The following is a guest post by Douglas C. Haldeman, Ph.D. who has been a Counseling Psychologist in Independent Practice in Seattle for 29 years. His long publication record includes over forty articles and book chapters on issues of Diversity, Ethics, Family systems, Practice Guidelines for marginalized groups, and competent treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families. He has lectured on the relationship between culture, family and mental health all over the world. Dr. Haldeman is also currently running for APA President. You can find out more about his campaign here. This blog post was originally published at Boomer Premier Dating.
Gay, Older, and Dating: I Have Survived! Now What?
I am lucky to be a veteran of 40+ years of living as an out gay man and a psychologist in the LGBT community. Living in the San Francisco area in the Seventies, I enjoyed the Disco Revolution; I marched with Harvey Milk; I sat bedside during the Eighties and Nineties at the deaths of countless patients and friends; and I did my part to rebuild our community in the ‘00s, and have thankfully lived to tell the tale. If you are reading this, you may be an older gay, lesbian, trans or bisexual person – which in our community could be anyone over 40 – and looking for love. Or you may be on your way to becoming an older gay person, so read on.
Let me first say that if you are looking for a one-nighter, fair enough: many older queer folk are not interested in a long-term relationship (LTR), or even dating, for a number of reasons. Perhaps you have left or lost a partner, and are not up for the complexities of an LTR. Or maybe you are simply too accustomed to the independence of single life. Whatever the reason, by this stage in life, you know where to find what you need: online hookup sites (Scruff, Grindr, Manhunt, Adam4Adam, Craiglist) or the more traditional in-person, impersonal venues.
But if you are interested in dating, and the possibility of finding an LTR – either again, or for the first time – read on. This article is dedicated to Boomers/Seniors looking for relationships, and many of the recommendations that apply to heterosexuals work for us too (see below). But for LGBT Boomers/Seniors, there are some unique considerations in the mature quest for love. As a psychologist who has worked with LGBT people from all generational cohorts for thirty years, I have some ideas that may help you in your search:
- Know what you want, and focus accordingly: These days, because of the Internet, it is much easier to connect with like-minded people in terms of dating. Consider where you are in your life, and what you want: is it an LTR? Casual dating? Friendship? What kind of people are you attracted to? Those in your own generation, or others? Be honest with yourself and others. Engage with those whose relational goals are similar.
- Stay open: Be flexible in your “requirements”. Also, be flexible in your choice of venues. For instance, do you remember what it was like before computers “back in the day” when we actually met in person? Go to bars; if you don’t like them, or don’t enjoy alcohol-saturated environments, join community groups; volunteer for LGBT causes. If you live in a rural area where these options are not available, use your computer to connect – or take a deep breath and try and start a club/interest group where you live.
- Focus on what is under your control, and leave the rest: Are there demons in your head, telling you that you’re too old/too fat/too washed-up to find a loving relationship? Don’t do that to yourself; these thoughts must be confronted and replaced with positive thoughts, because they will not help you feel confident in your presentation to others. Are you comfortable in your own body? If not, take steps to address that. It helps. Regardless of your age or ability status, everyone can find something active that they like to do. Be content with who you are and what you have, and it will be much easier feel good about yourself when you meet others – of any age.
- Be honest: You know by now that ours is a youth-obsessed community, and it is easy for older people to feel invisible or marginalized. Don’t buy into that; if you are patient, and sure of yourself, you will meet your Prince or Princess. But you can’t lie, especially on the Internet, where lying seems to be the lingua franca of communicating. Tell the truth about yourself (age, weight, SES, whatever) – you know that whomever you are interested in is going to find out the truth sooner or later. Be up-front and you’ll feel better about your communications.
- Don’t despair: there is a market for everyone: So you think you are over the hill, and that no beautiful person will ever look at you again? Think again. It’s easy to worry about that (see above), but don’t allow yourself to go there. It will not help you achieve anything, and will erode your self-esteem. Be vigilant against toxic thinking! Attend community groups where the participation of older LGBT people is valued; if you go out, visit bars/clubs/coffehouses that have mixed-age clientelte. And online? There are good resources available for meeting people form all over the world who admire us older folk: Silverdaddies and Caffmoscommunity are a couple of reputable sites.
- MOST OF ALL, EMBRACE YOUR AGE:You are likely used to feeling that being over 40 is a deficit in our community. If you are indeed over 40, challenge that thought: you cannot change your age, but you can change your attitude about it. You are mature; you have wisdom; life experience; and a lot to offer. Make your self-talk more positive with activities that bolster your confidence. Get to the gym. Hang out with your friends. Make time for the things that enhance your self-care, whatever they may be, and for God’s sake, stop working so hard. And if you don’t want to be in a relationship after all? Absolutely fine. We are gay, after all; we have already broken the boundaries of heterocentric social expectations (in plain English: social norms of living like straight people), so if you are more comfortable as a single person, good for you. Let it be.
- Follow the basic recommendations for straight Boomers/Seniors: Some of these apply to us, and let’s start with safe sex. In the past few years, the CDC has reported an alarming increase in new HIV infections in gay men over 50 – an age cohort that has survived the initial wave of the health crisis. What’s going on? My theory is that so many of us older guys feel invisible, or just generally bad about ourselves, that we are willing to accept any kind of sexual attention, even if it is unsafe – especially if we have had too much to drink. Don’t do it. You know the rules of safe sex by now. Follow the rules for online dating that straight people endorse: get to know someone, be slow to trust them, meet informally and publicly at the beginning, etc.
- Use the resources dedicated to online dating for gay Boomers/Seniors: There are a number of reputable websites that offer advice, resources, social alternatives, and online communities for connecting with other LGBT Boomers/Seniors as those people who are interested in getting to know us better. They include the AARP’s page for gay online dating, OutMaturity, and FromGaytoDecember. Check them out.
Last but not least, enjoy yourself! This can be an amazing time of life. After all, we have survived (paraphrasing Gloria Gaynor), and as time goes by, we understand how precious life is. Embrace your age and accept whatever health challenges you may have. Put yourself out there. Chances are, someone is waiting.