Saturday, September 4, 2010

Going Older

When I went home for Christmas break one year after moving to Montréal, I ended up going to a coffeehouse hangout with one of my female friends (the same one who asked me if I was a bigot in my posting “Those Little Town Blues”). Because it was Christmas break (and thus there were no students around), my hometown had that familiar everyone-knows-everyone attitude. While we were there, another friend of mine, Diane, just happened to walk in with a much older man, and she waved at us. I thought at first, “oh, that’s sweet, it looks like her dad (or perhaps her grandfather???) came to town to see her.” It was the Christmas season, after all, and she had a full-time job in town to help support her through her masters degree. I made arrangements to meet with her at another time, and getting together we talked for hours at one of my favourite Mexican restaurants. I came out to her at that time (coming out was still fairly new to me, but I had been through the worst as far as that was concerned), and she was supportive. But the conversation eventually led to, “so, who was that guy I saw you with at the coffeehouse?” I honestly wanted to be more specific and almost said, “so, is your dad in town to visit?” However, not being sure and not wanting to make an egregious gaffe, I decided to be more general. And as it turns out, I was right. That 60 year old guy with her was not her grandfather or her father, but rather her boyfriend! She was my age, perhaps slightly older (at the time she would have been 23 or 24 years old).

I thought: oh my, how on earth is that possible?! The age difference is too great, they are at completely different stations in life and can’t have anything in common! Someone in the relationship is surely going to get frustrated about that at some point. She explained to me how it happened—they met at church and really got along well. They apparently always had great conversations at church, got involved together in various projects, and she went to his house frequently to watch movies and “hang out.” One time they were sitting there watching TV on the couch and bam—the moment of truth hit them, and their lives changed forever. I’m sure he was very happy! But what about her, didn’t she want something different, someone younger who is more in tune with the way she thinks and feels, more physically attractive? Well, while not massively attractive by the standards of his age, he is a highly intelligent person, a professor (although, just to clarify, he did NOT work in her degree program). He spoke reasonable French and romanced her around the world during the summer—in Siena and Strasbourg, among other places. To show how time flies, Diane has now been married to him for a few years, and they have a beautiful daughter (age 2) together. Still, I couldn’t get over it—nearly 40 years between them. I mean, wow! “I could never do that,” I said to myself. Just never, absolutely not, he’s old even for my mom! It wasn’t just with Diane; I would often scoff at young women who fell into the arms of markedly less-attractive older men. Often money or looks didn’t seem to factor into the relationship, so what was in it for them? Why would they even be remotely interested?

At the time, I had never tried to date or have a relationship myself. Needless to say, with time I’ve wisened up, and these days I find myself asking the question: “how would it be in my interest to have a relationship with someone who isn’t at least 5-10 years older than me?” At first, on my online 'gay dating' profile I had my age preferences defined as “21-35.” After plenty of reflection, it seemed like the ‘10 year rule’ was a good standard to live by, as it constrained potential partners to people in my general age range and station in life. But before I deleted my profile last winter, I was 24 but my age preferences became “30-50.” Don’t get me wrong; most of the people I’ve been out with (or talked to online) have actually been around my age. That was kind of the problem. The more I interacted with other “youth” (as I might, at times contemptuously, call them), I began to realize that having people around my own age does NOT necessarily mean that I will have things in common with them.

In fact, for me, it proved quite the opposite. I was extraordinarily more serious than people my age, more romantically (and less sexually) motivated, uninterested in partying or clubbing and not mesmerised by drinking stories or by my own capacity to drink alcohol. I find that the lifestyle, the friendships and the relationships made between young people are often very passionate and intense, but in the long-term they tend to be transient and superficial. While I am still a bit assertive, the youthful pride, the arrogance, and the feelings of invincibility have definitely waned if they were ever there. I strut my stuff when Darwinistic professional obligations demand it, but otherwise I keep a realistic attitude about myself. If anything, I am all too aware of my own mortality and limitations.

I have always been more ‘mature’ than my own age, and part of it is explained by my upbringing. I grew up an only child in a single-parent household. I was much loved by both my mom and my grandparents (who lived only an hour away), being the very centre of their worlds, and that provided an environment of emotional stability. I am so much luckier than most people in that regard—I had a great childhood that lacked nothing in terms of physical or emotional needs. No complaints whatsoever. But these people who raised me, they were adults living under very adult circumstances, and they didn't often have an easy life. And they talked to me like an adult. We were not wealthy. There was no partying or playtime, very little youthfulness involved--just mom shopping the sales (so we could live decently even with little money), working hard to put dinner on the table, making dinner, spending time with me (although not particularly spoiling me), and paying the bills, all in the same day every day of my childhood. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters my own age, and I internalized the attitudes of the serious, mature adults around me. Thus, growing up, I always got along better with adults than with people my own age—elderly people particularly enjoyed spending time with me, and I with them. In college, my professors (and not fellow students) were my best friends. I didn't have any friends my own age in college (despite a childhood friend that I kept in touch with via e-mail), and that reality has continued into my adult life.

My mom always said that I was “born 40,” which would make me (in spirit) about 65 years old now. She recently recounted a story a story to me; apparently I shocked (my to-this-day juvenile aunt) as a 2 years old when I told her that I would have to “evaluate my options before making a final decision” on what I wanted for dinner. While they gave me toys when I was very young, I was never really interested in them—even then I preferred to work on projects of an artistic or intellectual nature. I often enjoyed learning about foreign countries; I studied radioactive isotopes and nuclear decay when I was 8-9. When I moved to Australia at the age of 11, I had way too many friends (Aussies being a very friendly bunch), too much spare time at recess, and too little intellectual stimulation in the school that I went to there. I decided to put all of my followers to work—I created a “nation,” so to speak, with our own elections, public works projects, economic activities (manganese mining), newspapers, telecommunications, military manoeuvres, violent coup d’états (we were children, after all), dedicated sacred space, and even currency. While my political career was short-lived, that’s just one example.

To summarize, I started out with more mature, adult attitudes, influences, and interests. Now, having just turned 25, I’ve already lived through and accepted what most people take a good portion of their adult lives to undergo or may never experience. I am both a visible minority (being what many Americans might call “multi-racial,” although I find the term disrespectful) and a sexual minority. Even within these minorities, I am a minority and have had to come to terms with adversity in that regard. I’ve faced all of it with relative success, which required constructing a strong sense of personal identity and being unapologetic about it. I’ve had that obligatory job as a janitor in a grocery store in my youth. I used to work all day, every day in corn fields during the scorching, humid summers to help pay my school bills. I’ve worked for 5 years as a broadcaster (live, on-air presenter) on a local TV affiliate in the U.S. I’ve been working in volunteer activities for nearly 10 years. I’ve lived in four different countries and have travelled extensively across vast parts of the world many times over (much more than most well-travelled people do in a lifetime). During these travels, I’ve internalized what I’ve learned from the cultures that I’ve been exposed to and the people I’ve met (and their worldviews). I’ve also achieved the highest level of formal educational attainment possible in my field. And I’ve taken it all in with the utmost seriousness and rigour. I’ve never really partied, never been drunk, never done drugs. I’m just too serious for that kind of thing, and I’m always applying myself to learning something new. As an example, even moving to Québec (where I can get away with just knowing English), I set out to learn French and now speak it much more than I do English, and it has really enriched my life; most of my better friends don’t even speak English. Like I tell some people, I have retained my youthful ways in the way I eat and sleep. However, I’ve recently moved into a very adult apartment (not the one bedroom, tragically student-like studio of my former days) with all-new, high-quality furniture and decorations. Suddenly, I found myself nesting in a very adult way, and I saw the “shiftless” character and appearance of my youth disappearing.

I have retained my youth in some ways: my openness to trying new things and having new experiences, maintaining a curious and open mind (esp. with regard to learning, culture, philosophy, etc.), and something that comes across strongly in this blog—my youthful idealism. With time, however, many aspects of my youth have faded away, and I have become somewhat stubborn and set in my ways/values. The icing on the cake: a couple of years ago I decided to grow a beard, and I now look about 5-10 years older (some say more!) than my actual age. I decided to push it out because, well, I liked the look better, and I think my beard is distinctive. But perhaps most significantly, I was tired of the way the world tried to judge me and my attitudes based on my young physical appearance, considering that I did not feel “young” in the way society (and other people my own age) defined it. I didn’t act like most 20 year-olds, I didn’t think like most 20 year-olds, and now (happily) I don’t look like most 20 year-olds.

Living in the ‘cult of youth’ that pervades North American society and even more so (to a new and ugly extreme) gay culture, people look at me with amazement. Why would I give up my youth? I’ve only given up the most superficial part of it—I’ve retained what I think is most important to get out of one’s youth—a pragmatic sense of how the world actually works (as well as ideals about how it should work), a strong identity, curiosity, exploring new worlds, and appreciating the love of family. I am still physically young, but I decided to give up the appearances of a physically young person because I wanted the world to see me how I saw myself. Also, I don’t want people who worship at youth’s altar to find me interesting.

How does this reflect on my gay/dating life? Well, it should already be clear that I’m looking for someone mature, serious, and stable and who can also appreciate these qualities in me. It is well-known that women tend to be more mature than men their age. That is certainly true for my generation. If I had been heterosexual, I think I would be much more comfortable with someone closer to my own age (say, 30). However, heterosexual I am not. As far as men are concerned, while behind their female cohorts, heterosexual men seem to reach maturity at a reasonable pace. They often get married in their 20s, and by the time they are in their 30s they may have gone through some very adult experiences—marriage, divorce, and often children. Having such duties (aka, baggage), as well as undergoing professional development and increasing work-related responsibilities, forces a man to grow up. So I am able to get along reasonably well with heterosexual men in their primary adulthood (lets say, early 30s). However, just like women, heterosexual men and their more mature attitudes (a consequence of their sexual orientation) are also out of the picture.

Enter gay men. I think to some extent the adversity that we face as sexual minorities has the potential to make us mature faster within the context of the real world. But that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case once we assimilate into gay culture, where even adults well into their years are allowed to act like horny teenagers. All in all, the gay culture encourages men to mature at glacial time scales. They often don’t have children to worry about or ex-wives to deal with, and when other family obligations and duties are not tying them down, a mature sense of real, hard-core responsibility is often lacking. Just like in youth. For example, since joining the gay community, I have been shocked how so many of the gay men I’ve met of all ages (the vast majority if not all of them) take napping to be a very very serious affair and an important part of their daily routine. Just like in youth. Furthermore, in the gay culture, relationships and sex are readily available, superficial and easy to come by (f-friends and ‘boyfriends’ are a dime a dozen, so to speak), and recreation rather than hard work. Just like in youth. The primary venues for social interaction are bars and dance clubs, just like in youth. The culture of drinking (and sometimes drugs) encourages forgetting about the more difficult realities of life, letting loose, and retreating to less complicated times. Just like in youth. And as I mentioned earlier, it seems like gay men worship at the altar of youth more than most straight men or women would even (collectively) care to, doing everything necessary to retain their youthful physical appearance (often within the context of the muscularity of their body and avoiding wrinkles).

Youth is so highly valued within the gay culture, so much a commodity, that it is little wonder that men resist being anything but ‘youthful’ in action, mentality, and deed. I must stress that I am speaking generally in this regard, because many gay men are as mature as their age or more so, reflecting their own personal experiences, managing multiple identities, responsibilities, or even tragedies (for example, HIV/AIDS: facing this reality when friends test positive or becoming a caretaker can sober up a gay man fairly quickly). Many of these personal experiences, however, take time to evolve or come about. Thus, the gay man does grow up, just like everyone else, but often he seems to be behind his heterosexual counterparts. Furthermore, his brut sexuality may never mature if he gets ‘set in his ways’ in that regard.

I know many gay men who have grown up—they’ve seen it all, they’ve experienced adversity and tragedy, lived life, and they somewhere managed to leave adolescence behind them. However, they tend to be in their 30s, 40s or older. In fact, in my experience I haven’t been all that impressed with men in their 30s, which seem to be a continuation of the 20s for so many. It’s really men in their 40s that really have begun to interest me. They have a history to reflect on, experiences to share, and a different outlook on life. Once 20+ years of adulthood have happened to you, you can’t help but age both physically and psychologically. Once they reach their mid-life years, they tend to become more confident and live with a certain grace. They often recognize their own strengths and limitations rather than react with arrogant pride; they accept that other people are going to be better at certain things than they are, and they are often able to embrace that fact rather than fruitlessly trying to overcome and outcompete. Even if their current circumstances aren’t that spectacular, it seems like men who reach their late 30s and 40s no longer have so much to prove to the world and (practically) are no longer as set out on changing it. They also seem to be more open to having friends from a wider range of ages, be they much younger or much older.

I like that, actually—they become complex and philosophical beings through learning from life’s experience, and I enjoy engaging that. Furthermore, very few people my age are able to talk to me on my level, so ever since moving to Montréal (at the age of 21), most of my friends (including gay, but mostly straight) have actually been in their 40s. My youngest (current) male friend is in his upper 30s, a politician and lawyer. All in all, I’ve shifted to having older and older friends, the demographics of which I recently explained to one of my curious companions with remarkably blunt logic: “I probably have older friends because I feel more like I'm in my 40s myself, rather than in my 20s. I just don't have anything in common with young people around my age anymore. Needless to say, I don’t have many female friends in their 40s, as they often have careers, spouses and maturing children to juggle and have less time and energy to invest in friendship. So I have mostly male friends in their 40s, and most of these friends (hetero and gay) aren't married and don't have children, so they have more time and incentive to devote to friendship.”

Once last December, one of these 40-year-old friends confronted me on the issue when I was telling him about my “10 year” rule, which would have cut off potential dating partners at the age of 34-35. He noted that most of my friends were in their 40s, and I seem to get along best with and enjoy most the company of people in that age range. If that’s the case, what is my hang-up with dating them?

I tried to find a good answer, but nothing I said made any sense; the best I could come up with was the routine “station in life” argument. He poignantly noted that many of my friends were, professionally and otherwise, at a similar station in life as me. He was right. I felt freed—suddenly a superficial rule I had imposed on myself lifted with that one conversation, and my mind opened to the beautiful possibility of having a relationship with people I honestly feel more compatible with. I thought my 10 year rule was based on wisdom, and indeed it probably is prudent for most people looking for a relationship. But I’m not most young people, and wisdom for the masses is not necessarily going to be wisdom for my particular case. My friend was absolutely right—if I get along best with a certain age demographic, and I derive real meaning from my friendships with them, it is highly possible that I am more likely to find a meaningful romantic partner in that age range. From a crudely practical vantage point, I am also (as a younger man) more competitive in an older demographic, where also superficial hypersexuality and my physical appearances are less likely to be my constraint (note that I qualify this statement with “less likely”). Dating older men also potentially offers a richer exchange--I can inject youthful enthusiasm, motivation, and energy into a relationship, while at the same time enjoying the wisdom and philosophical spirit that his life experience has provided him.

While I do realize that I’m playing with mid-life-crisis fire (motorcycles and the mad pursuit of young college girls come to mind), frankly someone who is looking to recapture their youth is going to find me a rather disappointing kouros. Some people might think I’m just looking for a daddy. While I don’t feel like such a stereotyped accusation even merits a response, in all honesty the last thing I’m looking for is a daddy. I grew up with father figures and feel absolutely no lack in that regard. If anything, being now 65 years old in spirit, I’d more likely be his daddy! My parents are in their 50s, and I’m not Diane--50 is just about where I place my limit (we all have to have one). Up to that, everyone else my age or older (preferably somewhat older) is fair game, so watch out!

The last concern to address: what about what I want? Aren’t I more physically attracted to men my own age? Shouldn’t I try to find another (tragically rare) guy closer to my age and with a similar mindset? You’d think there would be more 25-year-olds like me in the highly-educated environment where I work and mingle professionally, but you’d be surprised just how few we are (most of the time, when you do find people my own age with my worldview, they are women). I am honestly physically attracted to men my own age, as well as men who are older, of all shapes and sizes. However, I am definitely NOT attracted, physically or otherwise, to men who are even slightly younger than me. The first time I recognized this aspect of my sexual orientation, I was at the incredible archaeological site in Paestum (Italy) in 2006 looking at the Ancient Greek paintings (480 B.C.) from the Tomb of the Diver. The paintings featured scenes of nude young men as well as mature men in their 30s (or maybe early 40s) sprawling together in a banquet scene. It was looking at the painting that I realized—wow, I much prefer (from a vantage point of aesthetic and personal attraction) the men in their 30s, their powerful profile and developed stature. They didn’t look like they had sprouted their manliness yesterday (like the younger men did) and were more appealing to me like that—it gave them more confidence and character. They were just more real. Thus, I came to the conclusion at the age of 20 that men reached their peak in physical beauty (in my eyes) in their early 30s. Now that I myself have aged, that ideal has expanded upward in age range. The man I had such a strong physical reaction to in my last posting was is in his early 40s, so a Kouros worshipper I have never been. But it should be clear from other postings that I don’t put much faith in physical attraction and have a very loyal, serious disposition regarding all of my relationships, whether they be friendships or something deeper. Looking beyond physical attraction: psychologically and emotionally, someone with a similar philosophical disposition and values, statistically likely to be older than me, would be ideal for any kind of relationship (platonic or otherwise) I engage in.

Thankfully, I’ve now confronted and freed myself from my prejudices (or rather, my ageism) expressed at the beginning of this posting with regard to Diane’s husband. I would hate to be a woman constricted to the pool of today’s young men—I understand why she felt like she got along better with an older man. They probably just “fit” well, and it must feel right to her. You go, girl! As for me, in that same Mexican restaurant in my hometown, last Christmas I went out with a different (female) friend my own age. I talked to her about dating someone much older, and she said to me, “I just think you like 40. You should go for it!”

4 comments:

  1. interesting, and elaborate, overview of the male mindset. in the 20th century, traditional psychiatry considered homosexuality as a disease, a deviant behavior, due in part to the obvious signs of immaturity observed in many subjects, thus thinking they were thwarted in their development at some point in their teens. it may be a tad more complex than that, but you sure have thought about it a lot. nice to see ageism is no longer a factor, though i share with you a reticence towards those too young... as opposed to many gays who favor them, almost exclusively. i guess they don't want to be challenged by those, except in the bedroom...

    excellent post. quite revealing as far as your thought process goes. i bow to you!!
    :)~
    HUGZ

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  2. Hey Ticklebear, thanks for the comment!

    Life is complicated, and maturity can be such a relative thing (culturally, generationally, etc). Obviously I have my own definition of "maturity" that doesn't necessarily correspond to others' definitions. Dr. Lauren, who's posted comments on this blog before, had an article where he defined four levels of maturity: chronological (25), biological (euh, maybe 34), experiential (40-50), and sexual (brand-spanking newborn baby here!), and we can be at a great level of maturity in one and not in another. I'm not sure if I am 100% in agreement with this setup: I think it's generally a good idea, but it can be more complicated than even that. I've obviously boiled down the issue down into a story, the way I understand it. Like I said, I think gay men have the capacity to mature at a rate that is appropriate for their age, or faster, but there does seems to be an internal culture that encourages the opposite trend. Some people are able to stand against this current and even advance against it, others get swept downstream back toward adolescence despite grander adult dreams. The thing that amazes me most, at least in terms of sexuality, how many men (even older men, I'm talking upper 50s) have the same outlook on their sexuality as during my teen years (when I saw my attraction to men as mostly about sex and little about emotion).

    But as a young adult I've developed 'normally' according to traditional sociological theory in trying to essentially establish a long-term relationship, which requires something more fundamental than just sex. I've watched someone try to establish a longterm romantic relationship on sex first, and that just doesn't seem possible. You share too much of yourself too soon, reach a strong physical/emotional intimacy before really knowing anything about the person himself. Few fellow young adults see the world the same way, being somewhere back in what I considered my adolescence (and early adolescence at that, when my sexuality was really just developing). All can be healed through sex, if it's good enough. And if it's good enough, he can be my boyfriend. Frankly, it's never going to be good enough to satisfy our personal needs for more than a few minutes, so you have to be able to step back and ask yourself: what do I really want in life and out of my relationships?

    I think I'd be happy with someone older, perhaps much older, as long as he gives me a little independence if he doesn't feel like he can't keep up with me physically (on vacations and such). Otherwise, I don't think it really matters.

    I'll close this comment with a poem I wrote in Spring 2009, a very personal one for me, but it seems appropriate here:

    Bristling white beard,
    accompanying a friendly stare
    A sadness hints in your shining eyes

    Above your good humour and graceful voice,
    your enlightened mind is the greatest charm.
    What is age
    when flesh is always warm and soft?

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  3. I also have prayed to God asking for forgiveness of my sins and it started because of my gay thought patterns.

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  4. Hey JBrown31, thanks for the comment. Yes, integrating religion and a gay lifestyle is often very difficult, although I think I make a strong case here. I stand that there is little to no basis for homophobia and anti-homosexual sentiments in the three monotheistic religions. With regard to sexual relations, God is as heterophobic as he is homophobic. Love = good, loveless sex/lust = bad. But I would also argue, on more complex grounds, that Eros should not be confused with pure lust. Eros can lead to lust and only lust. But it can be used, in the Platonist spirit, as a tool to achieve Agape. My grandparents are a good example. They had eros when they were courting, and Agape the rest of their lives.

    ReplyDelete