FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN
What did I think about in my young days? Money? Fame? Living in a house with a bathroom? (Yes really!). And marriage? Oh sure, and, sadly, I was well on the way to achieving all those. I just assumed that these would provide an outward veneer of respectability and happiness and which would eventually overwhelm and conquer those other inward feelings I was having which, I feared, could only lead to unhappiness and tragedy.
Everything I read convinced me that the paths to hell were paved with gay intentions.
You could only listen to our Shirley mournfully singing about the ‘Sad Young Men’ to know that being gay was not the most convenient state to be in.
“Ballad Of The Sad Young Men”
Sing a song of sad young men, glasses full of rye.
All the news is bad again, kiss your dreams goodbye.
All the sad young men, sitting in the bars.
Knowing neon nights, and missing all the stars.
All the sad young men, drifting through the town.
Drinking up the night, trying not to drown.
All the sad young men, singing in the cold.
Trying to forget, that they’re growing old.
All the sad young men, choking on their youth.
Trying to be brave, running from the truth.
Autumn turns the leaves to gold, slowly dies the heart.
Sad young men are growing old, that’s the cruellest part.
All the sad young men, seek a certain smile.
Someone they can hold, for just a little while.
Tired little girl, does the best she can
Trying to be gay, for a sad young men
While a grimy moon, watches from above
All the sad young men, who play at making love
Misbegotten moon shine for sad young men
Let your gentle light guide them home again
All the sad, sad, sad, young men
Even at the cinema, once you had crept in under cover, you could watch the pro gay film ‘The Boys in the Band’ and even hear a gay character mouthing ‘Show me a happy homosexual, and I’ll show you a gay corpse’!
Gay literature of the 60s was similarly less than optimistic, with gay heroes always seeming to end up as a tragic figures, ‘reviled and rejected of men’, and usually killed off well before the end.
Searching for personal happiness then, and certainly even looking for love, promised a doomed outcome. Oscar Wilde, Tchaikovsky, and others were good enough examples of the futility of that.
Taking a Chance
So, undaunted or, in some people’s eyes, propelled by some sort of a death wish, I found the first man of my dreams, but it was all shrouded in monumental secrecy. It took 4 months of contact with him before I let him know my real name. Our meetings were always arranged miles away from where we lived so that we wouldn’t be found out. If something happened and neither of us turned up for a meeting, then it could take days and days to re-establish contact, and you never, ever put anything down on paper.
That didn’t stop us!!! Eventually we gave up our jobs, moved away and found other work; we stopped our old world, and got off. We ended up in a holiday flat, and worked hard at ensuring our new employers didn’t know that each of us was living with a man; we never left our flat each morning without ruffling up the sheets of both beds, just in case our landlord entered our flat and noticed that only one bed had been slept in; and we did all our weekend shopping together in places where we wouldn’t meet anyone we knew. If there was the chance we might bump into someone from work, then the other quickly moved away, even crossing the road, so that we wouldn’t be seen to be together.
Well, that, now laughable secrecy, didn’t last for long and we settled into a happier joint existence, both of us so very glad that we had found each other, and, in a situation where we could create a world where others, who mattered most to us, easily spoke about ‘David and Roger’ in the same way that they did about ‘Jean and Brian’
Reflecting on that experience it is sad to me that today there remain thousands locked into those same experiences that we had in those early days. I still meet men, and women, who have stayed single for work reasons and whose sexuality remains covert for reasons of ‘privacy’, though actually they mean ‘secrecy’. I meet people who do not pursue committed relationships because “their families wouldn’t understand”, or because “it would kill my mother, if she found out”, or because “my firm is very homophobic, and I would miss out on promotion if I started to live with another man”, or “I am wedded to my career and don’t have time to find someone else”.
I find that sad especially since in this brave new world of gay rights and changing attitudes towards sexuality we can even blaze a path towards society accepting new understandings about personal happiness and fulfilment. We have a free choice about the personal life we wish to have. We can stay single or opt for partnership and we have no need to be constricted by heteronormative beliefs that only specific lifestyles can result in happiness and fulfilment.
It is therefore important to firmly deny that the vast majority of older LGBTs, who are living alone, are in that condition because something has gone wrong in their lives, or because they are deficient in some way. Single LGBT people can be just as settled and fulfilled as their LGBT counterparts in a relationship. They contentedly affirm their sexuality. They provide and meet their physical and sexual needs with respect, safety, consent, satisfaction and love. They nurture their spirits without selfishness. They use their freedom to serve others within our community and are fulfilled through the mutual companionship of friends. They rejoice with others who have chosen different pathways towards personal happiness. They are often hilarious and wonderful company. They age with composure and die in peace. They are not ‘the sad young men’ of the song.
However, as for me, I opted for a committed relationship and even after losing two partners, and in later life, I coveted and gained a third lover. I am in the minority within the LGBT community and its all too easy to flaunt one’s situation. You know what I mean. Yes, I’m the one who receives a cup of tea in the morning in bed; who copes patiently with someone else snoring their head off at 3 a.m.; who gets the sympathy when going though the worst head cold anyone could ever have had; who is certain that the world would be a wonderful place were everyone as perfect as me; who is convinced that his cultural choices continue to be of a higher level than that of his partner; AND who has gratefully discovered ‘how wonderful life is, now you’re in the world’.
But I believe that there is a serious point to be made about the value of my situation. I believe that all human beings are the better for being in close committed relationships. I believe that we can be happier, healthier and more fulfilled by being in them and I believe that this can be true for older LGBTs too.
Easier said than done eh? Let’s not forget some of the reasons for the aloneness of our seniors. The baggage of the repression of earlier years, inhibiting the creation of any close gay relationships. The failed attempts at forging relationships when familial and professional pressures have been an impediment. The scars left by fractured relationships and the misuse of our goodwill by others. The trauma of bereavement and the feeling that we can now best survive in the future if we stay on our own. All these are reasons enough for opting out of making any further efforts to find that special someone.
A way ahead
But I want to suggest that the following actions might help the situation of those who would like to be with a special someone.
- We need a positive emphasis on the value and status of older LGBTs. To concentrate on our fallibility and weakness is to demean us. To focus on our potential and ability is affirming and enhancing. The whole LGBT community needs to be unambiguous in saying that it is possible and not unusual to create happy and successful relationships in later life.
- It has to be recognised that many feel that the risks for anyone setting out to create a close relationship are too great to bother with. Many of us know how degraded we can feel when things don’t work out or go wrong, and as we age we are less resilient in coping with such experiences. I believe that older gay people need support so as not to give up on the process. We need to be upheld and have our confidence nurtured if we do decide to search for that special someone. Encouraging others to be open about their experiences can be an ennabling process, and avoid mistakes; and showing positive images of people who have found relationships later in life is particularly helpful.
- We need open, detailed and honest acknowledgement about sexual activity in later life. I have written elsewhere about the sexual health needs of older gay men but to focus on danger over against the celebration of sexual activity is what older people need.
- For some, isolation and loneliness can lead to a blunting of social skills – the very skills which enable successful relationships. There are sufficient professional people within the LGBT community with the knowledge to create programmes and establish groups in which our elders can be empowered, should they choose to set out to find their significant other.
- Charities for older people, like AgeUK, have the funds and the organisational capacity for online social interaction. There is an anxiety about doing this but it has huge potential, and this would enable the creation of separate sections for LGBT elders. For many older LGBTs this would be a far better and safer alternative to other more commercial dating web sites.
Best wishes to all as you search out your own path to happiness.