Gay and lonely

Huf­fPost re­porter Michael Hobbes’ ad­vice for the ugly and aged. Plus: The bad news: “You might not ever meet any­one.”

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Q 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 OK; 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 non-work 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

A “In the very short term, LAG needs to tell his ther­a­pist about the sui­ci­dal ideation,” says Michael Hobbes. “In the longer term, well, that’s go­ing to take a bit more to un­pack.”

Hobbes is a re­porter for Huf­fPost 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,” says 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,” says 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,” says 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.

Q 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

A “AAF said to be bru­tal, so I’m go­ing to start there: You might not ever meet any­one,” says 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,” saya 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 is not. So be happy for the young jerks cou­pling up and set­tling down. Learn to take re­jec­tion grace­fully—the way you would want it from the dudes you’d turn 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.”

On the Love­cast: Wait—why can’t gay men do­nate blood? sav­agelove­

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