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LGBTQ Nation: LGBTQ+ people are used to unfulfilled longing. But we deserve more


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Though it wasn’t explicitly marketed as LGBTQ+ literature, I consider Middlesex my first foray into a queer narrative. It played a pivotal role for my then 15-year-old self in the early 2000s, and I would return to it many times in the years that followed.

The character of Calliope is intersex, but they live their first twenty years with a female gender expression. As a closeted teenager also grappling with same-sex crushes, I found the passages about their infatuations and submerged desires particularly powerful.


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When Calliope and her crush, referred to as “The Object,” do finally act on their mutual attraction, it takes place in the quiet dark of the night, never to be mentioned in the days after (“Wordless, blinkered, a nighttime thing, a dream thing,” Eugenides writes; the Object “made it clear that what happened at night, what [they] did at night, had nothing to do with daylight hours”).

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Longing that is not acted upon is a theme familiar to many members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly in adolescence. For centuries, society relegated our relationships to the realm of fantasy by forcing us to hide them and preventing opportunities to act on them. 

As Garrett Schlichte wrote for Them, “The ubiquity of gay yearning lies in the fact that so many homos and butches and femmes and fairies and the like spend the majority of our formative years unable to do much more. Closeted in an unaccepting world, queers are left only with the ability to turn inward and yearn for their would-be lovers.”

Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok exchanged long and passionate letters when Eleanor was married to FDR. There was undoubtedly an element of fantasy to their relationship, as the women could not experience life together side by side. 

Technology and social media are Petri dishes for fantasy relationships today. Before meeting, we draw conclusions from pictures, filling in the blanks with our minds’ own projections. When we read the other person’s texts, we imagine details that may not really be there. 

People with insecure attachment styles may be more prone to falling into these patterns, as there’s a comfort to be found in separating from reality. In texts and Instagram messages, you’re free to be your true self— safe from judgments, safe from the other person noticing your flaws, and safe from the possibility that they’ll reject you for them. In her book, The Lonely City, Olivia Laing references “what is described in the German as Maskenfreiheit, the freedom conveyed by masks.”

The downsides to involvement in a fantasy relationship are that it becomes hard to tell whether you’re genuinely interested in a person or more attracted to the idea of them. When the fantasy comes crashing down, disappointment sets in. There’s a feeling of time having been wasted. The pain can feel just as real or pronounced as if the person had been an actual presence in your life.

So, what steps can we take to keep from getting ourselves entangled in one?

Show “the real you” sooner rather than later

Online profiles make it easier for people to project their preferences onto one another. Seeing only the person’s positive light allows you to idealize them. It also gives you an illusion of a spark that you might not feel once you actually meet. 

For this reason, spend minimal time messaging. The sooner you can meet and gauge an in-person connection, the better. Try to also align your profile as closely with reality as possible. Perhaps minimize filters. Better they accept you as you are than under false pretenses only to reject you later on.

If distance or logistics prevents you from meeting immediately, then a phone call might help in the meantime, since voice plays a role in attraction.  And at least initially, try not to wait too long in between dates, and keep minimal contact in between. Lengthy contact gives too much time for the fantasy brain to gather fuel, as you start to confuse the anticipation and the idealized version with what’s real.

Practice self-care to ground yourself in reality.

If your personal needs aren’t met, you may be likelier to (unconsciously) turn to a fantasy relationship to meet those needs. For me, the temptation to engage in one feels stronger the more time I spend scrolling social media. It flares when the weather’s gloomy or I haven’t been sleeping well. It clouds my brain when I’ve been putting unhealthy foods into my body. It shows its deceptively glittering face when my body’s been moving around too much, when it’s been scampering from place to place with insufficient time to rest.

 The more grounded we feel in reality, the more we might find ourselves appreciating other people in their full complexity — and the less likely a fantasy relationship mindset is to sweep us away.

Consider alcohol’s role.

 Alcohol colludes with the part of your mind that idealizes people before truly knowing them (which leads to let-down later on – because what goes up must come down). Alcohol can obscure judgment. It can give you rose-colored glasses. It can make you temporarily attracted to people you wouldn’t otherwise be attracted to. With sober eyes, we’re better at seeing people for who they are choosing to present as, rather than for who we want them to be.

So consider reducing your alcohol intake, at least at the beginning stages of a relationship.

If you do end up in a fantasy, treat the loss as real

You might ask yourself, Does a broken fantasy even count as real loss?

The dissolving of a connection, any connection, hurts — even if it’s just the loss of hope for one you thought could become real at some point. Acknowledge that and validate your feelings.

You are dealing with loss – of hope, of a blossoming connection, of what could have been. It’s important to pay that loss the proper mourning it calls for. That way, you can move on from it when you’re meant to.

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It’s within our power to disassemble the fantasy versions we inadvertently build of a person or relationship over time. We can step out from the mind and into the present moment — where both reality and a lasting shot at fulfillment await.

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