¡hola papi!

‘Why Do I Always Have to Be the One to Initiate Plans?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

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

¡Hola, Papi!

I don’t understand why it is, but no one seems to reach out to me first. Whether it’s hookups or friends, I’m the one who has to make the plans. Most of them seem happy to hear from me when I get lonely and shoot off a text, but if I don’t, my phone will sit dark and silent for months until I finally give in and kick things off. 

If it was just one or two people, I would assume it was a “them” thing and not a “me” thing, but it’s almost all of them. I’ve had maybe two or three relationships in my adult life where it felt equal in that way. I know rejection is par for the course on the various dating and hookup apps (good heavens, do I ever), but I’m talking about people I have an established relationship with.

Am I that much of an afterthought? When I put myself on a plate in front of them like so much cold shrimp, they’ll deign to have a nibble, but no one’s putting cold shrimp on their grocery list unless they’re trying to be insulting at a potluck.

Understudy for Life

Hey there, Understudy!

Well, first of all, cold shrimp is how you get hot shrimp. I’ve gone out to get cold shrimp before. It’s been on my grocery list. I feel like the shrimp in shrimp cocktails are cold. There’s a niche. Perhaps your answer on that front is a nice cocktail sauce and a martini glass.

Moving on!

I understand where you’re coming from. I think the pandemic and the rapid shrinking of social circles had a strong impact on my relationships. People had a good reason to be very selective with who they spent their time with and, simultaneously, there was an evergreen prompt to reach out and ask someone how they were faring.

Both of these felt a bit like litmus tests, and I fixated on who I was and wasn’t close to. Hierarchies became more apparent, and loneliness became more severe. I would often wonder: If I turned my phone off and disappeared, who would notice I was gone? How long would it take them to realize I’d vanished?

I threw a lot of elegant pity parties for myself in those times. I had the fainting couch for it and everything.

It’s natural, as people, to want to be close to others. It’s natural to want to be top of mind, to be the first thing that someone thinks about in the morning. Who wouldn’t want that? Sounds great. Sounds like what I deserve. I’m of the opinion that more people should think about me, particularly in a positive way.

Problem is, of course, that what I’m wanting here is for other people to react differently to me, and the only thing I can control is me.

I have relationships where I’m the initiator, the one who has to put in effort, and ones where I’m not. Sometimes I feel loved and considered, and sometimes I don’t. I have periods of time where I’m social, and periods of time where I’m lonely, quiet, and invisible.

And what I’ve learned, Understudy, is that just about everyone on earth is lonely.

Everyone, from the people with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media to the people who perfectly meet conventional beauty standards to the people with dozens of awards on their shelves, they all struggle to some degree with loneliness, with approval, with intimacy.

It seems to me a great human paradox that we simultaneously crave intimacy and surround ourselves with barriers to ward off anyone who might try to get too close. We want someone to overcome those obstacles, thus proving our worth, that we are worth the trouble. But it seems we never run out of hurdles to clear.

I’m an insecure person, Understudy. I’m not over the moon with myself. I often wish I was better, that people would go out of their way for me more. I want someone to prove that I’m wrong, to reach out to me across all the bullshit I’ve put in their way and show me, once and for all, that I’m worth it.

This is an incredibly tall order, which is why I’ve more or less given up on it.

What I’m trying to do instead is to move with the recognition that, indeed, most people want that. Most people are waiting for someone else to break through the quiet. I don’t mind being the one to do it. If I want to talk to someone or see someone, I reach out. If I’m thinking of someone, I try to let them know. Loneliness is all at once a personal affliction and a mutual problem.

I have also, from time to time, asked for a check-in on certain friendships. If you’re close, and if it’s appropriate, it’s fine to ask what they’re feeling and let them know how you feel. This is communication, and it can be hard, but it can make your relationships healthier.

This goes beyond the friends I already have, too. If I want to hang out with someone, or if I want to try getting closer to them, I ask. I know this is anxiety-inducing and can feel incredibly awkward, but I have limited time on this planet and I’d rather try and fail to connect than keep to myself until I’m dead.

Now, look, I’m not saying this will suddenly fix everything, and I’m not saying to bother anyone. This is one of those situations where every kind of advice feels inadequate. I don’t like being ignored. I don’t like feeling second banana. Playing second banana? Being second banana? I actually don’t like that saying, either. Forget it.

It is the case that some friendships just aren’t working, that you’re not getting what you need out of the dynamic, and it’s time to move on. It’s not fun, but that’s life. You can’t force these things. Sometimes you do have to find new people, which is a whole separate thing I’ve written about.

But it’s better, I believe, to focus more on what you can do than on what you can’t. You can’t make people react to you a certain way. You can, however, change the way you act. I think you should go out and enjoy a shrimp cocktail.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on November 26, 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.

‘Why Do I Always Have to Be the One to Initiate Plans?’