Friday, June 6, 2014

Life Advice to a Young Gay Man


Here's a response I wrote to a reader, and friend, from another country, who I've been in correspondence with since last summer.  No set-up is necessary.  The details reveal themselves throughout.

I hope this will be helpful to anyone going through a tragedy, dealing with coming out, and trying to figure out who he is.     

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My dear Y.,

You are so brave.  I'm sure you don't see yourself as brave now, because you're in so much pain, but you will.  At some time in the future, you will realize how courageous you were, and you will respect yourself for making a very difficult decision.  And you will also know, if you don't already, you did the right thing.

First, let me assure you, everything will be just fine.  I have a favorite expression:  This too shall pass.  And so it will.  The pain you feel now will, over time, diminish, as you move on with your life, as you open yourself to new experiences, meet new people, and, yes, even fall in love again.  But let's not put the cart before the horse.

Y., the person I want you to fall in love with most now…is you.  But I already love myself, you're probably saying.  And that might be true, to a degree, anyway.  But what I see in everything you've written over these months is that you don't.  Not really.  Not in the way you should, or in the way you need to.

If you think about it, you haven't been on your own–truly on your own–for a long time, if ever.  You met W. when you were in your early twenties, when you were just becoming an adult, when you knew so little about yourself, when you still had so much growing up to do.  So you never really had the chance to become you, who you were meant to be, independent of anyone else in your life. 

I can compare you to my mom in that respect.  My mom met my dad when she was in her late teens.  She got pregnant with, and gave birth to, me when she was just nineteen.  In those days, a young, pregnant, Catholic girl had to get married, or she was shipped off somewhere until she delivered the baby.  And then the baby was often taken away from her and given up for adoption. 

So Mom got married to Dad, never having the chance to figure out who she was, who she was supposed to be.  She never become herself, independent of being a daughter, a wife, or a mother.  To this day, I don't think she really knows who she is, who she was supposed to be.  She's in her seventies now, her health is not good, and I doubt she ever will.

Do you see how similar your stories are?  No, you didn't get pregnant (of course), and no, you didn't get married.  Well, not officially.  But you were with another human being for years, and you had to adjust who you were to suit the relationship you shared with him. 

Many years later, you lost W. in a tragic accident.  No one should have to go through that, certainly not at your age or any age, really.  It's an awful thing to happen.  And you went through a horrific several months, making your way without him, trying to figure out who you were when he was no longer in your life.  It wasn't easy; I appreciate that.  And I think, to a degree, you were looking for relief from the loss and pain and uncertainty.

Enter A.  You knew A. already, but only as a friend.  He was there for you when you were most vulnerable, when you really needed someone.  And, as it turned out, he needed you too.  But maybe not for the right reasons.  And maybe both of you were too needy, in different ways, to really be right for each other.  Emotions got mixed up in all of it, and, before you knew it, you were in a relationship with him. 

I'm sure it felt like A. would be the answer to the loss of W.  But the reality of being with A.–that is, learning more about him than you knew before and trying to adapt to being with him–was more challenging than you realized.  And, in some respects, it added to the burden you already felt, not just about dealing with W.'s loss, but also dealing with your sexual orientation, and your family's reaction to it.

I'm not saying you didn't love A.  I'm sure, in your own way, you did.  And there's no reason why you can't go on loving him–just not in that way.  The two of you were friends before, and you can go on being friends.  But you don't need to complicate your life by being with him as a life partner. As I wrote before, just because you love someone doesn't mean you're meant to be together, or you're good for each other.

So you've broken up with A.  What a huge opportunity this is for you.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Opportunity.  Y., I don't have to tell you you have lots to work through.  And, yes, you will likely need friends to help you along the way.  But most of the work has to be done on your own, over time.  That's called life.  We all have to do it (or we should).  And it's the most important work you'll ever do.

You need to truly accept yourself as a gay man.

You need to deal with the issue of being a gay man in a country that doesn't accept gay people.

You need to figure out how to come out to your family, so you don't have to live a lie for the rest of your life (you're already on the road to doing this).  Or you need to not come out to them, resolve that you can live with that, and move on. 

You need to learn to like yourself, just as you are.

You need to become your own best friend and lover.

You need learn how to be on your own.

You need to figure out who you are when there is no one else in your life.

You need to become the very best human being you can, so that, when you meet the right young man (and you will–have faith), you will be ready for him.  And, together, you will have the most amazing relationship.

I'm sure I've forgotten something you'll need to address, but that's enough for now.  In the end, you'll be a very different person from who you are now, after you've worked through all of these.  But I can't think of anything more exciting. 

Now, before you start feeling overwhelmed, like you can never do all of this, just know it doesn't happen over night.  It takes time.  Lots and lots of time.  I'm still working on some of this stuff myself, and I'll be 55 this year.  But there's no time like the present to start.

And how do you do it?  You live your life one day at a time.  You put one foot in front of the other, just like you do now, and you deal with everything as it comes at you.  You do the very best you can in every instance, recognizing that your very best right now might be different from your very best in the future.  That doesn't matter.  You're only required to do your very best from one day to the next, from one moment to the next.  That's all any of us can do.   

And, while you should always keep your eyes open for a new love in your life, I think you need to wait to get involved with someone else.  Grieve W. completely.  Grieve the break-up with A. completely.  Allow yourself to feel the pain.  Feel it deeply, right to the bone.  Take all the time you need to feel it.  Don't try to run away from it.  And don't try to relieve the pain by seeking a new lover, because that's not the answer.  Believe me. 

If it's loneliness you feel, then feel it completely.  It won't hurt you to be lonely once in a while.  All pain helps us grow, as does all joy.  As you already know, life will be filled with great pain and great joy.  Each experience, whether it be painful or joyful, is a learning opportunity.  Work your way through it all.  Learn everything you can.  Feel yourself become stronger, more the human being you're meant to be. 

Just be with yourself.  Learn to love your own company.  Learn to love doing things on your own.  Learn to love doing things just for you.  Learn to love who you are.  And don't be scared to be with yourself, and by yourself.  It will be some of the best time you've ever spent.  

I hope you see in my words that I'm putting my arms around you, and giving you the warm hug you're in need of.  As I started out saying at the outset, everything will be just fine.  And so it will.  Your journey as a single, vital, amazing, worthy gay man begins today.  Embrace it.  You have no idea what's ahead of you.  Take it one day at a time.  Work on you.  Don't be frightened of who you find yourself to be.  It will all make sense in the end.

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