¡hola papi!

‘Is It Worth Taking a Chance on a Relationship With an Expiration Date?’

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 gay 30-something who’s had a few long-term relationships, but never truly fallen in love. I’ve filled the void in my heart with lots of casual sex and occasional dating and flirtations over the years. I love my life and have never felt particularly desperate for a relationship, but now I’m starting to feel feelings again. 

I moved to a new, smaller city for a two-year fellowship, after which I will move on to a new job in a new city. A few months into being here, I met someone great. We started hanging out as friends, and then after a few months it turned intimate, romantic, and sexual. He is here for a one-year fellowship that ends next summer, and he will move away for a job somewhere else.

I think about him all the time and feel like I’m living in Kacey Musgraves’s song “Happy & Sad.” It’s all new and exciting and erotic and impossibly sweet at times, but tinged with a sadness and anxiety about the fact that it is delimited by time and geography. How do I enjoy the excitement of a new romance knowing that it’s doomed? I know I should avoid the trap of thinking too much about the future (and heaven forbid bringing that up with the boy), and all the pressure that adds to early dating when things are so new and uncertain and could go any direction. 

At the same time, I don’t want to get heartbroken, and I wonder if I will act, even subconsciously, in a way to protect myself, rather than let myself be totally vulnerable and open up to the connection becoming deeper. I’m a clinically anxious person, which doesn’t help things.

I know that we can only control the present, not the future and not the past, but it’s really hard.


Hey there, Starcrossed!

You’d be surprised how many letters I get about a similar phenomenon — a person who isn’t usually in a relationship finds someone great, but there’s a catch: There’s an expiration date. Does being in a temporary situation make dating easier somehow? Does it release a secret chemical? Or do we live under the thumb of a particularly cruel god?

Who am I to say, I suppose.

But, I have to disagree with a few of your premises here. Namely, that your entanglement with this new fellow is doomed to fail, and that talking to him about the future is something that would add unnecessary pressure. “Heaven forbid,” you even said!

Yet heaven has not forbidden it. Yes, the dynamic is new, and you are right to say it could go in “any direction.” But that doesn’t mean there’s a predestined outcome written in the stars you have no say in. A relationship isn’t some ride you’re strapped into where Cupid pulls a lever and sends you flying through a series of loops and dips, stripping you of all control except for the volume of your screams.

You do get a steering wheel, Starcrossed, though I grant you that you may not know every bend in the road before you. There always remains an element of the unknown. Relationships are, perhaps, like a hybrid of a roller coaster and a car. If that sounds impractical and a bit dangerous, well, welcome to “love.”

I also can’t really tell you that acting out of self-preservation is entirely wrong. I understand that in this, our dreary milieu rife with alienation and repression, vulnerability has come to be seen as an inherent good, even radical. Oftentimes, it is good. We are discouraged from sharing too much, being too much, and given every incentive to put up emotional walls.

But vulnerability is potent. Vulnerability, by its very nature, leaves you wide open. Yes, it can be unsafe and inadvisable. The reality of your situation, of any situation when it comes to affairs of the heart, is that you should think twice. You’re wise to do so. That’s the pragmatist in me, anyway.

But romance isn’t all pragmatism, is it, Starcrossed? Heartache is one of the loneliest, most grueling pains on tap in this existence, and yet, many of us are willing to accept this risk. Why? Because you might find that there are high rewards. It’s silly and inspiring, I think. We want meaningful connections that badly. We reach for each other in spite of everything.

And so, Starcrossed, something can be both ill-advised and entirely worth it. It can look pretty bad on paper, but life doesn’t happen on paper alone. There’s math, and there’s poetry, and they rarely agree. I’m afraid I’m coming to you from the edge of advice-giving here, because love is unpredictable and rewarding and scary. I know. I’ve seen Moonstruck.

What I can tell you, though, is that your fear of being hurt shouldn’t keep you from asking for what you want in this life. It sounds like you don’t want to have a real conversation with this guy because you’re afraid that doing so will ruin everything. But if asking questions makes you lose something, then you never had it.

Think about what you want, have a conversation, and enjoy your time together, Starcrossed, even if it’s only for a while. Isn’t that all any of us can ask for?

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on October 19, 2022.

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 Lessonshere.

‘My Relationship Has an Expiration Date — Are We Doomed?’