¡hola papi!

‘Why Am I Dreaming About Sex With a Man When I’m a Lesbian?’

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 a lesbian woman who thought I was bisexual until fairly recently. The last man I ever dated was a guy we’ll call Michael. Our relationship got very serious very quickly, and we moved in together after dating for less than a year.

One day, he came home and told me he’d been thinking about breaking up for several months. I was completely blindsided, which cemented his desire to end things, and it’s been several years since our relationship ended.

When I was ready to start dating again after we broke up, I realized that I never wanted to date men again and that I was a lesbian. I’ve had a variety of short- to medium-term relationships with women that have ended for normal reasons of incompatibility: lack of chemistry, avoiding verbal abuse, all the good reasons you’d want to cut a relationship short. My therapist is proud of me!

But during this time, I’ve been plagued by dreams about Michael. The dreams happen at random intervals. I might not think about him for three months and then have dreams about him two or three times in a single week. In every dream, I’m happily shocked that we’re back together and have the same crackling sexual chemistry that we did for the duration of our relationship. 

Papi, I’m tormented by these dreams. I know from years of processing that my relationship with Michael was unhealthy and we weren’t right for each other. I know that I’m a lesbian, and I know that even if Michael threw himself at my feet tomorrow, I wouldn’t take him back. But I also haven’t had chemistry like what we had with any of the women I’ve dated since. Why can’t I stop dreaming about Michael and let him go? And why can’t I stop comparing the chemistry I had with him to the chemistry I (don’t) have with the women I date?

Bad Dreamer

Hey there, BD!

Wonderful timing. I’ve been having similar dreams about a guy I dated many years ago. It’s interesting, isn’t it, what our brains are capable of conjuring up? It’s sort of like, You are literally one of my body parts. Why are you issuing me riddles? 

Dreams are made of slippery stuff. I’ve had many a nightmare in which I’m trying to run away but the ground beneath my feet is suddenly uncooperative. There’s nothing solid, nothing concrete to hold onto. Few of them make it into our conscious thoughts in the morning (most slip between our fingers and swim away), and even in broad daylight they prove difficult to understand, their anatomy at once familiar but with strange, ridiculous twists — a kind uncle hunts us down in a house we don’t recognize, a childhood friend calmly directs us to hide from the aliens in a Pizza Hut.

What I’m getting at here is it will be difficult to discuss dreams without engaging in a bit of woo. I am neither a sleep scientist nor, contrary to a nasty rumor, a psychic. I actually have never overheard this rumor, but I just know it exists. Somehow.

Let’s start, BD, by separating your ex, Michael, the person, from Michael, a figure in your dreams. Not to go all Dream Dictionary on you, but dreams operate in symbols. Even in our waking thoughts, real-life people can be like this, no? They can look and sound an awful lot like their corporeal counterparts, but in fact they are mere costumes for anxieties, desires, and other subterranean sentiments.

Our brains can’t come up with anything that’s not already in there somewhere. But in the folds of sleep, the subconscious is let out of its pen, and like an excited, curious dog, it immediately sets to rolling around in stuff we wouldn’t touch, sniffing and chewing things we typically leave alone. I have these unseemly thoughts and feelings in my head, but I steer clear of them, knowingly or unknowingly, when I’m awake, because they smell bad or they repulse me or I’d rather not acknowledge them.

With that in mind, I don’t think these dreams of yours stem from a latent desire to get back with Michael. If I had to guess, and this is only a guess: You’re anxious over how your dating life is going, and that anxiety is taking on the shape of an idealized version of one of your past relationships wherein a present unmet need of yours was being accommodated. It could be your brain toying with uncomfortable questions. Did I make a mistake? Am I doing this right? Will I ever experience romantic chemistry again?

As to why your brain would do this, well, it’s the subject of some scientific debate. What’s obvious, though, is that stressors in our waking lives carry over into our dreams, where they seek avatars in familiar imagery. It would be a mistake, I think, to take them literally. It’s more productive to consider them as prompts for reflection. Is there something I want that I’m not getting? Is there something in my life I’m unsatisfied with, something that’s causing me sadness or irritation, something I haven’t named? Something I don’t want to name?

Asleep or awake, language is a tool for giving shape to thoughts, making them legible and communicable. I believe the shifting, imprecise imagery of dreams is itself a language of sorts, attempting what any language attempts to do — to render the abstract into something tangible, something that can create understanding. It does this with all the finesse of a kindergartner playing with crayons, yes, but those are the tools it has access to, the colors and loose contours of the people, places, and things in our everyday lives.

I can’t tell you for sure what these dreams of yours mean, BD, but I can tell you they mean something, and the something at the root of a dream is very rarely the most literal interpretation of what happens in it. At least, I really hope that’s the case, otherwise, I harbor an actual suspicion that my high-school math teacher is going to stab me with a sword from Elden Ring and I’m going to bleed out a purple Grimace shake.

Sweet dreams!

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on June 30, 2023.

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 Lessonshere.

‘Why Am I Dreaming About Sex With a Man When I’m a Lesbian?’