At the end of 2019, I blew up my life because I was unhappy. My job, my city, my nine-and-a-half-year relationship (including five years of marriage), gone. I knew I would never find the version of myself that I loved if I stayed in that life.
Coinciding with that was the realization that I was quite possibly in love with my best friend of 13 years. I thought she felt the same. She did not!
Almost 18 months later, I’m happier about who I am than I’ve ever been, and I still believe ending that relationship was the best choice for both of us. Additionally, I couldn’t just not tell my best friend how I felt. But lately, it feels like I’m carrying around a good deal of pain and sadness, and doing so is significantly hindering my world.
I don’t think I could have stayed in that life. I don’t think I could have remained best friends with said friend without her knowing how I felt. And yet I’m afraid I made a mistake because of how much hurt I feel right now.
I don’t know if I have a question. I think I just needed someone to know. And I always find comfort in words you offer others.
Bumped and Bruised
Hey there, BB!
Oh good. Pain! Exactly what I love to discuss, and in the exact shade of melancholy I’m always looking for. You shouldn’t have!
I appreciate you saying you’re not sure if you have a question. My personal interpretation, though, is that you do, and it’s a very fundamental one. That being: How?
How do we carry the pain? How are we supposed to push through life knowing that suffering is inevitable, that each decision we make opens one future and closes all the others? How are we supposed to make it through yet another day, fragile as we are, of being jostled around in such a chaotic reality?
I must remind you this is an advice column that started on Grindr and was primarily meant to attend to questions about embarrassing hookups and failed first dates. I am not Nietzsche. I am much better looking. But I’ll do my damnedest.
Certainly, you’ve made some pretty significant decisions recently, choices that have altered the trajectory of your life. I don’t mean to downplay that when I say this is par for the course.
Divorces, unrequited loves, complicated friendships, these are textbook “life” things. They’re probably in the board game. I don’t know. The mere concept always repulsed me so I refused to play. Going to college and having children does not register as leisure to me. It’s not very “game night with the boys.”
Heteronormative board games aside, I don’t think you blew up your life. You’re still living it, after all, unless this is the very first letter I’ve ever received from a ghost. You just so happen to find yourself at a point of reflection.
When we embark on journeys, we eventually come across oases like these. Spots where we take a beat, stare at our own face looking back at us on the water and think, “What is the point? Where am I going? What is it all adding up to? Who am I, and who do I want to be?”
These are important questions. But they usually come to us in lulls, in the pauses between living, in the gaps between decisions, between events, between versions of ourselves. “Ego death,” it’s usually called. It’s the shedding of an old self to make way for the fitful emergence of a new one. Gross.
That is to say, don’t confuse these intermediate periods of your life with the sum of life itself. Dwelling, ruminating, pacing corridors in a Victorian mansion, these can be fruitful activities that can reveal many truths. But they are the hallmarks of stillness, best engaged on lonely, quiet nights and in other solitary moments.
In the end, no matter how boring we might think we are, BB, we are beings in motion. We can push against this fact, try to build a house on top of happiness and live there forever, away from pain, away from aches of any kind, and the ground would simply shift beneath the foundation and humble us back into nomads.
The journey itself is inevitable, and there are no exemptions. You could have all the money in the world and blast yourself off the face of the earth in a dick-shaped rocket, and the bare fact of your humanity, your aliveness, would still find you in space, under your weird cowboy hat.
This knowledge, that pain will happen, that we are bound to experience loneliness and emptiness and all manner of brutalities both banal and obscene, is a heavy weight to carry. It can slack the muscles, sap the will, make everything feel not worth it. I have found myself many times at this bedrock, and every time, it feels suspiciously like the cold, hard truth.
And yet, BB, I’ve come to realize that something can be a truth without being the truth. As you ferry your heartbeat through the shocks and throes of life, remember that chaos is a feature, not a bug, that we live many lives in the course of our stay, that as sure as there is torment, there is happiness.
You know this well. It’s right there in your letter.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on July 23, 2021.
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.