Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
I’m a gay man in my 40s living in a provincial city. I’ve never had a relationship but do have social skills and a select few friends. I suffer from chronic depression (I pop the antidepressant I can tolerate and exercise to “control” this) and more than my fair share of insecurities. I’ve reached the age where I now have to let go of the hope of having a romantic relationship, but I’m not doing so happily. I’ve always tempered a sense of doomed isolation with the hope/illusion that the future would hold opportunities that the present and past don’t.
Welcome to mid-life crisis! I see that I need to try to accept being a loner and relinquish the inner turmoil of frustration and dissatisfaction. I’m not in a position to move to a larger, more urban city with better demographics for a gay man. Ironically, I’m probably in better shape now than I was 15 years ago and am well read and a good conversationalist but have fewer opportunities than ever. My shyness is underscored by “self-esteem” issues: my status as an “underachiever” (I’m educated but not a well-paid professional), class conflict issues (I like intelligent conversation and this almost always means crossing the class divide when socializing). Even though I have average-to-good looks, I feel unattractive. This adds up to few opportunities and I’ve not been able to take advantage of those few that have come my way.
Even if I were to live in a city with a larger pool of men, my shyness and social anxiety would have to be negotiated. I’ve panicked when someone I’ve been attracted to seems to return an interest. The few times I attempt to step through the wall of shyness by approaching someone, it’s been a failure. Either I’m turned off by them or vice versa. I attempted to test my limits a few months ago; I introduced myself to someone I found attractive and went on a date. I regret it. We had little in common.
I’ve been a loner all my life and now I feel like I only want to “date” or socialize with someone if I feel something compelling. The introvert in me would rather be alone than be bored by dating guys I’m not attracted to. I guess I’m not willing to invest/waste the time and energy that I see some others do by casting a broad net and engaging in nerve-wracking, disappointing, and pointless dating. The pool of men here where I live is small, incestuous, and depleted by flight to larger cities. On my infrequent trips to a major urban center, I’m amazed at the diversity and sheer numbers of gay/bisexual men.
So I unhappily give up. By the time I manage to relocate with my limited resources, I’ll be a senior citizen! I’m stuck and unless fate has a deus ex machina in the third act planned for me, I need to try to temper my unhappiness and frustration. Any advice on embracing a solitary life by default? Keeping active and having hobbies, finding passion vicariously through art, etc. don’t quite fit the bill. Can you suggest something that will take this up a philosophical notch? Think I’ll care less about a life unrealized as I age further?
If I were you, I would concentrate all my resources on relocating to San Francisco. You say that you’ve ruled out the option of moving. But remember: You’re depressed. Telling you that you can’t move is just the kind of thing a depressed brain will do. Your brain has turned against you, making blanket negative statements without factual basis, walling you off from possibility. I think of depression as a kind of mental cancer in which the normal mental process of critical reasoning goes out of control. Basically, when you’re depressed, your mind is trying to kill you. So I would closely inspect any generally hopeless thoughts you have. That’s where depression lives.
Here is the one statement in your letter that sounds most like a cleverly constructed death sentence passed by your depressed monarch of a brain:
“I’ve reached the age where I now have to let go of the hope of having a romantic relationship.”
Not true. You’re in your mid-40s. You’re younger than I am. You don’t have to let go of anything except tight jeans.
You also say, “By the time I manage to relocate with my limited resources, I’ll be a senior citizen!”
Not true. You could relocate within one year if you put your mind to it. I recognized you’re saying that it just feels like you’ll be a senior citizen. But for a guy struggling with depression, that’s exactly the point: You have to counter these statements about what it feels like with a determined, persuasive account of the facts. In this case, you’ll be a gay guy in his 40s moving to San Francisco. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. People do it all the time. Now is an especially good opportunity, when rents are coming down and housing is negotiable thanks to the dot-com bust.
As I write, gay couples are lined up at City Hall in the rain to get married. It’s a national scandal, and most of us here, gay and straight alike, are loving it.
This is a strange and wonderful city. Yesterday, my wife and I went to a little shop run by an English guy who likes polo and tea. They’ve got tables in the back and teapots and they’ve got riding tack and hats and breeches. You get your “motor loaf” there. It’s usually pretty empty. Nobody really knows about this place. But there was a customer there with a stack of legal pads and we got into a heated debate about gay marriage. He was gay, but he viewed the current wave of “gay marriage” as a sad charade because of its lack of legal force. He was against it on rational grounds. It was a strange moment, the married couple defending gay marriage, the gay guy ranting about what a farce it is (and the son of the shop owner laughing about our new mayor’s loading all the supervisors into a van for a field trip to view a Dumpster at Hunters Point).
This city is full of misfits who came here because their happiness, to an unusual degree, depends on having just such strange little unexpected encounters. We’re all walking around having strange and delightful encounters. Join us.
I’m no clinician (I was a lit major), but I’ve battled mild forms of depression and I recognize those insidious telegrams of hopelessness sent by a depressed brain. To get through depression I had to identify an “I” that was separate from whatever sick part of my brain that was sending those messages of hopelessness; once I found an “I” that could see the messages as baseless and insane, as sick whiny bullshit meant to destroy me, I could take cover. I could shield myself. It wasn’t easy. It didn’t happen overnight. But it worked.
I think most of us have some core self that is true and just and kind, and we just need to contact it in moments of depression or anxiety or hopelessness. One of the things I do in this column is try to locate that being in other people and speak directly to it. I’m trying to do that right now. I’m trying speak to that core self in you that is true and just and kind, to encourage him to fight through all these baseless and distorted messages in order to stand up and say: I exist! I am gay! I’m moving to San Francisco!
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Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
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