¡hola papi!

‘I’m Only Into Guys Who Are Already in Relationships’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

No matter how hard I try, I’m only attracted to people who are inaccessible. Worse still, I’m often attracted to people precisely because they’re inaccessible to me. 

I’m a young gay man in a big city and have been testing the waters on relationships for a few years now. I often find myself developing crushes on people who recently have entered into relationships, even people to whom I was not attracted prior. I think it’s because I grew up in a conservative environment and learned to be attracted to straight guys because they were the only people I was around. 

Now that I am around more gay people, though, the issue persists. On dates, I often find myself fantasizing about a relationship with a friend or crush who is in a relationship. 

I’ve tried everything to unlearn this. I’ve tried to increase my self-esteem. For example, I started wearing chain necklaces because they’re totally hot. I’ve tried confronting the issue head on, but relationships are hard to navigate given attractiveness fades once someone is within reach. 

How do I stop reaching for what’s beyond reach?

Dastardly Desires

Hey there, DD!

You’re not alone. We often want what we can’t have. It goes back to the forbidden fruit, I think … Actually, what was going on there? Why was there a delicious fruit placed squarely in the Garden of Eden, endowed with the power to ruin everything? And how does a snake trick you into eating it? Imagine getting fleeced by a snake into eating a fruit. What buffoons.

But back to you. I’m glad you were able to identify this problem before attempting a home-wrecking. As I said, this is a common feeling, but acting on that feeling is a different matter. And while I love the energy of the chain necklaces (totally agreed, very hot), we might want to try some other things as well. Bracelets, maybe.

Desire is a mirror, DD. We tend to seek out what we think we lack in ourselves. There are ample reasons a person might find themselves attracted to someone who’s inaccessible, be it because they’re already in a relationship or because they can’t return the feelings. Let’s go over some of the big ones together.

For one, unavailable people are safe. You can project whatever you want onto them without running the risk of disappointment. To want someone who could possibly want you back is … scary! You could be rejected, or worse, you could embark on a relationship together that could last anywhere from a week to years, a relationship that could be good or bad, but either way would give you something to lose, something to worry about. It would be a commitment.

It can feel better to daydream about people who, we can rest assured, are in no position to ensnare us in such traps.

Another major appeal of the emotionally unavailable, one I’ve experienced myself, is affirmation. To be wanted by someone who shouldn’t want you, someone with every reason to pass over you, can feel incredibly validating. It can make you feel like there’s something special about you, something particularly magical or interesting or attractive. If you’re a person with low self-esteem, attention from such individuals can feel like a remedy. They’re going way out of their way for you, after all.

Managing to elicit emotion from someone emotionally unavailable can make their affection feel earned, can feel like winning. It’s like getting a special badge, an A+ on a test, it’s like accomplishing something. This, too, can hold great appeal to people who define themselves by their merits, someone who feels best when an authority figure of some kind tells them they’re doing a very good job. Crucially, they are unable to provide this for themself, as they don’t consider themself an authority on the subject.

Other times, and this rings true for me, too, you just don’t like yourself very much, and someone liking you makes them less in your eyes, because you aren’t much in your own eyes.

The common thread, I think, is a lack of self-confidence. You don’t feel ready for love, or for the demands of a steady relationship. You’re prioritizing fantasy over reality, affirmation over commitment — and you know what? That’s not a crime. But if you’re not satisfied, you’ve got to make some changes.

Rethink your relationship with yourself first. Do you like yourself? Do you treat yourself like someone worthy of respect and care? How do you talk about yourself in your head? Do you know what you want out of a relationship, and, if you don’t, how can you uncover that? You’ll have to be honest with yourself when answering these questions.

It starts and ends with you, DD, and now is a great time to do that work! You have a wonderful opportunity, while single, to build yourself up ahead of the romantic endeavors to come. If all else fails, add even more chain necklaces. Why not? It couldn’t hurt.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on May 16, 2023.

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.

‘I’m Only Into Guys in Relationships’