¡hola papi!

‘I’m Happily Engaged, But I Can’t Stop Fantasizing About My Ex’

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’m one of those annoying women who has everything she’s ever dreamed of. I’m healthy, I’ve built a successful career that I enjoy, I finally have the perfect NYC apartment, and I’m engaged to a truly wonderful man, S., whom I’m totally and completely in love with.

But sometimes late at night, my mind drifts to an affair that I had four years ago. I know it’s normal to think about past loves with a hint of nostalgia, but these reminiscent moments quickly turn into uncontrollable spirals of despair — devastating in the moment, but gone by the morning, when I wake up next to my perfect fiancé. I know, I’m the worst.

To back up a bit more, I was in a turbulent relationship for eight years (controlling and abusive, both mentally and physically). I eventually ended it with what my friends call the “ultimate ghosting story” — I waited until he left the apartment we shared before running away with all the belongings I could carry, then changed my phone number and never spoke to him again. 

A month later, I met an incredibly sexy and charismatic guy, B. (the aforementioned affair). For six magical weeks, we saw each other five times a week and had really amazing sex no less than four times a day. He was sweet and charming, and I was in heaven. However, he was also pretty co-dependent, and he told me he loved me two weeks after meeting me. Oh, and he was a heroin addict and drug trafficker who was awaiting trial for a felony he claimed he didn’t commit, so, not exactly husband material. We broke up when he went to court-ordered rehab, and even though I knew it was for the best, I fell into a terrible depression for more than a year.

Fast-forward, and after going on countless dates with “nice Jewish boys” who I knew wouldn’t hurt me but were essentially dull clones of one another, I eventually met my S. Papi, when I tell you he’s wonderful, I mean it! I’m in love and so, so happy. Notably, he’s a financially stable and emotionally healthy human being, which is a nice change of pace from the psychotic men that I’m usually drawn to. That may sound unexciting, but it’s not. Every day is magical, and I’ve never felt more comfortable and confident with anyone else in my life!

But there’s a part of me that can’t help but wonder if I’m as happy as I would have been with B. When he crawls back into my mind late at night, I’m overcome with emotion and end up uncontrollably sobbing on the floor of my shower (it’s a bimonthly occurrence). We haven’t even spoken in years, and he now lives halfway around the world. I thought I would be past it by now, but I honestly don’t know how to get over these thoughts and feelings. How do I get past this ridiculous infatuation and move on with my life?

Hopelessly Infatuated

Howdy, HI!

I want you to know how that one-two-punch of the drug trafficking and the felony trial hit me. I was reading along like aww … oh! Oh. That was great. That was like an espresso shot, to me. Thank you.

It seems to me your issue is not whether you should stay in your relationship or actually pursue anything with B. Rather, you’re uncomfortable with your own passions and looking for ways to quell them because they make you feel guilty. I call this the “wandering third eye,” coveting imagined alternate realities.

I don’t usually engage in personality analysis of the people who write me letters, HI, but what I’m getting from you is a restless, adventurous spirit. You like to think about what else is out there, like to dwell on former flings, like to drink in the abrupt and spontaneous pleasures that life has to offer. I’m the same way! Totally get it.

With that said, I think the crux of your issue is the moral judgment you’re placing on the very existence of these flights of fancy. You feel guilty for having a lovely fiancé and thinking of your steamy encounters with B. The solution you’re looking for is one of absolute erasure — I want to stop thinking these bad thoughts. 

This is understandable if you take them to be indictments of your character. When we have everything we need, we might feel guilty for dreaming of the things we want — erotic adventures and indulgent decisions. The reckless, the life-changing, the romantic, the alluring magics of taboo. Oh, you need not tell me! I am a veritable sea witch of this particular cave.

The bad news is, if you’re looking to rid yourself these enticing thoughts, well, it’s not very realistic. If you weren’t stuffing them all inside B., then it would simply “B.” someone or something else (haha). It sounds to me like B. is a convenient canvas for your less acceptable appetites. The erotic-romance-novel industry is more or less built on this incredibly sturdy foundation of melancholic, horny yearning.

We’re unlikely to successfully wipe your mind of B., and I’m talking about B. the archetype, the white whale of absolute satisfaction, the idealized lover. So instead, I want you to consider that perhaps it’s actually fine for you to have these thoughts, and indeed, that they might even be healthy.

The human mind wanders. It asks questions, conjures fantasies, digs secret tunnels as a means of escape. That’s good. As wonderful as your fiancé sounds, I think it’s fine that there remain remote hollows in your imagination for your wilder thoughts to live and roam. They are an important part of any romantic relationship. They are places of retreat, places we can go if we start to feel overwhelmed or smothered. It’s crucial, I believe, to leave certain parts of ourselves unmapped.

Like any form of escapism, these thoughts can certainly become unhealthy. If we indulge too much, if we are reckless with ourselves and with the people we love, then we can be destructive or selfish. But all in all, if your issue is guilt, then take a breather. Nostalgia gets a bad rap, but it’s part of being alive, part of having a story. Try to remember, though, that the B. you’re thinking about holds more of you than of him, is more fiction than not.

And like a good book, fiction is nice to curl up with now and again, especially on cold and rainy nights. As long as we don’t get carried away.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on November 15, 2021.

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

‘I’m Engaged, But I Can’t Stop Fantasizing About My Ex’