Welcome to !Hola Papi!, the advice column where John Paul Brammer helps people work through their anxieties, fears, and life's queerest questions. If you need advice, send him a question at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was my sophomore year of college when I last met someone I really liked. It didn't work out. I graduated two years ago and now I work 60 hours per week: 40 at a full-time job I like and 20 more writing a novel. I've found time to meet other men, mostly through dating apps. The dates usually go OK. Sometimes I go on second or third dates, but it never really feels "worth it."
I don't dislike these people. Most of them are very nice! But inevitably, I get bored. I've tried to be patient and generous and to count up all the things I like about the person sitting right in front of me, but it never works. I feel like an asshole. I hate being so cynical.
At times I've settled on the idea that maybe all I want from other men right now is sex. I would be OK with that. I've flirted, sexted, and hooked up with people on Grindr and had some good times. But at the end of the night, it's the same thing: It never feels "worth it."
I think I'm still searching for the feelings I had the last time I fell in love. I'm not sure they're ever coming back. I'm sick of trying to find something that isn't there, so I buried myself in my work. I enjoy my work. I have dreams that are worth working for. But if I'm completely honest, I don't have everything I need right now. I have many great friends. That person I fell in love with sophomore year is one of them, but he isn't able to give me what I want from him. Neither is anyone else, it seems. What should I do?
Hey there, UC!
It sounds like you're pretty self-aware about your dilemma. Being self-aware of an issue doesn't necessarily mean you know how to fix it, mind you. It just means you know what the problem is. That's a first step, to be sure! But it's no fun if you never land on any action items to fix it. It's like knowing the exact genus and species of an animal that's presently eating you alive.
I can't materialize a boyfriend for you. If I could, this column would shutter within weeks. But I can help you take a look at some of the narratives you've built for yourself here, ones you appear to be living by quite religiously. If you walk into every date suspecting that you will eventually get bored or tired, then that's probably what will end up happening.
We can't live without stories, UC. We're human, so that's how we roll. Narratives are how we make sense of the world: Bad things happen to me because I am a bad person. I have overcome a lot of hardships in my life because I am resilient. These are stories. Not always completely devoid of truth, mind you, but stories nonetheless. Here is one of yours: Dating never works for me. Here is another: I will never have anything as special as the last time I fell in love.
And you're right, in a way. You will never have that same relationship. You will never feel the exact same things that person made you feel. If that's what you're looking for in an entirely different person, then you're just setting two people up for failure, one being yourself. There are so many different shapes love can take, each one distinct from another. You have to let go of the idea that love is always going to feel the same way. It will not.
As for cynicism... well, cynicism is safe, UC. In terms of clairvoyance, it yields two possibilities: Either you will be proven right, or you will be pleasantly surprised. It's a cheap, easy way to ensure you will "win." But good things, great things, require some degree of earnest belief. I don't mean naivete! I mean risk. You have to be willing to risk being vulnerable. You have to make peace with the notion that you might get burned. No one walks into a situation like that without some modicum of foolhardiness. Embrace it!
I think it's wonderful that you've got such a fruitful work life, UC, and I'm super impressed by your commitment to logging 20 hours each week into writing. No matter what happens with your romantic endeavors, you've got that going for you. And here's a trick I've learned: I look at the areas of my life where I'm "strong," where I have healthy habits that edify me, and I try to apply those lessons to areas of my life where I'm struggling. I feel very confident on the blank page, for example. What might that confidence look like in dating or in making friends? I've found it helpful! You're clearly a driven, patient person when it comes to your work. Those are traits that might serve you well in your romantic affairs.
I'm rooting for you, UC! Good luck with your writing and dating. Oh, and don't be too hard on yourself for looking for sex in the short term. That's fine. That can be what you're looking for in the moment. But on your next real date, try to be open to the idea that you don't know how this story will go.