"There's nothing more lonely than a gay person growing old alone."
-- Nancy Golden (from Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal,
Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay
in America, ed. Mitchell Gold, pp. 129-130)
The other Sunday, Chris and I were out on our early morning walk/jog for exercise. At one point on 102 Avenue, I was slightly behind him and struggling to keep up. I looked up to see the back of his head, and the thought that came to me was, I'm a different person because of you, because I've been with you for almost eighteen years. In fact, not only am I a different person, I'm a better person. I'm a person I couldn't have been without you. And it all clicked into place for me once again that all gay men need to be in committed, long-term (and, dare I say, monogamous) relationships.
Okay, I'll admit, part of the difference in me is the result of the natural aging or maturing process. I don't need to tell you that, as you get older, you become a different person. You become more of who you were meant to be, just because of what you've gone through over time. You come into yourself more fully, because you've been around long enough to get past youth and everything that goes along with that. It seems a shame, but I think it takes leaving youth and taking on maturity to do that. I don't believe the twenty-five year old version of me was who I was meant to be. I was on my way to getting there, but, when I look back on who I was then, I'm painfully aware of how different I was compared to who I am now. I hadn't even come out as a gay man yet, for goodness sake. How could I be who I am today if I'd never done that?
When you're single, you think you know who you are. There's that period in your late teens and twenties, when you separate from your parents and begin to make your own way in life. It's a heady experience, being free from the restrictions of mom and dad. It's a time when we begin to see all the possibilities for our lives and, in some respects, the limitations too. There's only so much a single person can do all on his own. Life could feel incomplete, and it might just be because you aren't sharing it with someone else. Many single people will tell you they've never been happier, that they couldn't imagine being in a committed relationship, that there's too much of the world to explore and to experience without having to compromise all the time to make someone else happy.
But I was single for many years, and, honestly, I was miserable. Seemingly, just like everyone else who was single at the time, we were all looking to hook up with someone else. The gay clubs were full of people desperate to find someone, if not for a lifetime, then perhaps for a night or two. When the lights went up at 2:00 a.m., we saw in each other what we all were--single, alone, and lonely. Sure, we'd danced and partied like it was 1999, but, at the end of the night, most of us went home alone, to our empty apartments and our empty lives. What's the old axiom? You're no one until you're with somebody? Well, I believed it because I knew it was true.
At that time, some local newspapers were filled with ads for people wanting to meet other people: men wanting to meet women; women wanting to meet men; women wanting to meet women; and men wanting to meet men. Every weekend, after I finished my final hours of work late Friday afternoon, I picked up the latest issues of "The WestEnder" and "The Buy and Sell." Yes, even "The Buy and Sell" had ads for people wanting to meet each other. Every time I looked at the personal ads in that paper, I was reminded of how much trying to link up with a life partner was like buying a car. Both of them might have been used, having been driven around the block more than a few times, but, if they were very lucky, to the right buyer they'd be just perfect.
I can't tell you how many Friday and Saturday nights I stood at the front window in my West End high-rise apartment, looking over all the other apartment buildings right up to the skyscrapers of downtown Vancouver, wondering when, or even if, I'd meet the right person for me, taking me away from the funk and emptiness of being single. Surely, in all of those hundreds and thousands of apartments in Vancouver's gay village, God had placed someone who was the right match for me, the person I was meant to spend the rest of my life with. But where? Where was he? And how, among all those people I encountered in the city on a daily basis, coming and going through their daily lives, would we possibly meet? The likelihood of it seemed infinitesimally remote. I doubted it would ever happen. I'd lost faith.
Did I simply buy into the message society constantly feeds us that we're nothing without someone else, or did I know in my heart and in my soul, because we human beings are genetically hardwired to feel incomplete without someone to share our lives with, that I had to be with someone else? I think it's the latter. I don't believe for a moment that we're meant to spend our lives alone, because there is so much to be enjoyed when you're with someone else. In fact, how is it possible to enjoy life fully, as fully as it should be enjoyed, if you don't have someone else to enjoy it with? It's like success, which we've heard time and again is nothing without someone to share it with. And I know this to be true as well.
But it isn't just a matter of having someone to enjoy life with or to share success with that makes being with someone you love the height of the human experience. It's what the other person does for us that we can't do for ourselves. Sure, if we're fortunate enough, and can undo much of the crud that happens to us as we're growing up, we might actually learn to love ourselves to the degree that we should but that few of us do, with or without someone in our lives. But you will never, ever truly experience love if you don't have that someone special in your life to show you what loving and being loved is all about. It's not until we give ourselves completely to another human being that we truly become ourselves.
Beyond the experience of love, which, after all, is the whole point of life, being in a long-term, committed, and monogamous relationship takes you deeper into yourself and into another human being than you could ever get otherwise. Sure, you learn about each other's stuff, but who would we be without our stuff. You have stuff, I have stuff. In that regard, we're all the same, and the question becomes whether the stuff you and your partner share is too much--in which case you'll find yourselves constantly pulled apart--or if it's acceptable, in which case you'll work through it together. In actual fact, a relationship is meant to force you through your stuff, helping you to make peace with it. Without that relationship, you'll always carry the weight of it around, whether you know it's there or not. A relationship is the key to unlocking hidden parts of yourself, the parts that get in the way of being the real you, of fulfilling your purpose for being here.
In a relationship, a partner reflects back to you who you really are. No, not who you think you are or who you want to be, unless your relationship never descends to the level of intimacy that we human beings are capable of and crave. In your partner, you'll see not only all of what you inflict on other human beings, but also what you inflict on yourself. When you see the hurt and the pain and the suffering you put your partner through, in his eyes and in the expression on his face, you'll see who you really are, and, hopefully, you'll also see the opportunity you have to change and to become a better person. Without that person in your life, you and your darker side are unleashed on the world, and, unchecked, you increasingly limit the likelihood over time that you'll ever find someone to share the rest of your life with, so set in your own ways will you become.
What I've seen time and time again in the gay community is the hesitance of gay men to really and truly connect with other human beings in meaningful ways. While they celebrate being single, free, and sexual, gay men alight on each other's lives, continuously flitting from one experience to the next with this man or that. What they rarely do is remain stationary long enough to allow themselves to get close to someone else, or to allow someone to get close to them. It's far less risky to share themselves physically with other men--in some cases, lots of other men--and engage in potentially life threatening activities, than it is to share themselves emotionally. And what they do in the process is disallow themselves the opportunity to truly be with someone in a meaningful way, in a way that will show them who they are and who they could be.
I feel sorry for single gay men. I was one in the past, and I know how unhappy, unsatisfying, and meaningless that existence is, despite everything they might think or say to the contrary. If single gay men could recognize their own homophobia, do the hard work to overcome it, and wholeheartedly take the only risk worth taking--that is, to open their hearts enthusiastically to other men in the context of committed, long-term, monogamous relationships--they'd discover for themselves all that I've written about here, and how much happier and truly fulfilled they could be.