don’t? And more importantly what if that’s fine? Not ideal, not what I wanted, but fine. Why am I the only person who’s trying to let it go and move on with my life?

Love, 
Unlucky Lesbian

Hi there, UL!

Over the years, I’ve fielded dozens of letters from people expressing varying degrees of loneliness. I’ve heard from people who say they’ll never find a partner, people who can’t seem to find the right place to look, and people who feel they are just plain unlovable. Given that, I’m going to do something perhaps you didn’t expect: I’m going to believe you.

Moreover, I’m going to believe you because I think I’m the same way. I’ve been reluctant to talk about it in my column (I do, after all, dole out relationship advice), but I haven’t been in an “official relationship” since a girlfriend in high school.

How would I define “official relationship”? I think of it as: If I were to look this person dead in the eye and ask, “Are we together?” they would be like, “Uh, yes? Are you ill?” It would have to be a mutual understanding of that caliber, and I have not a single one of those under my belt. Or at least not one where I was out of the closet.

And you know, UL, I feel pretty similar to the way you do. I think I’m good-looking enough and funny enough and what have you, but for whatever reason I never seem to find myself in those alcoves of intimacy, the nooks and crannies of romance: long car rides together with spans of comfortable silence, terse arguments in the kitchen followed by effusive apologies, the dull, repetitive obligations that come with nurturing a relationship.

I simply haven’t been there with anyone. I know they exist, though, because like you I have gotten to the very edge of them and, like viewing a house no one has moved into yet, can picture myself living and walking around in it. I know what a long term relationship probably feels like, and how I’d likely behave in one.

I also know, UL, what it feels like to be lucky in other fields of life. I know the seemingly algorithmic blessings of, say, life-changing emails relating to my career, writing opportunities I’d been hoping for, friendships I’d desperately wanted to happen suddenly happening. I’m not trying to undercut my abilities, but many of these things do feel like they fall into my lap, as if manifested by my casual intention, “Wouldn’t it be nice if …?”

And yet, no man has ever cropped up that way. Back when I was allowed to go out, I would often get my hopes up to meet someone, not really expecting it to happen, mind you, but holding space for the possibility in my head. It always seemed, though, that I would inevitably end up on the long walk home with my headphones in, marinating in a (not altogether unpleasant) melancholy, thinking to myself, on my bad nights, “Somebody? Anybody? Please?”

The melodrama doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny, because the reality is, UL, I’ve been on plenty of dates. I’ve met plenty of potential romantic partners, and gotten physical with plenty more. Yes, in all of my audits, I’ve never been able to find the moving part, the loose screw, the blown fuse in need of repair that would fix the situation: Is it my looks? Is it because I get bored so easily? Is it that I’m greedy, that I’m not gentle, too gentle, that I scare people, that I’m scared myself?

I’m not sure, and it’s not for lack of looking. Indeed, UL, looking seems to be all I do, because like you I want something to happen. I want to find someone who loves me, and who I love back. I do know what it feels like to be in love, warm and golden, and how nice it is to be understood, to develop a private language with someone, to feel like someone is waiting for you at the end of the day.

Yes, UL, like you, I am lonely. The loneliness is a reliable ache that at times asserts itself into full-blown torture, depending on the day. The balm is elusive, and I would give it to you if I could. But what I can give you, and I hope it will be enough for now, is what I feel you’re looking for in your letter. I can give you understanding, I can believe you. I’ve heard the same things you have. It can be incredibly unsatisfying, depressing, even, to feel like your reality is being dismissed, even if the heart is in the right place.

But I’m here too, aching and wanting and hoping and making peace with things, and you know what, UL? I think most people are. I think most people are lonely, even people who are in relationships, even people who have been married for most of their lives. I think loneliness is part of the human condition.

And so we seek, and seek, and seek, but while hunting it can be easy to overlook the things we have. Love, wherever we can find it and whatever form it takes, can at times be so close to our faces we don’t even see it. Romantic love isn’t the only or most important kind, and if you have some love in your life, I would encourage you, UL, to meet it happily and let it be enough for a while.

Nurture it like you imagine yourself nurturing the love you’d like to have, the one you wish you had, because no matter what good things are waiting for you around the corner, this is the one you have now. There will be times when it feels insufficient, and times where the yearning will inevitably take priority, but I hope that you’re able to find enough joy in it to see you through.

And who knows? There could be something exciting just around the corner. You said isn’t it possible in the universe that you’ll end up alone. Well, yes. But in that same chaotic universe, by your logic, isn’t it possible you won’t?

Something to think about.

Also, “I’m a cool young lesbian in one of the gayest cities in the U.S. and no one has ever been in love with me” is the best opening sentence I’ve received in my inbox so far. I’ve been repeating it to myself since I read this letter, like, when I wake up and before I fall asleep. Thank you.

Con mucho amor,
Papi

Originally published on November 16, 2020.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Preorder JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, out June 8, here.

‘Am I Unlovable?’