Seeking out new relationship

By Ginger Manley | Posted: Sunday October 5, 2014

September 2014

Dear Ginger:
I'm almost 73 and I have had one long-term relationship in my life, when I was in my 40's just after I came out gay. He died of AIDS (I'm ok) but I have been reluctant to try again until recently. My few living family members just want to preach to me about changing and when I think about growing old and dying alone, I feel so sad. Do you have any suggestions?

Dear Albert:
Over the five years I have been writing this column, I have been deeply touched by the stories people have told me about their loneliness and sadness. Almost all the stories have a common core--a yearning to connect with and mutually cherish another person and the obstacles that keep that wish from happening. Your story resonates with all those other ones, but it does so in a way that may not be true for folks who are straight.

While some people, gay or straight, may have only one significant relationship in a lifetime, usually a person has more than one. Perhaps there was early dating, maybe even pairing or marriage that did not last, and then the person moved on and found someone else. In your case, you were 40 before the first long-term relationship took hold, then after his death you have not tried to find someone else. I can imagine you have struggled against the efforts of your family members to influence your decision. This is often the opposite of what may happen in a heterosexual person who loses a mate early in life and then friends and family members act as matchmakers towards finding a new significant other for the one left behind.

In your case, it sounds as though you have tried to honor your family's value of straight being the only right way to couple, but you have paid a significant price for your loyalty (albeit grudging) to that belief. Gay men and women of your age had far different experiences in the world in their youth than do many of today's young people. You have not elaborated, but I can imagine from hearing many other aging gay and lesbian folks speak about their stories, that staying quiet and adhering to the expected script has been quite painful.

Coming out in your 40's (which would have been about 1984 or so) was still a risky thing to do because of the stigmas attached to being categorized as gay, queer, or homo as many uniformed people sometimes labeled gay men at that time. Workplace and other prejudices ran rampant and in many states consenting sex between two adults of the same gender was illegal. And then when your lover became ill and died of AIDS at a time when so little was understood about the illness, all the other misperceptions were probably magnified.

I applaud your courage in speaking out now and in so doing, stating your desire to find a special person in your life. Your family may or may not accept this, but it really is your life and your decision and if they choose to distance themselves, the loss is theirs. Today more and more churches, even mainline ones, are gay-affirming, so if you have a faith community and they also are not supportive, find one that is and move on.

Now about moving on--how and where can you meet that guy you want to get to know? It could happen in church or through a mutual friend, if you let the word out and if your friends are supportive. You could meet him in a bar or another social setting, but most older singles are not going to find someone on their par in either of these places. Hobbies and compatible interests can put you in the same place with other men your age who are seeking a relationship, but since many older gay men remain closeted, you could be in a golf group, for instance, for a long time and not really know if someone is eligible. Do what other singles of your age are doing--check out the online matchmaking services. Some are far more reputable than others, so do due diligence and read up on whatever site you may use.

One word of caution. Please be sure to inform your health care provider about your sexual orientation (if not already done) and your decision to end your voluntary celibacy. Among the changes to Medicare that came with the Affordable Care Act, each person who needs it is eligible for testing for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, and especially counseling about safer sexual practices. If this makes your health care provider uncomfortable, move on to someone who is comfortable having these kinds of medical discussions.

George Takei has become the role model of an older gay man who is thriving by being out and being in a relationship. He married his long-time partner in 2008 and now both men are being sought as spokespersons for older gay marriage. From what I have read, it seems to be working as they appear to be thriving as they become more visible and more accepted. Takei has spoken about the twin sadnesses of his childhood spent in American internment camps during World War II and later, the experience of his closeted life as a Hollywood actor. To see him today is to see a man gloriously embracing happiness. This is my wish for you, Albert.


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