Dear Father Tony,
I find myself on the cusp of a personal reinvention. Or, a mid-life crisis, if you prefer. I believe both are apropos descriptions.
When I graduated from college in 1985, I reinvented myself by moving to the opposite coast. I became an up-and-comer at a high-tech company that served me well. I experienced my first relationship and later came out of the closet into an open and diverse community that offered the ability to become any type of queer one wanted to be.
Twenty years later in 2005, I left a relationship and returned home to the house I grew up in. This time my reinvention was born of personal and familial necessity. I became the full-time primary caregiver to my mother who was increasingly affected by the ravages of Alzheimer's disease.
This summer, four years after I arrived, my mother was moved into an assisted care facility to provide her with the proper amount of constant attention and medical help that I was unable to deliver. My reason for being has disappeared, and I find myself a middle-aged single gay man whose life stands before him as a blank canvas.
Letter continues after the jump.
What of a relationship? I spent several years in my previous relationship with his AIDS-related maladies at the top of my mind. The following four years have been spent with an Alzheimer's diagnosis as my focus. After so many draining years, do I really want to be with someone else? How will I ever find someone here in this small town where the gay community is practically invisible except for gay pride day?
Trying to find a date has been nearly impossible. It was a friend that gave me a bit of eye-opening counsel when I was bemoaning my plight. Asked where I was trying to meet people, I replied, "In the gay.com chat rooms." He raised his brows. "That's your problem,' he declared. "You're too old for gay.com. You need to get a profile up on silverdaddies.com." And that's when it hit me. I had been unceremoniously moved from one gay demographic to another and no one, until now, had bothered to notify me!
Reality has slapped me in the face and the need for another personal reinvention has become clear. So here I am. Directionless. I feel like a boat sans rudder; a swimmer treading water. Where do I go from here? I wish I knew. Sure, that would spoil the fun of the journey, but it would also assuage the fears of the unknown that lurk around every corner.
Dear Nobody (And isn't that a strong indicator of your problem!)
You've said a mouthful! Let's see if I can outline you:
- You cared for a sick partner for years.
- You cared for a sick mother for years.
- You don't say you resent either of them.
- Maybe you resent yourself for giving up so much of your life in service to them.
- You are feeling old and unattractive. (Thanks for the photo. As I suspected, you are not "old". You are very handsome and in very good shape.)
- You feel trapped by geography (Thanks for supplying your real address. You are very close to at least three metropolitan regions.)
- You feel obliged to remain near your mother.
I am not sure where to begin loading up my plate at your lifetime buffet of good and bad decisions, self-serving and selfless decisions, wise and foolish fears, denial and perception. I'm going to label you complicated, and at the end of my words for you, I'll tell you whether or not I think you are a good catch for someone and whether or not I think you will ever have a healthy loving relationship.
We have a friend in Utah who has, for many years, been beset with a similarly ill mother. It's driving him nuts. Also, I recently met a man at my gym In New York City who goes to Texas once a month to spend time with his mother. His story and yours are almost identical. Also, You absolutely must read Andrew Holleran's The Beauty of Men and then his Nights in Aruba. These two books will, to make an understatement, resonate, for they describe a gay man who has left his New York City life to return home to Florida to take care of an incapacitated mother.
My fear is that even if all of you were in one room together, none of you would be able to help the others avoid the mistakes you all have in common. For instance, having seen all of you in the flesh (except for you whom I have seen only in your photo), I can testify that you are all handsome, fit, attractive and intelligent men. But each of you feels victimized by age, and rueful about the years gone by that cannot be revisited or rewritten. Get over it. There is not a one of us alive who, despite our huge measure of good fortune and love, is not wounded by the relentless passage of time.
It is medically reported that we reach our physical peak somewhere between eighteen and twenty-five, after which the lights begin gradually to dim. That dimming is the problem. No one - gay or straight - knows how to deal with it. Increased longevity compounds the problem. Our parents live on and on and on, sometimes artificially buoyed by doctors and medications and elaborate interventions, keeping them alive not because they need to enjoy more time on earth, but simply because they don't know how to graciously leave a party at which they don't know or recognize the other guests, and at which they are no longer having fun. Often, we keep them at that party not for their sakes but because we cannot face their departure and the gap it will leave in our own life.
My own mother, an octogenarian who has always been a sort of unhinged sitcom, would take from me as much time as I would give her, all the while rhapsodizing not about my attentive and vigilant sitting by her side, but about how my brother who lives a convenient thousand miles away sends her lovely bouquets in lovely cut glass (not crystal....) vases and what a good son he is. I've learned that because sons and daughters can never "do enough" for elderly parents, the trick is to stop measuring one's obligation in those terms.
However, I would never denigrate what you and the other men I mentioned have done for your mothers. Some possible suitors will find your devotion admirable. Others will find it off-putting. There is no right or wrong here. You have made your choices. You have dispatched your chosen responsibilities. Most people would agree with me that you now deserve a life of your own.
You are no stranger to reinvention. Do it again. Set sail! And this time realize that you won't have to go cross-country to do so. In sections of your letter that I did not publish, you mention a hobby that is shared by many gay men. Use it to find the man of your dreams. (I don't think gay.com or silverdaddies.com will provide the key to your future, but stranger things have happened.)
I do want to warn you about something. In at least two significant relationships, you have been the giver, and the relationship has not been reciprocal. Do you deliberately seek out that kind of relationship? I hope not. This time around, open yourself up to receiving love and attention from someone you define as healthy. I think that will be absolutely essential to your future happiness. If you can repair your self-image and clearly envision a healthy partner, you'll find the love you seek, and he may be your age, younger or older.
Because you are older, this reinvention will be slightly hurried and necessitate the dropping of some useless baggage: doubts, fears and regrets. The rest of you is gold. Is there a site called goldenjuniordaddies? If there is, it is certainly where your mother, if she could see things clearly, would tell you to go. In her place, I'm ordering you to take back your life and find the man you deserve. Do not argue with me.
Now devotedly yours,