Dating in your forties
After 35, you are invisible to other gay men in Boystown.
‘You’ve got one year, Rader. If you don’t find a boyfriend in the next year, you’re never going to find one.”
My good friend Aaron said that to me in a gay bar nine years ago, just after my 34th birthday. And here I am, 43 years old and, so far, he was right.
I remember this conversation so well partly because when Aaron talks, I listen. Far more often than not, Aaron is right. When I was dating a man who played the organ for a living (insert your own joke here), Aaron said, “Anyone who can simultaneously move his hands and feet independently of each other has some wires crossed in his head and is not to be trusted.” Yes, it was a joke, but it was also a warning I should have listened to.
But I mostly remember Aaron saying that because after he said it, I immediately became aware of how the other gay men in the bar were treating him. Or, rather, weren’t treating him.
Aaron was in his early forties at the time, but I’d never thought much about our age difference. If anything, I liked him more because he’s older. But the other men in the bar didn’t. Many of them ignored him, while a handful of others were saying things to each other like “When’s he due back at the home?” loudly enough so Aaron could hear.
While their treatment of Aaron was hurtful, it wasn’t surprising to him. He had had similar experiences for years, starting just after he turned 35. Aaron began a serious relationship when he was 30 and for five years, he and his boyfriend were out of the bar scene completely. They had some friends in from out of town who wanted to go to a Chicago gay bar, so Aaron took them, and as he tells it:
“I noticed that I was being sized up by three boys, who were glancing at me and giggling to each other. I assumed I was being cruised. I smiled back to be polite. They continued to whisper and giggle. Then, one of them called out in a very loud voice, ‘Some people don’t know when they’re too old to be out. Some people don’t know when to stay home.’ I jerked my head up to see to whom this nasty comment had been made, and the boy was looking right at me. It took me a few seconds for it to sink in that I had become an ‘old troll’ at 35.”
Throughout my twenties and early thirties, many gay men told me similar stories about how they were treated after 35, but I guess I didn’t believe it, or didn’t want to believe it. They all said that at 35 gay men start turning invisible, not just to young gay men, but to most gay men.
“Invisible is actually a great word to use, and I feel that way every day, where the gay male population is concerned, and it can be a bit overwhelming,” says my friend Ron, 45. “To feel as if you have a lot to offer the right guy in a relationship…but to also feel as if you’ll never actually find that relationship because of age, weight, hair loss…you know, all of the ‘aesthetics’ that gay men find so utterly important, but that fade somewhat with time and age. It can be frustrating, depressing and downright demoralizing at times.”
The emphasis on looks in the gay community could be why ageism, though common in both gay and straight cultures, may be more profound among gays, says Steven M. Haught, a licensed clinical professional counselor who works with a number of middle-aged gay men. “In my work with single gays, I encourage folks to build as full a life as possible, and if a relationship happens, so much the better.”