Monday, July 21, 2014

Masturbation

So here’s what we know:

    A 14-year-old boy in San Diego, Calif., killed himself last fall after a fellow
    student snuck into their high-school bathroom and recorded a video of him
    masturbating in a stall.  The student…posted the video on social media, it…
    went viral, and two weeks later, on American Thanksgiving weekend, Mat-
    thew, bullied, friendless and beyond comforting, took his own life.*  

When I read this, I was angry, really angry.  But perhaps not for the reason you might think.  Sure, there’s a whole lot wrong with what happened here; however, I don’t believe one of them was the young man masturbating, not even in a bathroom stall at school. 

No, the real problem is our culture’s perception of masturbation.  If jacking off was not so stigmatized, there’s a good chance Matthew’s classmate wouldn’t have recorded him doing it.  With no video, nothing would have been posted online or gone viral, and a Southern California family would still have their son today. 

I don’t care where you stand on the subject of masturbation, I think we all agree this young man should not have ended his life because of the embarrassment, shame, or guilt associated with it.   

Over the years, I’ve learned a good number of my readers, particularly those who take the time to contact me, are young people, both male and female.  No one in their family is gay (that they know of, anyway), so, in a sense, they see me as a surrogate father, someone they can trust.  I’m gay and older, I’ve been in a relationship with another man for over twenty years, and I have some experience behind me.  As a result, they feel comfortable talking to me, opening up, telling me what’s going on in their lives, what some of their concerns are.  And they ask questions.  I believe, from reading my posts, they know I’ll be straight with them, and tell it like it is. 

That’s why I’m going there today–all the way there.  That’s why I’m talking about masturbation.  As we’ve seen in the case of Matthew Burdette, the stakes are too high if we keep silent, if we don’t tell young people what they want to know, what they need to know.  If parents or guardians or someone in authority isn’t comfortable telling them, then I will.    

And I’ll start, as I usually do, by talking about my own experience, so you know I know what I’m talking about.    

I masturbate.  There.  Another closet behind me.  If admitting I masturbate makes you laugh, or squirm, or somehow lessens your opinion of me, then so be it.  I’d rather be honest than not.  As I see it, what’s the point of writing this, or any post here, if I don’t tell you the truth?  If I don’t opt to help instead of hide.   

I’ve masturbated for as long as I can remember, starting when I was a little boy and had no idea what I was doing.  All I knew was, it felt good, I liked it, and, after it was done, I felt sleepy (in fact, many doctors recommend insomniacs masturbate before bed, because it reduces anxiety, relaxes, and encourages sleep).   

I continue to masturbate today, even though I have a partner.  I enjoy having sex with Chris, but I also enjoy having sex on my own.  Chris knows I masturbate and has no problem with it.  He doesn’t believe, as some do, that it takes away from our sex life.  Sometimes, we even masturbate together.  Sex is a multi-faceted experience.  There are all kinds of things to do, either with someone or alone.    

A lot of myths surround masturbation; perhaps you’ve heard some of them.  Like, if you do it, you’ll go blind.  Or you’ll grow hair on your palms.  Or you’ll get acne.  Ridiculous.  Believe me, if they were true, I’d be afflicted by all of them.  And, just in case I need to say this, I’m not.  Nor are 95 per cent of men, and 60 to 80 per cent of women, who are reported to also masturbate.   

When it comes to masturbation, I’m particularly concerned with our culture’s misguided perception of it.  And how you might perceive it, as a result, or perceive yourself, if you do it.   

So, let me be clear on this.  It’s possible you’ve gotten information from somewhere that jacking off is wrong.  Or shameful.  Or self-indulgent.  Or something else that’s negative or awful or even sinful, because of religious beliefs, or because whoever told you was embarrassed and wanted the subject to go away, or because he didn’t want to admit he does it himself.  But all of that is nonsense.  To repeat, it’s nonsense.  Don’t believe any of it.  

Masturbation is useful.  If you have no one in your life, which a good many people don’t, you can still be sexual (as you should be), and still enjoy one of the most pleasurable experiences available to us as human beings (and it’s completely safe sex).  Masturbation is good for learning what you like and what you don’t like; what feels good and what doesn’t feel good.  There’s nothing wrong with knowing your body, exploring your sexuality, enjoying what you’ve been given–even if it’s by yourself.  What you learn will make you more self-aware, and it will make your sex life with a partner more fulfilling. 

So, if you feel guilty because you masturbate, stop it.  You have no reason to.  

In the end, masturbation is no different from eating, or sleeping, or going to the bathroom, or any other function we do.  It’s perfectly natural and normal, not shameful or self-indulgent or sinful.  And we owe it to ourselves, and each other, to see it that way.  I do it, and millions and millions of people around the world do it.  There’s no reason why you shouldn't too.    

In his article, referred to below in the footnote, Peter Scowen, editorial writer and editor at The Globe, writes:  

    In the absence of even nominal public education about masturbation, what Matthew
    Burdette needed was some person of stature in his social circle–a teacher, or a jock, or
    maybe a celebrity–to step forward and admit, I do that too.  In the absence of that,
    and if it could help other boys struggling with the fear, guilt and shame of being
    caught, maybe all of us men should find the courage to stand up and say, don’t worry,
    guys, you’re not alone.                              

So here I am, standing up and saying it.  You are not alone.  I masturbate.  And it’s okay if you do too.
___________________
* Quotes are from “Masturbation is…a Sin, Selfish, Healthy, Harmless, a Weakness, Human Nature, the Last Taboo,” by Peter Scowen, The Globe and Mail, Saturday, July 19, 2014, p. F4.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Is It Love?

From time to time, a reader asks me, Is it love?  Or, How do I know it's love?  Or, How long does love take?  Or some variation of that.  A good many of my readers are younger and haven't experienced love yet–not romantic love, the kind you feel toward someone other than a family member, for example.  I've done my best to answer their questions over the years, but I've never felt totally comfortable with what I've said.  After giving it some thought lately–and inspired by a recent email correspondence with a new reader (thank you, Chad)–I want to give my answer another try.

I begin with a little about my own experience of love.  Before I'd met my partner, Chris, just over twenty-two years ago, I'd never been in love.  I was thirty-two at the time and thought, if I keep going like this, I'll never know what love is.  I knew I couldn't accept that, and I'd keep trying until I found someone to love and to love me back–even if it took the rest of my life.  I would never give up, not about something as important as that.  (I'll say a little more about the experience of learning to love oneself in a bit.)

So I met Chris on a beautiful, warm late spring evening in June 1992.  I knew he was special from the start, and I knew he was different from all of the other men I'd met over the years-different in a good way, different as in, I could see myself with him.  We complimented each other.  We clicked.  Our rhythms were the same, if that makes sense.  Was it love at first sight?  No, I don't believe in that.  I believe in infatuation at first sight and lust at first sight, but there was none of that with Chris.  It was all very level-headed, and tentative.  I'd been down this path with a few other guys before, and it had never worked out.  With Chris, I planned to be cautious.  But I was also hopeful.

And needy.  Yes, I'll admit it.  I needed a man in my life.  I needed not to be alone anymore.  I needed not to feel like it was just me against the world.  I needed someone to come home to.  I needed someone to talk to about the day I'd had at work.  I needed someone to spend evenings and weekends with.  I needed someone to share some of my interests.  I needed someone to hold me.  I needed someone to kiss me.  I needed someone to want me.  I needed someone to care.  That's what I needed most of all–someone whose very presence in my life told me I mattered.  Sound familiar?    

I told Chris I wouldn't play games with him.  If I wanted to call him on the phone–this was before cellphones, smartphones, and the like–I would.  I had no intention of waiting for him to call, just to stroke my ego, to prove to me he was genuinely interested.  I owned how I felt about talking to him or being with him, and, if I wanted to, I'd do something about it.  In other words, I would not wait for him.  (What I'm trying to get across here is, don't play games with someone you're interested in, or you might play yourself out of the best thing that might have ever happened to you.  Don't be insecure, and don't be a fool.)  

I'm a shameless question-asker.  I will literally ask anyone anything, given the opportunity.  The worst he or she can do is tell me to mind my own damn business (it's never happened, by the way, because I'm convinced most people like to talk about themselves, if someone is genuinely interested in what they have to say).  So, when Chris and I spent time together, I asked questions.  Lots and lots of questions.  Never once did he tell me it felt like I was interviewing him for a job, but he could have–the job of being my partner.  I needed to know everything about him.  And Chris being Chris, he told me what I wanted to know.  And I knew what he said was sincere.  I knew I could trust him.  That way key. 

Okay.  So back to love.  My recent reader asked me, how did I know when I loved Chris?, or something to that effect.  It's the same as asking, Is it love?  Or, How do I know it's love?  And my answer was, I didn't.  Not really.  I kept waiting for the fireworks to go off, but they didn't?  I kept waiting to feel head-over-heels for Chris, but I didn't.  I knew I felt something toward him, but I wasn't sure what.  I knew I felt connected to him.  I knew I felt invested in him, the more time we spent together.  I knew I didn't want to lose him.  But were all of those facets of love?  I had no idea.  I'd never experienced love before.  I hoped I'd recognize it, but I wasn't sure I would.  I just went along, because I'd never felt better than when I was with him.

Ten months after we met, Chris and moved in together.  A big step.  A big change in my life.  Was I ready to make it?  Oh, yes, I was, if it meant I'd be living with Chris, if it meant I'd see him every day, get to share everything with him.  Was I in love with him then?  Maybe.  I still wasn't sure.  But what I'd felt toward him at the outset had certainly gotten stronger.  It was undeniable.  And I felt less cautious about feeling it.  I was pretty sure Chris wasn't going anywhere, and it was safe to invest in him completely, but I still wasn't certain how he felt about me.  I mean, people say and do all sorts of things, but do we ever really know exactly how they feel?  That's where faith comes in.  And hope.  I had the faith and hope that Chris and I were the real deal, that what we had would last.  So we rented a new, beautiful apartment in Vancouver's Yaletown, and began our life together. 

Every night before we went to bed, I told Chris I loved him.  I made a point of telling him that.  No one had ever told me he or she loved me.  We weren't that sort of family.  So, when I got to know Chris better, I told him I'd tell him that I loved him.  Again, no games.  If that's how I felt, I'd say it.  The problem is, I still didn't know if what I felt toward him was love.  We'd been together a year or so by then, and I still wasn't sure that's how I felt.  When you have no experience with love, how do you know if what you feel is the real thing, is what all the writer's write about in great literature, what the recording artists sing about in great songs?  How do you know?  Love is exalted to such a level that, unless you can relate exactly to what you've read and heard, you have no idea if what you feel is the same thing.

Some time between then and today, I fell in love with Chris.  To put that into perspective, some time over the past twenty-one years, I fell in love with the love of my life.  Can I narrow it down from that?  No, I can't.  Did I fall in love with him closer to the time we met than to today?  Of course.  I know in my heart I've loved Chris for many years.  But do I know exactly when it happened?  No, I don't.  All I know is, it happened.  And that's good enough for me.  I have what I've always wanted, and it's everything I ever thought it would be.  I've experienced great and deep and abiding love, and, even if Chris were taken from me today, at least I can say that.  My love for him wouldn't end.  I'd continue feeling it until the end of my days.  In that respect, I'm a lucky man.

So, where does that leave us in our discussion of, Is it love?  With the very best answer I can give you.  Perhaps with the very best answer anyone can give you:  What's the hurry?  Why do you need to know right now?

Sure, I'll admit that when I told Chris early on I loved him but I didn't know for sure, there may have been a part of me that thought, if I tell him I love him, maybe it'll happen.  Maybe if I say it, say it often enough, my feelings will match my words.  In other words, maybe I can will myself to love this man.  And maybe there was an element of that.

I know for sure there was an element of, if I tell him I love him, he won't leave me, thereby guaranteeing the success of our relationship.  Remember, I was needy as hell.  Did what Chris had to offer satisfy that neediness?  Absolutely.  But did my telling him I loved him guarantee we'd stay together?  Of course not.  I see that now.  Lots of people are madly in love with each other and break up, for a variety of reasons.  Just because you love someone doesn't mean you'll be together for the rest of your lives.  But I thought, if Chris doesn't really love me, but I tell him I love him, then maybe he'll come around, feel the same way I do, and everything will be great between us.  Delusional, for sure.  But, hey, you do what you've got to do, right?  Or what you think you have to do at the time?

Love.  It's the experience of a lifetime.  It's what we're here to do.  There's nothing else like it.  Life is meaningless without it.  And I believe the greatest tragedy is when one dies and has never known true love.

But, if you've just met someone, and you're having fun together, and you can't wait to see him, and your days are filled with thinking about him, and you wonder if what you're feeling toward him is love?  Don't.  Don't wonder about it at all.  What's the hurry?  Why does it need to be love right away?  Like is just fine too.  Or strong like.  Or whatever you want to call it.

There is no need to fall in love right away, or to know you've fallen in love.  Frankly, if you have to ask yourself if you're in love, you probably aren't.  Because you'll know.  You'll know when you're in love.  The knowing won't come from your head, from intellectualizing it, it'll come from your heart, the center of love.  Your heart will tell you when it's love.  And I doubt you'll look up one day and realize you're in it.  I don't think it happens that way.  You'll just feel it.  It'll be there.  The ground beneath your feet will finally feel solid.  And you'll know.   

So, take the pressure off.  Just be with that person.  Do things together.  Have long conversations.  Go for walks.  Laugh a lot.  Then laugh more.  Spend evenings at home.  Enjoy nice meals at restaurants.  See a good movie.  Dance.  At this point in what you have together, you're doing exactly what you should be.  There's no reason to complicate it by asking yourself, Is it love?  Give it time.  Let your feelings work on their own timetable.  Don't rush anything.  Be sure.  Relax.  Just enjoy yourself.  If it's meant to happen, it will.  It will.

And, in the meantime, if you haven't already, fall in love with the most important person in your life:  You.  That is the person you should ask if you're in love with, because he or she is the greatest love of your life.  If you don't know that yet, I pray you will.  Because that love is the source of all great love.  Don't believe me?  You will.  At least I hope you will.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

Happy Twenty-Second, Sweetheart

Twenty-two years ago today, Chris and I met.  We count our anniversary from that day for a couple of reasons:  Because we weren't able to marry legally then, no matter how much we may have wanted to (we can now); and because we've been inseparable since.

It's hard to believe we've been together twenty-two years already.  Where has it all gone?

The best twenty-two years of my life.  I can't imagine being without you.  You are the best thing that ever happened to me. 

I love you so much, sweetheart.


I took this picture of Chris a number of years ago, while riding on a BC Ferry from Victoria to Vancouver.  It's still my favorite of him.   He's such a handsome man.  I'm such a lucky guy.

Friday, June 6, 2014

You

This piece was inspired by David Levithan's young adult novel Two Boys Kissing.

*

For some time now, I've wanted to write you.

You are that young man I've seen at the mall, on the street, in Starbucks, not just in the designated places, and you're being yourself, in a way I could never be myself when I was your age.  Among other things, I've seen you hold hands and even kiss, carrying on as though it's always been this way, as though you've always been able to.

Maybe you've always been able to, but we weren't.  Between my teens and forties, it was rare for us to be ourselves in public.  In fact, you would have thought we didn't exist at all then, unless we got so fed up that, in a defiant outburst, we held each other or kissed and didn't give a shit who saw us.  And, afterward, we'd look around and hope like hell no one had seen us.  The last thing we needed was someone hating on us, following us, beating the living crap out of us. 

No, you don't have to do that now, at least not to the degree we did.  Society's become more accepting of you.  Remarkably, you can even get married in some countries, like the one I live in, or some states in the US (if the federal government gets its act together there, soon to be all states).  Some people are even losing their high-paying jobs now, because they've done or said something to show how bigoted they are against you.  I've even heard of instances where straight boys are befriending you–they're called stag hags–something that never would have happened when I was your age, for fear they might be thought of as the same as me.

Yes, as Bob Dylan once wrote, the times, they are a-changin'.

And I can't tell you how glad and thrilled and grateful I am that they are.  Enough of us have suffered at the hands of those who wish all of us were dead, who believed, in the '80s, with the AIDS crisis, we were finally getting what we deserved, and it would be only a matter of time before we were wiped out, and the world would be rid of us once and for all.  Thankfully, we're not there anymore–although I know there are still those who feel the same way.  We're not all the way there yet, but it's coming.  And your courage and boldness are helping us get there faster than ever.  Just keep doing what you're doing.  You're making a difference for all of us, and you don't even know it.

So what I'm about to say will shock you, maybe even anger you.  But I hope you'll stay tuned to fully understand it.

I resent you.

That's right.  I resent you.

It feels too easy for you now.  Sometimes, the way you carry on out in public disgusts me, embarrasses me, embarrasses all of us.  I wonder, who the hell does he think he is?  And, where does he get off doing that?  And, doesn't he realize how he comes across, how he makes us all look bad, how he should save that for the privacy of his home, where no one has to be subjected to it?

Of course, that's the old man in me talking (just ignore him; I do).  I've done okay for myself over the years.  I've been in a relationship for probably longer than you've been alive, and, for the most part, my partner and I have found support from family and friends.  I've done a lot of work trying to understand what growing up different all those decades ago did to me, and it's through understanding that I've been able to undo some of the damage, give myself those things I never could have, find what was necessary to keep my relationship going all these years.  Hell, I've even had this blog since early 2009, which has connected me to more wonderful, and often struggling, people from around the world than I thought possible.  It's the best thing I've ever done to help myself and to try to help others.

No, the old man in me doesn't resent you.  Not you specifically.  Not any of you.  What he really resents, if he's honest with himself, is not being you, right now.  Not being able to do all the things you can, without feeling like he has to look over his shoulder all the time, without thinking he's going to upset someone who might then, in some unfortunate way, come after him and make his life even more difficult than it already is.

The old man in me resents all the wasted years.  Imagine who I might be today, both out in the world and within myself, if I hadn't had to spend so much time and energy hiding who and what I was.  If I hadn't had to push it down, time after time after time, and deny it.  If it hadn't been so impossible to find those who were just like me.  If I hadn't felt so isolated and alone.  If I'd just been allowed to be me.  

Imagine.  

Imagine.     

I can't go back, I know that.  None of us can.  And, in some respects, I wouldn't want to go back.  Like I said before, things are pretty good now.  I'm a lucky, and grateful, guy.

But, in spite of the progress I've made over the years in understanding and accepting myself, even using some of what I've learned to help other people, I realize there will always be a part of me that resents what happened in the past and wonders what could have been.

I'm so proud of you.  We all are.  Maybe you have no idea, but those who came before you fought so hard and so long for what you now have.  Whether we marched in a parade, or carried a sign, or got arrested for what we knew was right.  Or whether we joined in the battle by just having the courage to tell those we loved, one at a time, what we were, then set a positive example for all of us in how we lived our lives–we've waited for this day.

You carry the torch now.

I celebrate you.

I love you.               

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.     

*

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.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

An Email from a Reader Who Requests Anonymity



Hey Rick,

I’m in need of a bit of advice. Normally I would never email somebody like this to get advice, but here I am. I don’t really feel like I have anybody else to talk to about this. Admittedly, I haven’t really read your blog, but I’ve been looking for a gay relationship advice blog and maybe you can offer me a bit of help. Also, sorry in advance that this email is probably going to be ridiculously long. If anything, it’ll be a way for me to think things through for myself.

I’m a nineteen-year-old college freshman who just recently (like two months ago) accepted the fact that I’m gay and began acting on it. I met this guy and we began texting a lot. We had both known each other a bit before we met (on grindr… I know, I know), but neither of us knew the other was gay. So we were texting and things were going well. We decided to meet up and grab dinner, so we did. That went well. Eventually, we started hooking up. It was a once per week (if not more often) thing, but when we weren’t hooking up, we’d still talk. I met his friends and I really like them and I think they like me. In the six weeks or so that we’ve been doing this I’ve developed feelings for him. I don’t know if its simply because he’s the first guy I’ve ever done anything with or if the feelings are genuine. But I’m almost positive they’re genuine.

Anyway, a little while ago, I was beginning to get quite confused about the nature of our relationship. What were we? Friends with benefits? Hooking up? Was it something more? I decided to ask him what we were doing, and he told me “I couldn’t tell you because I honestly don’t know either.” When I asked him about how he felt about our ‘relationship’ he said, “I’ve definitely never been one for labels. I say we just keep doing what we want and not worry about what to call it.” So I asked him what the “rules” of our relationship were. I said, “I don’t know the rules. Like, are you hooking up with other guys and should I be hooking up with other guys?” To which he responded, “I haven’t been hooking up with other guys, but I’d say they’re not off limits to either of us if we find ourselves in a position where we want to.”

That wasn’t at all what I wanted to hear, but I said, “Cool, that sounds good.” (Probably a mistake, but whatever. I didn’t want to scare him away with my feelings. In this case, I didn’t want to end what I had, even if it wasn’t all the way what I wanted).

Ever since this conversation, things have been weird between us. Strained. And I can’t get my mind off him.

Whenever I’m on grindr and I see him on there I can’t help but think about how quickly and natural it was for us to go from chatting to texting to hooking up, and I picture him hooking up with other guys. And it gets me down. Now, I know— going on grindr is like the worst possible thing for somebody in my position to do, but I want to meet other guys too.

Since this conversation, we’ve met up twice. Once was for maybe an hour and all we did was cuddle and make out a little bit. It was nice, but he cut it short to leave for dinner with his frat brothers. The other time was last Saturday. We went for a walk (and didn’t really talk all that much), and I was fully expecting to go back to his room afterwards. He cut that short too. When we got back he told me he had to get to a party. I didn’t even have physical contact with him that night. There was no cuddling, there were no goodbye kisses like there used to be. It was just… cold.

My texts with him have been cold and strained, and I can’t help but feel like he’s cutting me out. He’ll still respond to my texts, and sometimes even text me, and we snapchat each other quite frequently— but I think he’s lost interest in our ‘relationship.’

I really like this guy. I want more than hooking up with him. He obviously he doesn’t want that with me. Which is fine, can’t win ‘em all, I get that. So I guess what I’m asking is… how do I get over him if he’s gotten over me?

Everything I’ve read about getting over somebody involves cutting off all contact. I absolutely DO NOT want that. He’s a great guy. I want to be friends with him at least if we’re not hooking up or together or whatever. I don’t want to cut him out of my life.

So how do I get over somebody that I don’t want to get over?

Seriously, any advice about anything would be so, so appreciated. Should I bring this up to him? Should I ask him if he’s done with me and with our ‘relationship'? Should I try and meet another guy? I’m in college and the dating scene has pretty much been replaced by hookup culture. Unfortunately for me, I think I’m just a sentimental person. Cold, empty hooking up doesn’t at all interest me. I want more than that.

If you read this whole email, you’re amazing and thank you so much. A response would be so amazing to me, as I have so many things I want to say and ask, but I’m not sure how to put them into words. If you have any questions for me, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.

And this probably goes without saying, but I’d really appreciate anonymity with this.

Thanks so much!


My response:

Hey, ______.

Let’s get right into it.

You asked me some specific questions at the end of your email, so I’ll structure my response on the basis of them.  I suspect I’ll be able to add anything I want to within the context of my answers.  If not, I’ll record them at the end. 

Remember, I’m going to be completely honest with you. These are my opinions, based on my knowledge and experiences.  You may not like what I have to say.  Take or leave it as you see fit.  Ultimately, I hope my responses are helpful.

Here goes.

Question #1:  “So how do I get over somebody that I don’t want to get over?”

You start with a tough one.
  
I think your friend (I’ll call him David) has been as honest with you as he’s capable of being, at this point in time, about what the two of you have.  He’s not as emotionally involved in your relationship as you obviously are (or, if he is–which he might be; you never know–he’s not willing to show that to you). 

The way I look at it is, you have a decision to make: Can I only be with David if he’s something more than a friend, or can I be happy if he’s a friend only?  If you push too hard to make it something more than he wants it to be, you risk losing him altogether.  If you play it cool and go with the flow, he may get over the initial awkwardness, resulting from the talk you both had, and things may get back to the way they were between you. 

Which will put you in a good position.  You’ll still have his friendship, which you’ve said is important to you, and you may have some benefits with that as well, if you want them.  If you don’t want them (because you’re not into hooking up), then that is your choice to make.
  
I’ve just read your question again, and I’m not sure I answered it.  Let me try again.

I think you’d be better off if you turned “I don’t want to get over him” into “I don’t want to lose him as a friend.”  Do you see the difference? 

Ultimately, you want David in your life.  If you can’t have him in your life in the way you’d like him to be, I assume it’s still better to have him in your life as a friend.  You’re going to have to make that switch in your head–and heart–if you want to keep him. Only you can decide if you’re capable of doing that. 

And here’s the good news, as I see it:  If the two of you are still in each other’s lives, you may find, as you share more fun times together, that he’ll realize what he has in you, and he’ll try to get closer to you.  Stranger things have happened.  Friends often turn into the best relationships.  But don’t go into building a friendship with him, thinking for sure it will turn into something more.  It may not, and you’d have to untangle yourself from him all over again if it doesn’t.

The bottom line is, focus on the friendship.  Keep him in your life because you like him. But go on living.  He may never fully be yours, so keep your options open, keep meeting new people. 

And, if you’re serious about being in a relationship, frequent better websites than Grindr.  I found a few you might be interested in, that seem to be more focused on helping gay men develop long-term relationships: Compatible Partners (the gay equivalent of eHarmony), Plenty of Fish, Zoosk, Match.com, Chemistry.com, and Perfectmatch.com.  I’ve never tried any of these sites, so be careful with your safety and your heart, but, clearly, there are more options out there than Grindr. 


Question #2:  “Should I bring this up to him?”

No, you shouldn’t discuss this with him anymore–if you want to maintain your friendship with him.

When I initially read your email, I thought you should probably sit David down and be completely honest with him about where your heart is.  But, because you want to maintain your friendship with him, I decided having another discussion might just push him further away.

So, no more discussions for now.  Focus on the friendship.  If it’s offered, have sex with him, or not.  That’s your choice.  In this regard, be true to who you are and how you feel about casual sex. 

And keep living your life.  David may never be yours.  You have to accept that.  I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but, to use a cliche, there are lots of fish in the ocean.  You don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you–at least not in that way. Have more respect for yourself than that.  When it’s right between you and another young man, you’ll know it.  And it won’t be a struggle.  It’ll feel good from the beginning. 

Question #3:  “Should I ask him if he’s done with me and ‘our relationship’?”

You know my answer here.  No more talk.  Unless, perhaps, he invites it.  If he doesn’t, just be friends.  If it turns out you can’t be friends–because it hurts you to know every time you’re together you’re not something more, or because you know he may be fooling around with other guys–then make a clean split with him. It may be the only way to go. You’ll have to decide that for yourself. 

Question #4:  “Should I try and meet another guy?”

Yes, you sure should.  In fact, you should try to meet lots of other guys.  You should always keep your options open until you're one hundred percent committed to the guy you should be with. Meeting other young men will give you perspective on what you have with David.  Either it will confirm what you had with him is the real deal (in which case, you have a problem, especially if he still isn’t interested in you in that way), or it will show you your feelings for David weren’t grounded in something that was real and true.  In other words, that your feelings were nothing more than infatuation.

Listen, ____,  you're still very young.  I don’t want to sound like a parent here, but let’s be honest.  You’ve just accepted your own homosexuality.  The whole gay thing is pretty exciting, especially the part about meeting other young men like you, and some of them actually being interested in you, either as friends or something more.  What you’re going through is an initial bit of excitement, and, believe me, it’s a heady experience.  It can really throw you, particularly if you’re not prepared for it.

So…take a deep breath.  You have a lot of life ahead of you.  At the risk of marginalizing it, what you have with David is a crush.  It’s great fun, and it’s so damn validating, knowing you’ve turned someone else's head.  You've gotten his attention, and he's interested in you.

But there’s a good chance it was never meant to be anything more than a friendship.  That’s certainly the indication David's given you.  So accept that.  Don’t fall into the arms of the first young man who shows interest in you and plant yourself there.  There are so many young men who would be lucky to have you as a friend–and maybe something more.  Think about how exciting that is. 

You’re going to discover so much about yourself over the next years, both in terms of who you are as a human being and who you are as a gay man.  You might think you and David are a perfect match now, because of where you’re at in your life, but that could all change tomorrow, when you discover you’re really someone else.  Or that your priorities are different from what they are today.  Or that you’re really looking for this type of young man, not that one. 

Making a life long commitment to one person is a huge responsibility, and you want to be as certain as you can be that the one you commit to is absolutely the right person for you.  You shouldn’t be in any rush to do this. 

I met my partner, Chris, when I was thirty-two, and he was just twenty-three.  I was ready for a serious relationship, but I remember thinking at the time Chris was probably too young, and I had to ask myself questions like, was I being unfair not letting him experience more of life, meet other people, find out what he really wanted?  It turned out well for us, and, in the end, it might turn out well for you and David.  You never know.

Maybe David really is THE ONE.  But he’s not giving you that indication yet.  So keep moving ahead.  Don’t get stuck in one spot, waiting for him to come around. If he never comes around, you’ve wasted too much time.  Who knows, if you both keep moving ahead, but you both keep coming back to each other too, it just might be right, after all.  Only time will tell.

I hope you’ve found this helpful.  I hope I’ve been able to help you see past the feelings you have for David.  And I hope this makes sense.

You write in your email that you have other things you want to say and ask, but you don’t have the words for them yet.  Well, when you find the words, I’m here for you.  If you respect what I have to say, send me an email with additional comments and questions, and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Thanks for sharing with me, for trusting me, and for being open to what I have to say.

I wish you all the very best.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

An Email from Ed

Last month, I received the following email from Ed, a young reader.  He didn't specify where he's from.  I've made minor edits for clarity.      

Hi Rick,
 

I'm the guy who made a comment anonymously on the post titled "I've Earned the Right" [see also this].

First of all, I apologize for any kind of grammar mistake I make here.  English is not my native language, and I've been learning it for only a few years.  

Second, I did see your post some time ago. I didn't reply to it before because I've been going through another tough time, and there was no motivation for me to answer.  Please accept my apology if you thought I had no consideration for what you wrote.  I just couldn't.

And third, I've only decided to write this because I made the decision to completely open myself to someone. I always felt I needed to do that, and yesterday, after having a terrible day, I decided this someone would be you. This text will probably be long, and you don't need to read if you don't want to.  Writing, printing, and making this the first page of my personal journal (just as you advise) will help me anyway. Here we go then.
 

I was always a really shy guy. Since the very beginning I knew I was gay. I can perfectly picture my childhood days, when I would steal my sisters' dolls and have lots of fun with them. Since that time, I had an idea that being gay was not something people would accept. 

I was born in a small town, being me the youngest of the family, which was formed by my parents and my two older sisters. At 10, I lost my mother from complications in surgery. As many gay kids, I was extremely attached to her. I remember this being one of my toughest times. I grew up being a creative and smart kid, always drawing and painting. My oldest sister sort of became my second mother and my relationship with my father was nice as well. The other sister... Let's just say we don't get along well.
 

Things started to get really complicated when I became a teenager (what a surprise, right?!). I was often bullied at school. I didn't go to parties, nor had dates or a kiss at least. I was stuck being affected by all the hate coming at me. I lost that time and sometimes I catch myself regretting it. To make things even worse, my first, and only "love" at that time, was a good friend of mine, a straight one.
 

When I finished high school, I thought I would finally start being happy as I moved to another city. But my perspective of being happy at that time ( I was 17) was being accepted. I went to a college and even had some girlfriends, trying to fit in. The feeling of being accepted was actually good and I could live like that for a whole year. I was studying something that pleased my family (even though I always wanted to become an illustrator) and dating girls. 

By the end of that year, I had became something I never thought I would: an extremely depressed person. Retracting the true side of me made sad and anxious. It also brought me to something I'm really ashamed of: I became addicted to gay pornography. After 11 months living like this I decided to quit college and move to a different city.
 

I am living by myself now. My family still helps me because I'm in the capital trying to get into the best art school of the country. It was only last year I could finally have my first gay experiences. I was extremely released because of it and for a moment I thought I had finally found happiness. After one year dating boys and having done things I never thought I would, I find myself feeling empty and sad again. 

I'm not an open gay person and I avoid letting people know about me, probably because I am too afraid that my father will find out.  He's 70 and really conservative. I know he won't deal well with it. So I prefer to hide it from him. What makes me feel even worse is that in all the hard times I have, I turn to the addiction I mentioned before. I feel so bad when I do it that I even thought of harming myself...
 

I'm 21 now, and I came out to a couple of friends and to my mom-sister. I started feeling more pleased with myself and in peace for the first time. I even found someone I really like and we've been having the best times together for the last 5 months.
 

Still, once in a while I found myself feeling just like the way I used to when I was depressed. Sometimes because of a mean look, a disrespectful word or even without any reason... I just feel I'm not worthy.  In the country where I live, we have to take an exam to get into college, no matter which subject you want to study. I already did the exam twice and, after failing both times, I started going through a really depressive phase.
 

Art has been the only thing that kept me moving forward. In every stage of my life, even in the worst ones, I always felt it's the only thing I was born for. It's the only place I feel I can be myself. The only moment I can completely express myself. It's probably the only reason I'm trying to overcome all this struggle. But with all this trouble to get into art school, creating art has become insufficient to keep me positive.
 

I completely understand Loretta's email.  She's right in part. By everything I learned this far, the best way is to ignore judgmental people. I relate to her story because I was also overweight when I was a teenager, and the comments about me would always be about my sexuality, and not my body shape. I'm not trying to say that it is harder, when you're bullied, to be gay, but in a catholic country, where gay couples get killed on the streets by homophobic groups, being fat is the last thing you have to worry about. Closing my eyes here to only enjoy the moment can also put my life at risk.
 

I would be lying if I said I don't get angry/sad when people look at me differently or when they call me names. I support the kind of genuineness you showed in your post because that's exactly how I feel. Pretending I'm not bothered by it won't make me feel better than the person who did something bad to me. I learned the hard way that retracting my feelings will only get me sadness. I agree with the fact that we should ignore them, but we shouldn't ignore the way we feel about it.

I found your blog in the end of last year. Everything you write there helps me. In your words, I found a place where I feel safe and accepted. I found the strength to carry on and the hope that better days will come. Thank you for being such a great positive source for gay people out there. In the name of everybody who has ever found strength in your words, I thank you. 


Please feel free to share this on your blog if want to. Any advice would be helpful. I'm already glad I was able to sit and write this. I've avoided it for so long... Thanks for inspiring me to be happy.

With love, Ed.

 

A powerful and poignant letter from Ed.  Here was my two-part response to him:


Hi, Ed.

What a beautiful email.  I just received it and read it all the way through.

What you shared with me was deeply moving.  I cried when I got to the end and read that my words make you feel safe and accepted.  That’s so much why I write my blog, why it’s so important to me to continue working on it.  I want young people just like you to know you are not alone, because you aren’t.

I know how you feel, I really do.  The circumstances in your life may be different from mine when I was your age, but we have more in common than you realize.  I feel your pain, and I want you to know you must hang in there and never do anything to harm yourself, okay?  Promise me you won’t.  Because you are so important, and so special, and have so much to offer the world by being who and what you are.  You may not see that now, but you will.  I promise.  It may not be easy, but you’ll get there, if you stick around.

You took an important step today in understanding and accepting yourself by writing this email and using it as the first entry in your new journal.  New journal, new life, right?  You know from my blog how I feel about journalling, and I know you will feel the same way if you stay with it.  Not only will it help you with your English (which is already better than you think it is), but also it will help you sort out a lot of what you’re going through.  It will only work, however, if you’re completely honest.  Don't hide anything from your journal.  Tell it anything and everything.  And you’ll see, over time, how it will help you put into perspective how you feel and what happens to you.  I promise it will.  Just stay with it, okay?

What a privilege it is for me to read your words, to learn about you, and to know you felt comfortable enough to share with me when you thought there was no one else you could turn to.  I’m here for you, Ed, I really am.  And, if you ever want to talk to me, just email me, okay?  I promise I’ll respond to you.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a short email.  I’d planned to write something a little longer in a day or so.  So I’ll tell you what.  I’ll read your email again, and, if there’s something more I want to respond to, I’ll be in touch.  How does that sound?

Take good care of yourself, Ed.  Hang in there.  Don’t give up.  It really does get better, so much better.  Just give it time, okay?  (And keep writing your journal.)

All the very best,
Rick


Hi again, Ed.

So I just read your email one more time, and I thought I’d thank you again for sharing with me things you’ve never been able to say to anyone else.  I feel so fortunate to receive your email, to get to know you, and to be in a position to help, if I can.

Just a few quick comments:

Don’t be so hard on yourself regarding looking at gay pornography.  I know you’ve probably been taught it’s not good for you, and you shouldn’t look at it.  But you’re not the first person to look at gay porn.  It has it’s place, and, as long as it doesn’t take control of your life, I think you’ll find it may even be beneficial.  So stop beating yourself up over it, okay?

It occurs to me that you’re very much the way I was at your age.  I had so many questions about my life and myself, and I was desperate for answers.  I nearly drove myself crazy, trying to figure it all out–who I was, what I should do with my life, how I should go about doing it.  Well, I need you to take a deep breath.  The answers you need will come to you when they’re meant to.  Just take life one day at a time. And if even that’s too hard, then take it one hour at a time, or even one minute at a time.  


Sometimes, all we can do is breathe, because we’re so uptight or upset about something.  So, when you get frustrated and anxious and don’t know what to do, sit in a chair, settle yourself down, and breathe.  Take deep breaths, and focus on the life-giving air going in and out of your body.    Take a few minutes to do that.  Clear your head.  Then, when you get back up, put one foot in front of the other and go about your day.  We all feel the same at one time or another, and I’ve found this is the best formula for getting grounded again, and for being able to move forward. Try it.  I think you’ll find it works.

A little story.  Perhaps you’ve already read in my blog that I always wanted to be a writer, since I was a little boy.  But, when I graduated from high school and college, I also realized I needed to earn a living somehow, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t earn it as a writer (because, I’m told, writers don’t make much money).  So I got into something I never believed I would.  Instead of dealing with words (which I was always good at), I dealt with numbers (which I was always bad at).  


Through a high school friend, I got a job at a bank, and I was sure that’s all it would be, a job, until I something better came along.  Well, nothing better came along for nearly thirty years.  In the meantime, I tried to write, but I couldn’t.  Too busy, too little time, no energy, etc.  Then, when I was forty-seven, I was able to leave my job. My partner supports the two of us now, and I look after our house and write.  I’ve never written more in my life–over six hundred posts on my blog, a memoir (of sorts) in excess of eight hundred pages, and a novel I continue to struggle with.

Ed, the moral of this story is, hang on to your dream to be an artist, whatever type of artist that is.  It may not happen right away.  You may have do the earn-a-living thing for a while, to get money so you can support yourself.  But keep your dream alive in your head and in your heart.  And if it’s truly important to you, if you’re really meant to do it, it’ll happen.  And if you have to earn an income at something you never thought you’d do, always do the best you can, and do your art on the side.  And keep getting better at it.  Let your soul soar as you draw or paint.  Feel your connection to that which is greater than all of us when you do it.  Never let it go.  Never.

I waited many years to become the writer I always wanted to be, and I’m still not there yet.  But I’m moving in the right direction now.  Hopefully, you won’t have to wait as many years to become an artist.  But, remember, everything happens when it’s meant to.  If it doesn’t happen, it wasn’t meant to.  And you can’t rush it.  Be present, be ready, be prepared to move in different directions and take risks, but don’t try to orchestrate your life.  You have no control over that.  Just let your life unfold the way it’s meant to, and I think you’ll find it will all work out.  In fact, it’ll probably be better than you could ever have imagined.  Mine is.  Just be patient, okay?

I think that’s it for now.  Once again, thanks for contacting me.  I’m here for you if you want to “talk” again. 

Hang in there.  Everything will be all right.  You’ll see.

Take good care of yourself,
Rick