I am a gay man on the cusp of 44 and still single. I never expected to be single in my 40’s and I struggle with loneliness despite living in a state where I can legally get married — an alien idea barely ten years ago — and in a time where finding a relationship has never been easier thanks to online dating. I also wrestle with the fear that I’ll be single until my dying day, a fear spiced with the idea that I don’t deserve to be loved. There’s no need for me or anyone to feel this way, so here are some things I’m learning and acting on as a gay man in my 40’s to help combat my own self-sabotage.
Learn to Love Yourself
If you’re in your 40’s like me, you grew up at a time when gay bashings were common, anti-gay rhetoric was acceptable, and the AIDS crisis had us living in fear. You were taught by society that there was something wrong with you, that you were unworthy of love, and would never experience a stable relationship. Religious communities and bigots used AIDS in the 80’s and early 90’s to reinforce these ideas, referring to the disease as “the gay plague” and advancing the notion that it was a punishment sent by an angry god. None of these ideas are true.
Loving yourself is a challenge for anyone. I often find myself looking in the mirror, confronted by salt-and-pepper hair and the odd wrinkle and wondering how someone could find me appealing. I have to remind myself that I am a good man, that there’s nothing wrong with me and there never has been. I have a family that loves me, a close network of amazing friends, and I have always worked hard to treat everyone I meet with dignity and respect despite our differences. There’s a lot to love in that reflection. I promise you, there’s a lot to love in yours too.
Don’t Go Into Exile
People struggling with self-worth tend to isolate themselves from others. I have discovered, however, that cutting yourself off from the world does nothing for you, and in fact just makes the situation worse. It is a very real self-fulfilling prophecy: you feel like no-one is interested in you, so you lock yourself in your apartment, never go out, never meet people and so no-one is interested in you. I’m here to tell you it isn’t that they aren’t interested; it’s that they don’t know you.
When you do get out, make an effort be social. Years ago a friend of mine told me, “You’re the only person I know who can be in a room full of people and still be completely alone.” Just because you’re standing next to someone doesn’t mean you’re out of exile. Introduce yourself. Talk about things. Ask questions. Move past your own walls to venture out into a forest of possibility. It’s not easy. Do it anyway.
In the first week of 2014 I was soundly chastised by a good friend after I told him I didn’t think I was all that attractive. With an angry tone, he pointed out to me that this wasn’t something for me to decide. I was shocked, not only because of the intensity of his response to what I thought was an off-the-cuff remark, but also because I was sustaining a negative self-image that was preventing me from connecting with people.
This is what I realized: when people show interest in me I subconsciously shut them down. Not so subconsciously, I think they can do better or that they deserve something more than what I can offer. This is a stupid fear and the truth is it is nothing more than a faulty defense mounted to prevent me from getting hurt or disappointed. When you shut yourself off from the world, the world can’t find you. True, you won’t get hurt, but man will you be lonely. Instead, be open to feeling, falling, happiness, and hurt. All of those things will happen to you, and all of those things are good.
Realize You Are Deserving
For me, this is the hardest thing to accept: I deserve to be loved. Oh, I can love a guy, don’t get me wrong, but accepting love is an entirely different matter. Maybe I don’t want to disappoint people, or maybe it’s a left-over vestige of the negative social message broadcast to the LGBT community during my formative years. Maybe it’s both. The truth is everyone deserves to be loved as much as they deserve to love someone.
It’s okay to let someone love you. You don’t have to understand it. It’s not a matter of deserving more or less. Just accept it. This idea of someone “doing better than you?” Get rid of it. Like my friend said, that’s not for you to decide. If someone wants to get to know you, wants to show you affection, don’t run from it. All running does is lead you to a lonely field of unrequited affections and unfulfilled dreams. Take it from me. I’m marching out of that field right now.
Don’t Give Up
Giving advice is much easier than living by it. I’ve spent years telling people how great they are, how lucky anyone would be to have them while all the time shutting myself out from the myriad possibilities that exist for finding love. I can’t count how many times I threw in the towel the first time something didn’t work out straight away. Don’t think like that. It leads to a life on the couch with only with regret and misery as your roommates.
It’s okay to be single and there will always be people who are happier that way. If you want love, however, the first step in finding it is to get out of your own way. Allow yourself to be happy. Let people care about you. You don’t have to tear down the walls, but at least open the gate and let a few people across the moat.