I was having lunch with Alex and Rick recently when the subject of age came up. We discussed the fact that Alex was the youngest at the table, I was the middle child, and Rick was the eldest among us. In the midst of that triflingly irrelevant discussion, my thoughts turned to my own age and how the reality now compares to the ideals of long ago.
It's funny, but life at 34-going-on-35 is much different from what I expected when I was 15 or 25. I never would have guessed then that I would still be living in Dallas, have a successful career in technology management, be making a good living, and have found a happy median of both nuclear and adopted families. At 15, I expected to be married with children by my present age, the expectation being tempered, of course, by my growing realization that I was going to have difficulty fitting the "normal" mold. At 25, I expected to be, at this age, well, married — to a man, I finally realized — without children.
Self-efficacy notwithstanding, I was being true to the whole me — my id, ego and über-ich. They were, after all, finally getting along with each other.
I'm now bridging the gap between being 34 and 35 years old, but I'm not married, and I mean married to someone emotionally and not necessarily under a legal or religious arrangement. Unlike my priorities when I was 15 and when I was 25, I am no longer vexed by the pursuit of "being with someone."
For all their value in creating stability, family, and community, relationships are not for everyone. This doesn't mean those who don't want relationships are unstable, anti-family or anti-community. It does mean there are other ways for people to express themselves or promote their own stability, family and community.
I no longer see it as necessary to be in a relationship, the early and unrelenting pursuit of which can lead to bad experiences, emotional turmoil and heartache.
Before my gay readership excises me from the homosexual club with "that is just denial, because of your not being older yet or because you still like to get attention with your muscles," let me make clear that I do not agree with the implication that those who do not enter or seek relationships are immature. I disagree with that line of reasoning — not just based on my own experiences. With 6 billion people on the planet, it's difficult for me to believe that every one of us wants or needs exactly the same thing. It's simply a clear statistical impossibility.
So why did I have such a dissimilar point of view when I was younger?
Many younger people worry about being alone and lonely in their thirties and forties and up. I can't say I've never worried about this, but, as I've discussed with my closest friends, I grew out of that mentality. I eventually learned that being in a relationship in your twenties and thirties is no guarantee you'll still be together in your forties or fifties. People change, grow apart, and die. As you've learned if you've followed my writings here, I, through experience on more than one occasion, have learned that all of those things are a natural part of life.
Put quite simply, fear of a lonely future seems a horrible reason to enter into a relationship, or to remain in one that doesn't work anymore.
Was it not Whitney Houston who sang "I'd rather be alone than unhappy"? I'm almost 35 and I'm single. But most importantly, I'm growing increasingly happy with my life. I have a large and fantastic group of friends who are important to me. I have a close-knit adopted family of friends and loved ones. I have a great relationship with the reasonable members of my family. My career, although hectic and stressful in the context of my current job, is a successful one. I am grateful that I've come this far, and I look forward to the next thirty-something years, even if those years are spent outside of a formal relationship.
But don't say this to any "self-respecting gay man." From my experience, gay men can be awfully conservative sometimes. Just look at the "perfect" responses that they give when asked what type of man they're looking for.
The vast majority of them will always say they want someone who is caring and intelligent and sensitive. But when you look at the men they date, they generally seek out someone who is attractive and sexy with a nice body. Of course it's difficult to forge a relationship based solely on sexual attraction, but why shouldn't we admit that we choose our partners based, in part, on this factor?
If I begin the description of my "ideal man" with his physical characteristics, the gay glee club would surely jump on me for being shallow and superficial. The truth is, I wouldn't marry someone simply because they're cute. But nor would I marry someone who I do not think is cute. If that makes me shallow, then at least I'll be happy.
And don't dare mention the possibility of having an open relationship. My gay club membership card would surely be taken from me and burned to ensure I couldn't attend the meetings anymore. I'm not necessarily opposed to the concept under the right circumstances and believe that humans are inherently non-monogamous anyway (sex is, after all, a primitive act and governed by that part of us which tends to be rather unsophisticated — especially in men). A lot of people who say they would never have an open relationship end up creating one unilaterally by violating the terms of their agreement and seeking sex from someone other than their partner. Which is better — an open relationship or a cheating one?
It's understandable that a group of people who are often disenfranchised for their sexuality would want to be a part of the social norm. But why do gay men try so hard to have a relationship and, in the same manner, why do they find it so abhorrent and incomprehensible when a gay man is happily "unmarried" with no intention of pursuing such an arrangement? To put it another way, why would gay men be so critical of those who dare to stray from the norm? The traditional model of monogamous, committed relationships may not work for everyone, and gay men, of all people, should understand that.
And I thought the "gay agenda" was itself a call for greater sexual liberation…
As Marianne Williamson has written (in a statement often mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela), "As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
I feel liberated from the pursuit of marriage in whatever form is available to me. Yes, I feel liberated.
I don't intend to spend my life hunting one down, but neither would I ignore the opportunity for one if it presented itself. To think otherwise would certainly justify the question of "What the hell was I thinking?" when I wrote the Relativity series. Expressing an emotional interest in someone does not automatically translate into the pursuit of a relationship, although I would certainly welcome such an opportunity with Rick. But I don't need it because our relationship is already so fulfilling and my life already engendering my own happiness.
I do not want to chase marriage (formal or otherwise) simply for the sake of having a relationship with someone, to fulfill some base need to fit in, to fulfill my obligations under the gay club membership contract.
I have realized that being happy without being in a relationship is perfectly normal, that not having the desperate need to be with someone at all costs is also quite normal, and that my life need not be focused on the pursuit of a relationship in order to be complete.
I am living by a very simple axiom well stated by Francois de La Rochefoucauld: “When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.”
To paraphrase, if we cannot be happy with ourselves, we will never be happy with someone else. Of course, the difficult part of that is to be happy with ourselves; once you have that, the rest becomes incidental.