Here’s the thing. I know that getting into a relationship won’t “save” me in any way. Sure, getting into one might introduce positivity into my life, but it’s not going to make everything perfect. I get that.
I also know that by most standards, I’m doing fine! I have a decent office job that, while I do hate it sometimes, pays me well and isn’t the worst environment to work in. I’m in my early 20s living in a big metro city in a tiny studio apartment, but it’s entirely all my own space. I’m doing okay financially and have had healthy and loving relationships in the past.
Still, sometimes when I think about the future that I want, the first thing that comes to mind is a fairytale relationship. Perhaps someone charming and foreign will whisk me away to another country, some entrepreneur that’ll lift me out of my day job and plant me straight into their operations and we’ll build something together.
I’m not sure why I dream of latching onto someone else’s star like this. I think I’m plenty talented and will have a successful future even on my own. But here I am, daydreaming about meeting the right person and the sweet relief of having everything just fall into place.
Anyway, I know the right relationship won’t solve everything — now how do I start believing that?
Hey there, Ish!
Yeah, so what you’re doing is fantasizing, and it’s not a crime! Most of us do it daily. I fantasize about texting with Lorde (Pure Heroine, Melodrama), who has given me a demo of her third album. We have lively discussions about onion rings. This stands in stark contrast to my reality, where I don’t text with anyone.
I’ve touched on this in a previous column: It’s easy to get attached to our daydreams because, well, we’ve customized them to satisfy our every desire. We are free to imagine perfect versions of ourselves and of other people without having to take “real life” into consideration. That’s the big draw of fantasy.
But I want to approach your letter from a slightly different angle, because I think for you it’s less “how do I get over my romanticized idea of this specific person” and more “how do I stop waiting around for someone to romanticize?”
It’s different, you see, because you don’t even have a person to project your desires and hopes and fears onto. You are hoping for hope and dreaming of a dream. Meanwhile, you have a life to live, so we’ve got to reel you back down to earth a little bit.
I can very much relate, Ish! All things considered, I think I’ve got a pretty nice life on my hands here. I get to write and draw for a living (please buy my book). I have an apartment that I decorated to look pretty nice. I’ve got a huge ass. Things could be worse!
And yet I’ve always reserved space, perhaps too much space, for my sneaking suspicion that love and love alone holds the power to make the dull, everyday occasion of my life into something spectacular. It’s like a life in situ. All the ingredients are there, waiting for love to activate them.
When I say love, I think I mean something similar to what you describe (although I can’t imagine “latching my star onto someone else’s” because in my fantasies I am the entire Milky Way). I want something explosive and orchestral and altogether better than the comparatively bureaucratic business of my daily, solitary tasks.
But whenever I find myself floating a bit too far out on these flights of fancy, I ground myself by remembering a recent time I came pretty close to being in a relationship. It was a pretty good dynamic, all things considered. He was handsome and kind and we got along pretty well. And yet, the closer we tread toward being boyfriends, the more surprised I got that it felt nothing like I thought it would.
I was shocked, Ish, by the way my “relationship” almost immediately folded into the steady hum of my normal life. Yes, there was excitement and fun and all that, but there was also maintenance and chores and obligations. You know. Responsibilities. Hot to some, perhaps, but I for one don’t necessarily daydream about scheduling conflicts between class and date night.
I say this not because I think all romantic relationships behave the same way or that the electric, transformative passion you’re looking for doesn’t exist. I say it because one thing that’s certain is that a relationship will never, ever perfectly align with your daydreams. Reality is an unruly thing. It requires compromise and flexibility.
This kind of thinking isn’t just limited to romance. Most of us have entertained the idea that we’re just one job, one new city, one new friend from getting our lives together. And, to be clear, it’s not inherently a bad thing. Dreaming big helps me explore potential futures. Or, hell, sometimes it just feels good and offers a brief reprieve from the lobster trap of my real life.
But the fact remains that I can’t rent an apartment in a fantasy world. I can’t live in it or breathe in it or walk around in it. And so it’s important not to try pitching my tent in the clouds. I’ll just end up falling flat on my ass. There’s a balance between fantasy and reality to be struck, one that makes room for shamelessly daydreaming while keeping our feet on the ground.
The truth is, no, someone probably isn’t going to waltz into your life and fix everything for you. On the other hand, someone amazing could very well make their way into your world. The difference, I think, is between being empty and open, between needing a specific, unrealistic thing to the point where the wanting is hurting you, and being flexible enough to meet the good things in whatever disorderly form they choose to take.
So, per your question, you don’t have to force yourself to “believe” anything, Ish. You just have to accept that the possibilities you’ve so sumptuously painted in your mind won’t look exactly like the ones that life leaves on your shore. That doesn’t mean they can’t be spectacular in their own way. We just have to be willing, despite their shortcomings, to pick them up.
Lorde says hi.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on February 23, 2021.
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.