Thursday, March 31, 2011

"It Gets Better," After 30, Too

For those of you who are gay and fast approaching the age of 30, I'm here to deliver good news: Not only does life not end once you reach 30, but, to borrow from Dan Savage's highly successful Project, "It Gets Better."  In fact, it gets a lot better.  And, if the past is any indication, it keeps getting better.  

That's right.  Maybe you thought the "It Gets Better Project" doesn't apply to you, now that you've been out of school for a while, and, for the most part, hopefully, you've left being bullied behind.  But it does. And even better than how life improves once you leave school is how much more it improves when you turn 30 and older.  

Just because we're gay doesn't mean we don't go through the same phases in life everyone does; in fact, we may go through them even more acutely because we're gay, because we're more sensitive as a result of everything else we've gone through.  And, if you're anything like I was in my twenties, you may well like the freedom you feel, after moving away from home, finishing post-secondary education, and even coming out.  But, overall, the twenties are a tough time--one of exploring and searching and wondering when the answers you need will appear.

That's what your thirties, and beyond, are about.

The past nearly twenty-two years (I'll be 52 this October) have been the best ever of my life--far better than anything before.  Here's a brief rundown of some of the key things that happened, after I turned 30:

1.  I met my life partner and fell in love for the first time, when I was 32.
2.  I was promoted to the most important, and best remunerated position of my career, when I was 39.
3.  I retired from the company I'd worked twenty-eight years for, when I was 47.
4.  Chris and I became debt-free, including no mortgage, when I was 47.
5.  I began to pursue my lifelong dream to become a writer, when I was 48 (not 65 as I'd thought).
6.  I found my voice, as a human being and writer, when I turned nearly 50.

Each one of these points reflects a significant event in the progression of my life, none of which happened until after I turned 30.  Let's take a closer look at a few of them.

1.  All the way through my twenties, I wanted a life partner, in large part because I was alone, lonely, and believed someone else would give me what I couldn't give myself--namely, love.  My early twenties were an important time for me as far as coming to terms with my sexual orientation is concerned.  Had I not gone through all the phases I did--from denial, to anger, to acceptance, and back again--I doubt I would have come out when I was 26.

The remainder of my twenties were about meeting new people, playing a more active role in finding a life partner, and learning what I was about.  These also set the groundwork for learning to love myself, always the foundation for a successful relationship--a journey I didn't embark on until I was in my early thirties.  In other words, had I not done the work in my twenties that I needed to before heading into my thirties, I would not have been ready for Chris when he arrived.  We might not be together today.

5.  From the time I was a little boy, I always wanted to be a writer.  I tell a story about Cheryl, a babysitter my sister and I used to have, and how she helped me, when I was about 10, to write a short story with a Western theme.  (If only I'd kept that story over all these years; I'd surely get a kick out of it.)

For most of my life, I was employed by a large financial institution in Canada. Over time, I worked my way up from a teller at a branch in Kelowna to the manager of a forty-person operation in Victoria.  I devoted everything I had to my career and had nothing left over to pursue my dream of being a writer in my spare time (which was nonexistent).  I fully expected I wouldn't be able to write in earnest, at least until I retired at 62 or older.

But Chris and I had made some great investment decisions early in our relationship, including buying real estate, and, after the Lower Mainland market went through the roof in the early to mid-2000s, we did all right for ourselves, which allowed us to travel and to pay off all our debt.  More importantly, I was able to retire from my job to pursue writing full-time.  Now, Chris supports the two of us while he pursues his career, and, in addition to writing, I spend my time managing and organizing the house and our lives.  

None of this could have happened when I was in my twenties.  In the end, time was our ally.  We made the best decisions we could at the time, lived fully along the way, yet kept our eyes on the achievement of future goals.  To get anywhere, you need to work with time, often a lot of it.  But never allow living for the future to diminish the importance of right now, this very minute, which is all any of us is guaranteed.

6.  Finding your voice is a tricky one.  Early readers of my blog know I struggled with this.  I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't know what to write about, what was mine to say.  I also didn't know what was truly important to me.  What I thought I had that was worthy of sharing with other people.  In other words, how could I contribute, make a difference, fulfill my purpose?

Whether you write or not, all of us have voices, and your voice is intrinsically connected to who you are.  So if you struggle with such things as your identity--as I did being a gay man, in part, because, even in my late forties, I still resisted my truth--then your voice will be mired in confusion and obscurity. To be a writer, particularly one who draws heavily from personal experience hopefully to help inspire and teach, you must become clear and focused and in tune with who you are and what you were intended to do.

This cannot be done in your twenties, nor, dare I say, in your thirties or even much of your forties--at least it couldn't for me.  Something about getting older forces you to take a closer look at yourself and your life, at what's really important versus what you thought was important at the time.  In the end, focusing on what you were really meant to do is not only right, it's also a better use of your time and energy.

There's nothing like knowing you no longer have forever to get on with your life's work to motivate you, to cut the crap, and to move forward with the task at hand.

I think a lot of people in their twenties like their lives.  What's not to like?  They're young, they're pretty, and the world is full of possibilities.  They get into a routine of partying, meeting new people, having a good time, and they don't want it to stop.  When you're gay, who doesn't want to dance the night away, succumb to the beat, attract attention, hook up with different people--in other words, party like it's 1999 and live as though there's no tomorrow.

But life is made up of phases, and your twenties is merely one phase.  I'm going to stick my neck out and say it's probably the least significant phase.  True, it's usually the time when you prepare personally and professionally for what's to come, but what's to come, when you grow older, is infinitely richer, more vivid and profound by comparison.    

So, when anyone tells you life ends at 30, tell him he's full of you-know-what. Believe me, it's just the beginning.  The best things in your life happen when you're 30 and older.  That's when you come into your own.  That's when you settle down and become the person you were meant to be.  That's when you sort out self-esteem issues, learn to believe in yourself, and accept your value to the world.  It's also when you discover the beauty, and the responsibility, of your gifts, and how best to use them.      

Life after 30?  Believe me, It Gets Better.


  1. I'm just about to turn 29, and this blog post came at the right time. It gives me hope that even though I feel like an underachiever now, things can change and get so much better in ways I may not expect.

  2. Rick, this is such a great description of the joys and benefits of getting older! So often in our culture (especially gay culture), we're so focused on staying young, completely forgetting the whole purpose of the life journey... to grow as individuals. Your life is a true success story. I can only imagine it was your rough early years that really motivated you to move forward. I think you really have found your voice now, and we are all benefiting from being able to hear it on this blog!

  3. @A Strange Boy: This is exactly why I wrote this post--because I hoped to use my life as an inspiration for others. I've been fortunate enough to live way past 30, and why not use what I've learned to give young people like you a glimpse of the other side you may have no awareness of?

    When I was your age, I'd seen only the negative side of being gay and growing older, and I hated what I thought I had to look forward to. This is my effort to create some balance in the perception of what it means to be an older gay person.

    It really does get so much better, IF you play an active role in your life, stay conscious, and strive to do the best you can in everything.

    Thanks for your comment.

    @Doug: As I've written before, I always worry about revealing too much about myself, or, as Sarah puts it, over-sharing. I also worry about coming off arrogantly, as though I'm holding myself up as the perfect example of what you too can be. This is not my intention. Overall, have I been fortunate? Yes. Do I believe everyone is as fortunate as me? Sadly, no.

    Over the past year or so, as I worked on my blog, I realized all I have to offer anyone is the example of my life. In part, this is the voice I write about in the post above. I share not to gloat, not to make myself look better, but, hopefully, to help, to inspire, and to open up the truth of the homosexual experience.

    When I write, I always have me in mind, twenty or thirty years ago, and what would have made a difference if I'd read it then. My isolation was crippling, as was my low self-esteem, and I had little hope for the future. If there's anyone out there like that now, I pray they see something on my blog that changes their lives in some small way for the better.

    Thank you so much for the compliment about finding my voice and helping to benefit those who hear it. I really appreciate your kindness.

  4. Terrific article, thanks much. As one who didn't even acknowledge my homosexuality to myself until I was 35, your piece really resonates. And I didn't start my coming out journey until I was 43! All I do is urge everyone to understand that each and every moment is what you make of it. To quote Yeats:

    "Stay not to mourn for the past,
    the future lies ahead."

  5. Thanks for your kind words, Dan. I appreciate them, and I appreciate your sharing Yeats's quote. No truer words....

  6. That was a great article, with an important message. I came to terms with being gay in my teens. It was rough, and while I think I'm in a good place, reading this article demonstrated that it can get even better.

    Thank you for sharing. I hope this articles goes in front of more people. <3

  7. Thank you for the compliment, H.C. I appreciate your interest in my blog and in what I have to say.
    I'm grateful that, as an older gay man, I have some life experience behind me, and I can share that with my readers here. Hopefully, what I have to say will make a positive difference in people's lives. That's the whole point of why I write this.
    Thanks again, and, if you know anyone who might benefit from the post you liked, or any of the others I've written, please let me know. The more readers, the better.

  8. I'm 24 now and recently out of my first relationship. I really needed this. I'm completely terrified of being alone forever because my self esteem created problems in my relationship (at 32 my ex was much more relaxed and comfortable in his own skin). Added to this the mainstream view that gay men stay single all their lives and the statistics which seem to accord with this fatalistic view of the future. I hope that I find what you had. I'd hate to be alone forever.

  9. I'm sorry to hear about the breakup of your relationship, Anonymous.

    I know you're going through a rough time, particularly as you consider the future and think about the possibility of being, as you say, alone forever.

    True, I know nothing about you, but I feel confident in saying that being alone forever shouldn't be your primary concern at your young age. You've already recognized that your low self-esteem played a role in your breakup, so, if ever there was a time to focus on that, it's right now.

    There are so many things you can do to start improving how you feel about yourself–from reading books to taking a look at the numerous posts I've written here on that very subject–and I heartily encourage you to do them.

    As I wrote in a recent post, do the work now. You've learned a big lesson from your first relationship–perhaps the biggest, and one that affects almost all of us. It's your responsibility to make sure it never happens again. This one is in your hands, I promise you that.

    You can't control what happens in the future–that is, whether you end up alone or partnered–but you can stack the odds in your favor by learning the greatest skill you'll ever need in all areas of your life: to believe in your self-worth, and how much your being here means to the world.

    I believe in my heart you will find for yourself what I share with my partner, Chris. I believe you will find true love, and your life will be all the richer for it. Don't give up on yourself. Never give up and never despair. Just do the work, okay?

    Thanks so much for your interest in my blog, and for your touching comment. I hope to hear from you again. I'd sincerely appreciate knowing how you're doing.