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 [email protected]
I'm getting married in a month, but I can't stop dreaming about my ex. Not in a doomed rom-com kind of way. I mean, she's literally just popping up out of nowhere in my nightmares. She was the first woman I ever dated. This was at least five years ago, and we only lasted six months, but I can’t shake her. Whenever I get stressed, there she is intruding in my precious sleep. They’re often pretty mundane dreams. Last night I found her wallet and had to return it to her. How spooky!
But that’s the third dream she’s shown up in this month. This has been going on for years.
I guess, we left things in a weird shape. She broke up with me because she “wasn’t ready for a relationship,” even though we’d already been in one for months. I didn’t handle it well—at all. The best thing I knew to do for myself was to delete her number and go cold turkey, no contact. As a result, I still feel a lack of closure years later.
But, Papi, let me tell you... I’ve moved on! I met another woman who I fell madly in gay love with. Our relationship is so much deeper and more meaningful in every way. We’ve been together for four years, live together, and we’re getting married in a month. I am over the moon. I’m grateful for my ex. That relationship and that heartbreak taught me a lot about what I was looking for in life, made me a better partner, and led me to where I am now.
But I need to get the ghost of this Ex-stina Aguilera out of my stress dreams and I don’t know how to do it. Do I reach out and try to get some closure? Do I passive aggressively block her on Instagram, the only place we have any remaining contact? Or do I just throw myself into a vat of pythons to give my brain something else to stress about?
Help! I just want to have normal stress dreams about my teeth falling out!
Sapphic & Sleepless
Hey there, S&S!
Wow, did you ever come to the right place. As a gay person who has a lot of vivid nightmares and has spent far too much time contemplating the nature of dreams, I feel uniquely qualified to help you out here. If my advice doesn’t work, we can go the brujeria route, but we’re going to need some chickens.
Pretend we are seated at a card table draped in velvet with a crystal ball between us and let Papi interpret your dreams for you.
One thing that’s important to recognize about dreams is that they are rarely straightforward representations of our everyday lives. More often, the shifting images and figures that crop up in dreams are symbols, representations of broader anxieties and emotions, and abstractions looking for a more concrete vocabulary. Your ex probably isn’t literally your ex in your dreams. It’s more likely that your ex is the avatar for something else: stress in relationships, feelings of needing closure with someone, or a fear of inadequacy or abandonment.
Just the other night, S&S, I had a nightmare where someone I dated popped up. I was standing at the center of my high school gym with a small team of people. Crowds had gathered in the bleachers, as if for a pep rally. We were wearing cheerleader-ish outfits. I knew, somehow, that we were expected to perform. The guy I had dated told me, quite curtly, that I was standing in the wrong spot. This threw me off entirely, and when it came time to perform the dance number that everyone seemed to have rehearsed but me, I completely flubbed it.
This guy is not a rude person in real life. I would never have to actually perform a dance number in front of my high school (god, at least I hope not). I would never allow myself to be in a situation like the one I was in during my dream because dreams aren’t literal. I’m in a place in my life right now where I feel like men and romance are throwing me off my game, and I feel like everyone is doing dating right while I’m doing it wrong. I think it’s far more likely that my subconscious rifled through the boxes of my brain, found some suitable props, and set up a scene around those thoughts.
Have you ever had a Tarot reading, S&S? I think dreams are sort of like that. I don’t actually believe the universe is sending down a sequence of cards that will reveal my future to me, but I do believe that it is a useful meditation tool that offers me a fresh perspective on where I’m at in life, what I’m presently struggling with, and where I might go next.
My advice would be to try to think of your dreams this way, as your brain illustrating your subconscious using colors you’re familiar with: your ex, my high school, or an objectively sexy cheerleader outfit that I looked really good in, even if I let the whole team down. Think of them more as opportunities to reflect on yourself, and not necessarily as evidence of shortcomings or as a curse because of something you failed to do.
The alternative is that she is a witch and infiltrating your dreams where she will be able to grab hold of your very spirit, drag it back to a cave, and feed it to “The Serpent.” If that ends up being the case, please email me again. I’ll send you my private number and we can get cracking on a good, old-fashioned lesbian witch war on the astral plane.
But it probably won’t come to that.
Con mucho amor,