Recently I got a letter to my advice column in the Washington Blade from a 53 year-old who had been single for many years and recently had lost his dog.
He had been feeling lonely for a long time, and losing his faithful companion had deepened his sadness.
Sad to say, he was facing some judgment from friends about mourning this loss, and was generally feeling really low.
If you ever find yourself struggling to feel ok even if you don’t have a significant person (or companion animal) in your life, I hope you will find this column helpful:
I’m a 53-year-old single gay man. What a depressing label.
I had a serious boyfriend for 11 years. He left me 14 years ago for an affair.
I went into a very deep depression. Barely kept my job, stopped talking to friends. I didn’t want to see anyone or be with anyone.
After about a year of this, in a moment of sanity I adopted a mutt from a shelter. Long walks every day, tug-of-war games, lounging on the sofa and a soothing warm dog snoring next to me at night brought me back to life. She really was the center of my world.
Last summer she got ill and died.
I’ve been feeling pretty miserable all over again. Friends tell me it’s way past time to stop crying for a dog. I can’t imagine getting a “replacement” for my beloved pal as they suggest.
I know I should start thinking about a relationship with a human again, but given my history, I’m scared. And I feel like Rip Van Winkle. Looking around me, time has passed me by. I’ve started going out and everyone I see is 20-30 years younger than I am. They look right through me like I’m invisible.
Do you think I missed the boat?
I’m sorry for your loss. Please don’t let people shame you over still crying for your dog. She was your loyal companion for many years and you make clear that she saved your life. There is no expiration date for grieving such a loss.
That said, it would be a good thing for you to start moving forward in life. You have a history of letting yourself be laid low by grief for extended periods. Now is time to challenge this. Mourning your dog is not mutually exclusive to finding some fulfillment and (I hope) even joy in the present.
So please do your best not to worry that you missed the boat. You’ll just make yourself feel hopeless, which won’t help you at all. And as long as you’re alive, there will more boats to catch.
Yes, I know it’s not at all easy to stop repetitive negative thoughts about the state of your life.
Nevertheless, each time you’re able to shift your thinking toward something positive, you strengthen your ability to do so.
Here’s a question you can direct your attention to when your mind is focused on what’s wrong: “What can I do to build a satisfying life in the present?”
This question will give you multiple avenues to consider: Ways you might find someone you’d like to date and ways that you can have a perfectly good life as a single gay man.
If everyone you see when you go out is 20-30 years younger, it’s a great idea for you to start going to some new places where you’re more likely to meet people closer to your age.
And if people are looking right through you when you go out, figure out some things to do that are more likely to involve interacting with friendlier people, even if these people aren’t necessarily guys to date. I have a strong hunch you could stand to expand your friendship circle. You never know to what connections new friends might lead.
It is totally understandable that you’re scared to put yourself out there again. You’ve had your heart broken. Plus, it’s been awhile since you have been involved with anyone. And given the unconditional love our companion animals have toward us, it is bound to feel a lot riskier to put your heart out there for a human, whose reciprocation might be less certain.
You don’t know when you might meet someone you’d like to be involved with and you can’t be certain that you ever will meet such a person because life is uncertain for everyone. So I urge you to work on building a fulfilling life right now. None of us can depend on having a partner to make our lives worthwhile. We all need to figure this out for ourselves.
Want a place to start? Challenge yourself, over and over, on your opening statement. Being a 53-year-old single gay man need not be a depressing label. You are alive; you are clearly a guy with a big heart, as shown by your connection to your dog; you’re capable of devotion and strong attachment (ditto); and you tell me that you are willing to put one foot in front of the other, even though you’re scared. You have good things going for you and I hope you will come to see that.