Like many great ideas, it started in a bar. On a sultry evening in July, I gathered with three of my friends from college at a dive bar in the East Village. As we traded work experiences, campus gossip, and various cheap cocktails, my friend Allie breathlessly sang the praises of an astrologer she had visited earlier in the month.
“I walked in to Deborah’s apartment, and she looked me up and down and said, ‘Well, aren’t you in need of guidance!'” she reported. “And I said, ‘You’re right, I am! Her session changed my life. My sister even visits her weekly.”
It was all the persuasion I needed to book a session with Deborah the astrologer. In that moment of a long and underwhelming summer, I too was in need of guidance. I had left Boston with a year of teaching experience, a job offer, and a clean slate awaiting me in August. I had also experienced a short relationship that left me pondering about what I really needed and wanted in a partner. All I desired was some reassurance: was I going the right way? And why did I insist on falling in love with men who already had girlfriends?
So, on a Tuesday morning before work, I took the subway uptown and hopped into a cab to get to Deborah’s apartment. I instantly felt comfortable when I was greeted by a home full of art and smelling sweetly of incense. Deborah had long braids and was wearing a colorfully printed dress. She had several books by Toni Cade Bambara on her shelves. I figured that I was in good hands.
In the first half of my session with Deborah, I learned that I needed to work from home (or not necessarily from home, but in a job that fed my heart and soul), that I was an introvert (or not necessarily an introvert, but someone who has a strong sense of self), and that I would likely find success as a writer (but I would be a late bloomer). She also told me that she saw a strong conflict with masculinity in my chart, which is hilarious.
Most interestingly, Deborah told me what my mother has said to me for years: I have a fear that others will not love me. It didn’t make any sense, she said. There was nothing to suggest in my chart that I should be afraid of intimacy, nor do I have a traumatic personal history. But it is true. I find vulnerability to be very difficult, and often have a hard time revealing the things that matter the most to me to other people, especially romantic partners.
I knew that the time was right to ask my question: why did I insist on falling for people who are unavailable?
Deborah did not skip a beat. “It’s because,” she stated, looking me straight in the eye, “you’re unavailable.”
Deborah’s words have haunted me as I dove back into the dating scene this fall. Did I believe that others would love me? And what kind of work did I have to do to make myself more available?
As I reflected on this experience months later with my friend Sitar, she pointed out that maybe it did make sense that I fear that people will not love me. Being a smart girl is hard. I grew up knowing that I was different from a lot of my classmates. If they really saw who I was (a nerd who loved presidents, actually read books for fun, and aspired to be Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music), they would have made so much fun of me. Top it off with all of the shit that gets chucked at smart kids (teachers’ pet, brownnoser, etc), and I realized that I spent a lot of my childhood feeling like no one except adults understood me.
Did that change in high school and college? Absolutely. But while I found friends who loved the same nerdy things that I did, as well as deep and fulfilling friendships who shared my values, I found it hard to find the same in romantic partners. As a feminist woman who prefers to date men, it is really hard to find a man who will meet you halfway. As a Latina, there are even fewer men who relate to my experience of growing up in two cultures. It’s not impossible, but it’s just hard, and I often feel as if many men would not truly love me if I was honest with them about the extent of my beliefs.
This also helps to explain my attraction to unavailable men. In the end, I think that my attraction to them (and there have been many) says more about me than it does about them. As Deborah elaborated, it’s really safe to having feelings for someone who has no chance of having feelings for you. It’s a lot scarier to invest your energy in someone who may actually love you. Real romantic relationships involve being honest about who you are, what you’re afraid of, and what you desire.
That is scary as shit.
In all honesty, this answer was probably not in the stars. It’s common sense. I just needed someone to tell me what was probably glaringly obvious to the people who love me (or who have tried to love me): I was closed off to love.
Unfortunately, that’s the narrative I fed myself for years. I catalogued all my faults as further proof that I was unlovable, hard to handle, and difficult. This is not to say I had low self esteem. I’ve always had a strong of self and an unyielding belief in my own competence. I’ve never felt unworthy of friendship or family love. But romantic love? No. That was reserved for people who were more attractive, more tactful, and less anxious than myself.
Unfortunately, the lesson that I learned from my relationship with the ghost was this: if a man sees how anxious I really am, he will run. And I told myself that shitty narrative for years.
I have a feeling I’m not alone in this. There are plenty of us who proceed under the disturbing delusion that we are unlovable. I don’t entirely think it’s our fault. Our economy functions by convincing people that they are less than perfect (so clearly you need eye cream, Spanx, quinoa, etc), and our society ignores our common humanity in favor of policing the most vulnerable among us. I don’t think it’s easy to yield to love, but I’ve come to firmly believe that it is necessary.
Since I left Deborah’s apartment on that sweltering July morning, I’ve reflected on how I can be a more open to the possibility of romance. I think my realizations about my fears are a start. I also started dating again when I got back to Boston. I’ve been ghosted twice so far, but I’m okay. I am resilient and every failed attempt just means that something better is coming down the pike.
But I had to go a step further than that. If I had learned the wrong lessons from previous relationships, I now needed to learn the right ones. Even more than that, I needed to forgive past partners for their impact on my story, and to free myself of past negativity.
I’m awful at forgiveness. I’m really bad at letting things go. My petty and judgmental heart loves grudges. But now was not the time for that. Now was the time to became more open to what the future had to hold without my past clunking behind me and coloring my future for the worse.
Last week, I saw the poet Rupi Kaur read her work at Harvard. She read us this wonderfully sassy poem, which is perfect for when you’re feeling vengeful or jealous:
Does it feel good to be vengeful? To send daggers with your eyes at the “sad replacement” and your equally awful ex? Yes, but only for so long. At some point, you have to give it up. I could only feel awesome about my superiority for so long – after a while, you have to drop the “I am great and you are shitty” narrative and see things in a more equitable fashion. If I as truly going to be more open to love, I needed new and more just narratives about my past relationships.
(also, that “sad replacement” may in fact be the best thing that ever happened to them. Are they a “sad replacement,” or are you the “awful precedent?”)
As imperfect as the people I’ve dated have been, I have been equally imperfect. I also realized that I have come so far in coming to terms with my own challenges, and I have overcome some major demons. I wanted the same thing for those who hurt me. The best gratification would be to see them happier and healthier than when we were together, especially if that meant they were happier and healthier with someone else.
So, I wrote a quick note to everyone who deserved one. I won’t publish them here (because though I am comfortable publishing my flaws and insecurities on the internet, I have no right to do that to others), but I can share some tidbits. I started off by thanking each person for what I learned during our time together. This helped me emphasize the positive and realize how much I’ve grown. For example:
Thank you for navigating something vulnerable with me.
Thank you for helping me get my groove back.
Thank you for showing me that someone could still care for me even when I am anxious.
I then made wishes for each person. For example:
I hope you find a fulfilling career.
I hope you find someone and have the courage not to run away from your feelings. Express them honestly and love earnestly.
I hope you learn to love and value yourself instead of looking for fulfillment in others.
At the end, I really felt as I had taken a major step forward. I forgave the ghosts. They weren’t just given up, but treated lovingly before release.
How do I feel about love now? Well, still doubtful and still sad. But, I am less angry. I no longer hold sad stories of injustice close to my chest. I feel lighter, more positive about the past, and more ready to accept what comes next.
The only thing I can do is jump back into it while I’m ready, and not close myself off to possibilities in the meantime. I’m still nurturing my soul, chasing my dreams, and loving my friends and family in the fiercest way that I know how.
My wise and perceptive (and much more open and forgiving and loving) friend Siri once said that love often shows up when I least expect it. I’d like to think that she’s right.
I’ve been a little tortured by the fact that Deborah said that I would enter a relationship soon. But, astrological time is like Latino time – approximate, not exact. Every time things don’t work out, a little voice in my head goes, But Deborah promised!
As I write it out now, it looks as ridiculous as if she had told me “you will meet a tall, dark stranger.” And she didn’t say that – instead, she said it would be someone boyish and nerdy. I’m wondering if this prediction is exactly like the one about my unavailability, in that it’s exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe Deborah meant to trick me into hoping so that I would be more open to what the world has to offer.
As of November, I’m still waiting on my boyish and nerdy paramour. In the meantime, readers, I send you as much love as I can conjure to you. Thanks for engaging with my work, thanks for reading my word vomit, thanks for keeping me honest when I mess up. There is so much to love to spread in this in this world, and I will try to do my best to keep sharing it as I become more open to receiving it.