Sav­age Love

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY DAN SAV­AGE

I am a gay man in my late 50s and have never been in a re­la­tion­ship. I am so lonely, and the painful empti­ness I feel is be­com­ing ab­so­lutely un­bear­able. In my early 20s, I hooked up off and on, but it never de­vel­oped into any­thing. I have al­ways told my­self that’s okay; I’m not a peo­ple per­son or a re­la­tion­ship kind of guy. I have a few les­bian friends but no male friends. I have so­cial anx­i­ety and can’t go to bars or clubs. When hookup apps were in­tro­duced, I used them in­fre­quently. Now I go to­tally un­no­ticed or am quickly ghosted once I re­veal my age. Most non­work days, my only in­ter­ac­tions are with peo­ple in the ser­vice in­dus­try. I am well-groomed, em­ployed, a home­owner, and al­ways nice to peo­ple. I go to a ther­a­pist and take an­tide­pres­sants. How­ever, this painful lone­li­ness, de­pres­sion, ag­ing, and feel­ing un­no­ticed seem to be get­ting the best of me. I cry of­ten and would re­ally like it all to end. Any ad­vice? > LONELY AG­ING GAY “In the very short term, LAG needs to tell his ther­a­pist about the sui­ci­dal ideation,” said Michael Hobbes. “In the longer term, well, that’s go­ing to take a bit more to un­pack.”

Hobbes is a re­porter for the Huff­in­g­ton Post and re­cently wrote a mini-book-length piece ti­tled “To­gether Alone: The Epi­demic of Gay Lone­li­ness”. Dur­ing his re­search, Hobbes found that, de­spite grow­ing le­gal and so­cial ac­cep­tance, a wor­ry­ing per­cent­age of gay men still strug­gle with de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, and sui­ci­dal ideation.

Lone­li­ness, Hobbes ex­plained to me, is an evo­lu­tion­ary adap­ta­tion, a mech­a­nism that prompts us hu­mans—mem­bers of a highly so­cial species—to seek con­tact and con­nec­tion with oth­ers, the kind of con­nec­tions that im­prove our odds of sur­vival.

“But there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing alone and be­ing lonely,” said Hobbes. “Be­ing alone is an ob­jec­tive, mea­sur­able phe­nom­e­non: you don’t have very many so­cial con­tacts. Be­ing lonely, on the other hand, is sub­jec­tive: you feel alone, even when you’re with other peo­ple. This is why ad­vice like ‘Join a club!’ or ‘Chat with your wait­ress!’ doesn’t help lonely peo­ple.”

The most ef­fec­tive way to ad­dress lone­li­ness, ac­cord­ing to Hobbes’s re­search, is to con­front it di­rectly.

“LAG may just need to get more out of the re­la­tion­ships he al­ready has,” said Hobbes. “He has a job, friends, a ther­a­pist, a life. This doesn’t mean that his per­cep­tions are un­founded—our so­ci­ety is ter­ri­ble to its el­ders in gen­eral and its LGBTQ el­ders in par­tic­u­lar—but there may be op­por­tu­ni­ties in his life for in­ti­macy that he’s not tap­ping into. Ac­quain­tances LAG hasn’t checked in on for a while. Ran­dom cool cousins LAG never got to know. Vol­un­teer­ing gigs you fell out of. It’s eas­ier to re­an­i­mate old friend­ships than to start from scratch.”

An­other rec­om­men­da­tion: Seek out other lonely guys—and there are lots of them out there.

“LAG isn’t the only gay guy who has aged out of the bar scene—so have I—and strug­gles to find sex and com­pan­ion­ship away from al­co­hol and right swipes,” said Hobbes. “His ther­a­pist should know of some good sup­port groups.”

And if your ther­a­pist doesn’t know of any good sup­port groups—or if you don’t feel com­fort­able telling your ther­a­pist how mis­er­able you are, or if you’ve told your ther­a­pist ev­ery­thing and they haven’t been able to help—find a new ther­a­pist.

I’m a fortysome­thing gay male. I’m sin­gle and can­not get a date or even a hookup. I’m short, over­weight, av­er­age-look­ing, and bald. I see oth­ers, gay and straight, hav­ing long-term re­la­tion­ships, get­ting en­gaged, get­ting mar­ried, and it makes me sad and jeal­ous. Some of them are jerks—and if them, why not me? Here’s the part that’s hard to ad­mit: I know some­thing is wrong with me, but I don’t know what it is or how to fix it. I’m alone and I’m lonely. I know your ad­vice can be bru­tal, Dan, but what do I have to lose? > ALONE AND FADING “AAF said to be bru­tal, so I’m go­ing to start there: You might not ever meet any­one,” said Hobbes. “At ev­ery age, in ev­ery study, gay men are less likely to be part­nered, co­hab­it­ing, or mar­ried than our straight and les­bian coun­ter­parts. Maybe we’re dam­aged, maybe we’re all sav­ing our­selves for a Hemsworth, but spend­ing our adult lives and twi­light years with­out a ro­man­tic part­ner is a real pos­si­bil­ity. It just is.”

And it’s not just gay men. In Go­ing Solo: The Ex­tra­or­di­nary Rise and Sur­pris­ing Ap­peal of Liv­ing Alone, so­ci­ol­o­gist Eric Kli­nen­berg un­packed this re­mark­able statis­tic: more than 50 per­cent of adult Amer­i­cans are sin­gle and live alone, up from 22 per­cent in 1950. Some are un­happy about liv­ing alone, but it seemed that most—at least ac­cord­ing to Kli­nen­berg’s re­search—are con­tent.

“Maybe there is some­thing wrong with AAF, but maybe he’s just on the un­lucky side of the sta­tis­tics,” said Hobbes. “Find­ing a soul mate is largely out of our con­trol. Whether you al­low your lack of a soul mate to make you bit­ter, des­per­ate, or con­temp­tu­ous isn’t. So be happy for the young jerks cou­pling up and set­tling down. Learn to take re­jec­tion grace­fully—the way you want it from the dudes you’re turn­ing down—and when you go on a date, start with the speci­ficity of the per­son sit­ting across from you, not what you need from him. He could be your Dis­ney prince, sure. But he could also be your mu­seum buddy or your pod­cast co­host or your af­ter­noon 69er or some­thing you haven’t even thought of yet.”

I am a 55-year-old gay male. I am hugely over­weight and have not had much ex­pe­ri­ence with men. I go on a va­ri­ety of web­sites try­ing to make con­tact with peo­ple. How­ever, if any­one says any­thing re­motely com­pli­men­tary about me, I panic and run. A com­pli­ment about my phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance? I shut down the pro­file. I don’t like be­ing like this. I just be­lieve in be­ing hon­est. And if I’m hon­est, I’m ugly. The face, even be­hind a big-ass beard, is just not ac­cept­able. I have tried ther­apy, and it does noth­ing. How do I get past be­ing ugly and go out and get laid? > UNAPPEALING GI­ANT LOSER YEARNS You say you’re ugly, UGLY, but there are some peo­ple who dis­agree with you—the peo­ple who com­pli­ment you on your ap­pear­ance, for in­stance.

“I’m not sure I even be­lieve in the word ugly any­more,” said Hobbes. “No mat­ter what you look like, some per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion will be at­tracted to you. Maybe it’s 95 per­cent or maybe it’s 5 per­cent, but they are out there. When you find them, do two things: first, be­lieve them. Sec­ond, shut up about it.”

In other words: just be­cause you wouldn’t want to sleep with you, UGLY, that doesn’t mean no one wants to sleep with you.

“I re­mem­ber read­ing an in­ter­view with Stephen Fry, where he said that when he first started out as an ac­tor, peo­ple would come up to him and say, ‘You were so great in that play!’ and his first re­sponse would be, ‘No, I was ter­ri­ble,’” said Hobbes. “He thought he was be­ing mod­est, but what he was re­ally do­ing, he re­al­ized later, was be­ing ar­gu­men­ta­tive. Even­tu­ally, he started to just say ‘Thank you.’ ”

Hobbes thinks you should try to be like Fry, a big dude with a cute hus­band: “The next time some­one tells him they’re into big dudes with beards, don’t ar­gue, don’t panic, and don’t hes­i­tate. Just say ‘Thank you’ and let the con­ver­sa­tion move on.”

Fol­low Michael Hobbes on Twit­ter @Rot­tenin­den­mark and lis­ten to his pod­cast You’re Wrong About..., avail­able on itunes. On the Love­cast: Wait—why can’t gay men donate blood?: sav­agelove­cast.com. Email: mail@sav­agelove.net. Fol­low Dan on Twit­ter @fakedansav­age. ITMFA.ORG.

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