¡hola papi!

‘Was What I Had With My Ex Special?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

This breakup is my third in three years. Oddly, I feel like this cadence has helped me get the heartbreak reps in. I know how to tend to my heart, and time will certainly heal me, if I let it. But, honestly, I’m still hanging on.

We dated for a little over a year, and we made an effort to be honest with ourselves and each other about what we wanted. So it was not surprising, even if it was painful, when this lovely human kindly expressed doubts about her desire to be in any relationship. We started dating at the pivot point of many, many midlife changes for her. In virtually all areas of life, she was (and remains) in flux. She felt she wasn’t showing up the way she wanted to, and I wasn’t willing to be in a lopsided relationship

There was no betrayal of trust, no withering of love. Just the two of us honestly assessing our needs.

Where I’m stuck is at the crossroads of hope and acceptance. We were both explicitly open to the possibility of getting back together if it serves us both. This is, of course, no guarantee, and I would want to talk deeply (potentially with a counselor present) about how it would be different. And there’s no guarantee we’d get back together anyway. I hope for it. Frankly, I’m still in the “pining for it” stage.

We are still in contact. Either of us can tell the other at any time that we need space, less contact, no contact. I’ve done that before, and I can certainly do it again if I need. It doesn’t feel right, though.

This breakup feels like a pile of clichés. She needs to find herself. I love her, so I’m setting her free, and maybe she’ll come back, etc. After hearing about how we’ve navigated this and the reason for the breakup, even my closest friends, the ones who I expected to yell at me for not going “no contact,” expressed some hope that we’ll sort it out. It feeds my wishful thinking that we really are different from all of those other breakup stories.

I guess my question is this: Am I any different from the other breakup stories that land in your inbox? It seems like the prescription is the same because the hurt is the same. I’m unaccustomed to believing that I’m special, but on some level I do truly believe that this relationship was something extraordinary. Can you let me know?

Probably Generic

Hey there, PG!

I’m going to be real with you. Are you the first queer woman to find herself in a gray area with another woman, one beset with yearning and occasional glimmers of hope bookended by stretches of utter despair? Absolutely not. The entire ¡Hola Papi! enterprise has been built on the sturdy foundation of women with complicated emotions for unavailable women.

Really hate to break that to you, but it is what it is. We built this city on mommy issues.

However, it’s true that every relationship is unique, each with their own contours and textures. I don’t mean that in the “we are all very special snowflakes” way. I mean that to a person in a relationship, that relationship holds truths and sentiments that no one on the outside of it would ever be able to fully comprehend, each one a little universe unto itself.

The emo kids in the ninth grade are right! No one understands!

Anyway, while that’s all well and good, medicine is medicine, PG. When my appendix burst a few years ago, it sure felt like I was the first person to ever experience such pain. When I say it burst, I do mean it exploded inside me and they had to suck the poison out with a little funnel.

Lying in the hospital bed, I wallowed, I self-pitied, I daydreamed about all the things I could be doing if this hadn’t happened to me. Didn’t the universe know I had a life to get back to? That I had goals I was trying to reach? It wasn’t fair.

And yet, to the professionals who’d just so kindly removed my absolute Judas of an appendix from my body, I was just one in many operations that day, one patient of however many dozens they were taking care of. In a way, that’s great, actually. I would like the tried-and-true methods, please. When it’s been tried? When it’s true? Very good.

That isn’t to say what you’re experiencing is exactly like that, or that I’m some sort of doctor (although Doctor Papi has a great ring to it), or even that there’s no way your relationship won’t somehow work in the end. I’m saying what abuelas everywhere have been saying about the healing properties of Sprite for decades: When it works, it works.

In your case, PG, it’s up to you to decide if you’re hurting and if something isn’t right. You can’t just wait around forever for this person. Sometimes, you have to do a clean break so you can heal. Recovery can’t happen if you keep reopening the wound. This is generally true of all types of hurts.

Have I seen letters like yours before? Absolutely. Will I see more in the future? I reckon so. But I actually think that’s a good thing, PG, and that there’s even some beauty in it. One heart isn’t so wildly different from another. It makes it a bit easier when it’s time to help each other out.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on April 19, 2023.

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.

‘Was What I Had With My Ex Special?’