This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
Do you have any advice on, uh, not being able to love your identity or be confident in your sexuality (I’m a lesbian)?
I feel so ashamed that I’m almost 23 and half of the flings I’ve had have started online. It’s not that I judge others for meeting that way. I just long for the teen romance I never fully got. I know couples and single LGBT folk peripherally, but no one on a close level. Part of this might be my fault for not getting involved in clubs as a student, I dunno.
I have two bi friends I could ask to come with me to gay bars, but we’re all on different work schedules. The thought of redownloading dating apps again makes me want to cry. Oof, sorry this is such a bummer!
I’m just so tired of nothing lasting longer than a handful of months. I’m sick of not being related to, or relating to, my closest female friends. I was supposed to have found my tribe by now, people I can be comfortably, openly affectionate and loving with, platonic or otherwise. But I haven’t.
I have hope for a future life filled with other gays. It’s just hard to imagine it right now. Help?
Oh dear, SS. Sounds like you’re in pain.
Your letter went a few different directions (as our minds often do when hurting). But I want to point out something I noticed first. In the beginning, you couple your situation with a sense of personal failing: You’re unable to love yourself, and that’s why you’re lonely. That’s not productive. That’s just torturing yourself.
When we look at the facts of our lives, and when we have too much time on our hands, we tend to make constellations. That’s human. But sometimes we get so familiar with the shapes we’ve made that we forget we made them in the first place, and they begin to look like plain old reality.
Not being confident or “not loving yourself enough” or however you want to phrase it are valid concerns, but they are not grounds for you to mistreat yourself, nor do they preclude you from having warmth in your life. You are lonely. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.
Moving on. Have you ever seen Neon Genesis Evangelion, SS? It’s an anime. I promise I’m going somewhere with this, so stay with me.
If you haven’t seen Evangelion, all you really need to know for the purpose of this column is that it deals heavily with the theme of loneliness. It illustrates that theme in the form of AT fields (absolute terror fields), a sort of force field every living being has that simultaneously protects them and distinguishes them as individuals.
The main crux of the show is overcoming AT fields: piercing them so as to kill invading aliens, but also getting rid of them altogether so that human loneliness can be overcome once and for all by returning us to primordial soup, a collective consciousness where things like pain and ego can’t keep us separate anymore.
I like the idea of accepting loneliness as fundamental to the human condition. I think it takes the sense of personal failure out of the equation and asks us to consider that, well, being human is hard. We are individuals, but we desperately want to connect with each other on a meaningful level. That process is difficult. You can know a lot of people and still not have that many genuine bonds.
I’m not advocating that we all become soup, although if that were an option, I think it’d be fun. I don’t know. Why not? I’d give it a shot. What I am saying is that sometimes it helps me to think about AT fields, all the barriers in place that keep us from genuine connection with other people: ego, trauma, anger, pride, and so on.
Everyone, everyone has these things. It’s no small wonder that in our contemporary lives, where our schedules rarely match up and we have so many substitutes for human interaction on tap, that we would bounce off each other more often than we connect with each other. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. If we connected with everyone we crossed paths with, we’d run out of emotional batteries very quickly.
But I think when we already feel isolated, it becomes so easy to stay isolated. We become accustomed to the familiar routes of our brain: our commute to work, our favorite place to pick up food, our regularly scheduled #content. We quietly hope something or someone will disrupt the pattern, but nothing does.
I’m asking you to be disruptive, SS. That could look like any number of things. Signing up for an activity you’d never imagined yourself doing, asking people to hang out whom you’ve been too nervous to approach, being open about wanting genuine connections: These things can be a rock in your stagnant waters. They could kick up something exciting and new.
I wish (very strongly) that I could guarantee you’ll make lifelong connections doing this. But I can’t. Indeed, you should brace for the possibility that you’ll emerge from several of these endeavors empty-handed.
All I can guarantee is that you deserve to feel loved, and that there are so many people out there feeling what you’re feeling, and that’s why I think we need to be brave enough to connect with each other, just like we’re all quietly hoping someone else will do for us. We have to be willing, SS, to let our shields down a bit.
Also, do me a solid and don’t overanalyze the Evangelion analogy. They nail an alien to a cross in it and stick a woman’s brain into a computer. Can’t vouch for all the material in there. A lot of messed-up stuff happens. A lot of sick, messed-up stuff.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on January 22, 2020.
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.