"I want you to promise me you'll leave yourself open to the possibility of someone getting close."
This advice I gave recently to elevencats, who lives in Estonia, after, in a comment to the post titled "Children," he wrote, "I don't let anyone too close to me," which he knew would preclude him from finding a life partner. I was alarmed by his words and thought he was probably right, which is counter to what I know he wants because of past comments he made where he said he wishes to be in love with another man. In a subsequent comment, elevencats wrote, 'Every night I go to sleep, I say "I love you, my special someone, wherever you are."' Already, he has the love for a man; he just doesn't have the man.
You know, when you're gay, it's remarkably easy to shut out other people, to keep them at arm's length, to prevent them from getting close. We learn early on, particularly from experiences with kids at school, that people are hurtful. They pick up on our differences, our sensitivities, and tease us about them. That damages us inside, so, in defence, to prevent feeling pain, we close ourselves off. To the extent that, when we reach adulthood, we relate to people in dysfunctional ways. If we don't let anyone get close, we think, they don't get to know us, we don't have to pretend to be someone we're not, and we won't get hurt.
I've been there, believe me. I spent years and years shutting people out. I suspect even if someone had tried to be friends with me in junior high school, for example, I wouldn't have given them the chance. I'd been hurt too many times. On the rare occasion when I had trusted others enough to befriend them, they often betrayed or used or turned on me. And that hurt like hell. You open the door to others only so many times before you begin to blame yourself for the pain you feel. If I didn't let them close, you tell yourself, they couldn't have done what they did to me. And I wouldn't feel so awful about myself. We learn. We learn.
So, then, when we get to adulthood, the only way we know how to relate to people is through short bits of superficial interaction, and only when necessary. We get what we need, or we do what's required, and we move on. I have no doubt many people who encounter us think we're terrific--if we'd just slow down long enough to let them get to know us better. The real shame is if this happens with a potential life partner. Few people who might be interested in us will mow us down to get our attention. If we fail to demonstrate at least a little engagement and human warmth, opportunities will pass us by, and we won't even know it.
When I moved to Vancouver in the late '80s and met Dale through a personal ad, we become friends in a way I'd never been friends with anyone before. Dale was gay, I was gay; he wanted a relationship, I wanted a relationship--but neither of us saw in each other what we were looking for. Sometimes, when Dale and I were out walking on the Stanley Park seawall or eating at a restaurant, he'd tell me someone had just cruised me. And you know how I reacted? I said, "Yeah. Whatever." I didn't believe him. He was a jokester, and, more often than not, I thought he was putting me on. Dale had to keep repeating that he'd seen someone was genuinely interested in me for me to believe it.
So, on the one hand, I wanted a relationship, badly, more than anything else. But, on the other, I didn't believe anyone could ever be interested in me, and I was oblivious to anyone who was. The extreme example of not letting anyone get close is shutting them out altogether, and I have some experience with that, too. That sort of behavior will never endear you to anyone who might think you're handsome, or cute, or attractive, and would like nothing more than the opportunity to exchange a few words with you, maybe even take you out for coffee or dinner or a movie.
We learn early to close ourselves off from other people because we don't want to give them the chance to hurt us. But, in order to achieve what many of us want most--namely, a relationship--we have to unlearn the only way we know how to interact with others. It's not easy to turn our social skills upside down, to do the exact opposite of what we've always done, to come out of our shells and become extroverted. But it's possible, and I know from experience it's about liking ourselves enough to realize if someone does hurt us, we don't have to feel negative about who and what we are. We can develop the inner fortitude to avoid getting totally crushed by some of the insensitive things people do.
The advice I gave to elevencats is the advice I give to you. Be open to the possibility of letting someone get close. Even more, be open to the possibility of letting love enter your life. Learn to love yourself, recognize your self-worth, and build the internal strength you can call on when someone hurts you, either intentionally or unintentionally, so you won't end up devastated and paralyzed. So you have what it takes to recover quickly, and to realize that what someone has done to hurt you is more about him, and his own insecurities and self-loathing, than it is about you.