How Do I Soften My Heart of Stone?
This holiday season, I want the gift of tenderness, Papi.
¡Hola Papi! is the preeminent deranged advice column from writer and author John Paul Brammer, now living on Substack! If you’ve ever wanted advice from a Twitter-addled gay Mexican with anxiety, here is your chance. Support this column by sharing it and subscribing below. Send Papi a letter at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have this problem that I just discovered while watching A Princess for Christmas, a Hallmark Christmas movie on Netflix. Sitting here and watching this delightful film, I came to understand that vulnerability makes me absolutely anxious.
I don't think I used to be this way. For a long time, my heart was soft as jelly and I was willing to spread it on any toast that seemed somewhat kind. Within the past year, I had a damaging fallout with a friend, and I fell into a deep depression over my identity and value as a person.
I'm doing great now! But I've found that though 2021 was the year of therapy, antidepressants, and joy, my heart has hardened. When I find myself watching a romance movie about an American woman falling in love with her British brother-in-law after her sister dies (the brother-in-law is a prince), I often look away in deep secondhand embarrassment.
Why does the prince have to be her brother-in-law? Why must the main character be specifically skilled at spotting and rating antiques? Why is the little girl addicted to Doritos? I don't know.
I was affected by the intense vulnerability these characters engage in. The main character openly critiques the traditional asshole Grandpa-Duke. The prince breaks up with his royal mean-girl girlfriend to get with his American sister-in-law. Each openly admits their love for each other.
All I mean to say is that the very thought of telling my friend of five years that I'm upset with them terrifies me. So does actually following up on the many dates I’ve gone on this year. It’s much easier to ghost. But Jules, an American antiques dealer from Buffalo, New York, is somehow able to declare her love for this stranger.
Papi, how do I begin to open up again? I don't want to hide behind clever jokes and avoidant tactics. I want to be fully vulnerable with the people I love, but I’m not sure if I know how to do that again.
Hey there, HH!
Well, that might be the most emotional mileage anyone has gotten out of A Princess for Christmas, so congrats on that.
I watched the trailer, and I think my favorite part is how hard the film dumps on Buffalo. The snooty royals mention it, like, a dozen times in the span of two minutes. They deploy it like a slur. Jules herself says “We’re not in Buffalo anymore!” upon arriving at the castle. Has the city of Buffalo issued a statement? Will it defend itself from this slander?
But on to your dilemma. You know, it’s funny, I think about this subject a lot. Particularly around the holidays. There’s that old bit of folk wisdom that you eventually become what you hate, and for me, that’s somewhat borne out.
As a kid, I used to be super annoyed with a common trope, one that pops up in many Christmas films: the jaded adult with a heart of stone, allergic to joy, and apathetic to the world around them. Typically, this harrowed grownup repels happiness and rejects all the love offered to them from their neglected family or their love interest. “Just loosen up!” I would feel like shouting at the screen. “Just believe!”
How was I to know that I myself would soon be a world-weary homosexual traipsing the streets of Manhattan, protein smoothie in one hand, Twitter in the other, wondering how on earth I let myself get so cold. I, too, was once soft, HH! I trusted easily, was eager to give my affections to anyone who would have them, and wore my heart on my sleeve.
There were many upsides and downsides to that. One thing about opening all the gates—you don’t miss out on the good stuff! Nor, it must be said, do you miss out on any of the bad stuff. Still, I often miss the naive giddiness of those years, years I have since romanticized as times of innocence, before I was forced to grow up. Well, except I was like that until around two years ago. So.
Regardless, I understand your desire to return to softness, to the days before you knew to be guarded. I understand the fearful question: have I buried my inner child in an attempt to protect them?
I also understand that A Princess for Christmas is a movie, and movies have different rules than this, our reality. In movies, especially holiday ones, people get rewarded for opening up, for taking a risk, for being reckless with their hearts. They get a castle and a prince. And what do we get? I don’t know. “Keith.”
That is to say, I don’t think Jules, the antique dealer from the barbarian stronghold of Buffalo, New York, is the best possibility model for you. We can set some more realistic goals. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with a few things to consider, because considering them has brought me some peace while pondering this same conundrum.
Aren’t you, at the end of the day, just afraid? For all this talk of becoming jaded and your heart hardening, it sounds like you are still quite vulnerable. Look at you, HH! Look at us! Aren’t we hiding behind a couch like children, scared to get hurt? Isn’t running away one of the most childish things a person can do?
Don’t get me wrong, life does leave you with callouses. We’re not the same as we once were. We learn, over time, to pick our battles. We learn to be careful with our feelings. We learn to discern who is worth our time and who isn’t. We put up walls. We become familiar with disappointment. Many of these lessons, yes, come from experiencing brutality.
But that’s not all bad. You can’t live your whole life bumbling around like an emotional June bug on a summer night. Experience can make you rich, as Madonna says, and I for one am relieved that I’m not the same clown I was in 2014. I’m a different, stronger clown now, a polished professional in the art of nose-honking.
You still have the ability to be vulnerable, HH. You have the opportunity to put yourself out there. It’s not that you lack softness. A Hallmark movie more or less worked on you, so you definitely have it. I think you’re just afraid to show it.
That’s fine! There are times when indeed you shouldn’t show it. But you ought not let your fear of getting hurt completely override your desire for connection. You will never land your Christmas Prince that way. That’s a different movie entirely, but you know what I mean. Sometimes you have to suck it up, put your adult pants on, and be willing to believe that something good might happen.
Sometimes, it does.
Con mucho amor,