How do I escape the abyss of gay loneliness? Does anyone anywhere find queer love?
I am answering your question first, fellow queer Lonelyheart, as a way of saying that this state, ‘gay loneliness,’ has been my primary way of existing romantically for a long time, that I have never actually been in a relationship of any significant duration, and thus the idea of this lovely newspaper asking me to write as if I had any authority on matters of the heart is either patently absurd or remarkably innovative, or both. Like Elon Musk shooting a perfectly functional automobile into outer space.
But while I share the instinct to describe being lonely this way, I don’t quite know what this description entails. For if ‘gay loneliness’ means ‘the loneliness held by queer people,’ then that is simply loneliness, and I could tell you to go, like, speed-date or something, and the answer would have as much (or as little) purchase for you as it would for anyone else. I’m reticent to believe this is the case. Rather, I’m inclined to say that gay loneliness has a specific ontological position, and it is exactly because this state is not contained by the word ‘loneliness’ that it is so lonely. It resists an expression that can be shared.
Tracing the full legacy of the term—the queer experiences left unlived or unspoken during multiple generations of socially and politically enforced silence—is beyond my scope here. One of the most recent attempted definitions, in a HuffPost editorial on “the epidemic of gay loneliness” widely circulated last spring, contributed more to a narrow caricature of queerness than an explanation of how queerness can emerge—differently, queerly—in a social sphere.
The article’s findings were predicated on accounts of how gay men “literally don’t know what they’re feeling” after years of being in the closet, claims buffered by spurious sociological studies on the higher rates of alcoholism, drug use, and anxiety among (again) gay men, as well as photos of men stuffing bills into each other’s shorts. “Our distance from the mainstream may be the source of some of what ails us,” the article ends, “but it is also the source of our wit, our resilience, our empathy, our superior talents for dressing and dancing and karaoke.” I don’t know about you, but I’m terrible at karaoke, and the idea of ‘accepting’ an emotionally stunted, pathologized queerness seems like a sorry path toward community.
In fact, it is this overdetermination—within and against forms of queerness emerging from social forms dominated by cis, often white gay men—that I believe contributes most to the feeling that queer loneliness is unshakeable. Dating apps and queer clubs might create the impression that queer communities already exist in these forms, and it is because you are the exception that you are lonely. Worse, you might believe that because you feel like an exception to the ways queer relationships ought to emerge, you have a troubled relationship to queerness itself, further impeding your belief that you deserve companionship. This is the ontological position I described earlier: the feeling that you can be queer or lonely, but not both.
Which is why I’m here to tell you that while there are queer social traditions that you can tap into, so many communities in our lives—the personal ones, ones which can hear and recognize our loneliness before offering intimacy in turn—have to be made. Part of this comes when you can find your own expression of queer loneliness, one that you can share. Rather than hoping for solicitude down the line, you can start from where you are. Who knows? You might just find someone who tells you, “In fact, you do know what you feel. And I feel that way too.” And then you’ll have a companion, with whom you can start the process of feeling something else.
Why is expressing love for the first time so intimidating? How important is it to say the three words? Why do I feel like I’d be doing it more for myself than anyone (including my partner)?
Contained in this question, I think, is the possibility that saying “I love you” doesn’t mean anything at all, and that it can be avoided entirely in favor of expressing any number of associated emotions. Which, in a sense, might be true—even once you say those words, you are far from done with describing what your partner means to you and what your hopes are for your future together. But I don’t think that this renders your desire to say it meaningless—in fact, I think it’s your desire to say “I love you” that is exactly what the phrase can mean.
If you feel like telling your partner that you love them might make them specifically uncomfortable, then there are probably some conversations that you could have before this that could help you think through that feeling more deeply. I think it’s worth interrogating beforehand whether you’re using these words to express your own feelings, or to (I think, unfairly) prompt some expression on the part of your partner. If it’s the former, don’t hold back just because you’re dissatisfied with your feelings being only “for you.” Any relationship is just that: a relationship between two people with their own needs and wants, not an abstract cause or a greater good to serve. Communicating your feelings might help carve more space for your partner to do the same—especially those emotions that can’t begin to be contained in three little words.
I’m falling in love and it’s kind of boring?
Paradoxically, this is kind of an intriguing question(?), but only if I agree to take you at your word. If you find yourself bored by how you characterize the person you say you are ‘falling in love’ with, the answer is simple: you are doing this person a disservice, and you should take a hike. As an advice giver, however, I’m obliged to assume you are asking(?) in good faith. Let’s say, then, that you have a deep attraction to this person, but that after all the romantic walks on the beach/candlelit dinners/whatever it is that couples do (see question one), you are finding that intimacy is just that: intimacy. And because your question is just a sentence with a question mark on the end, I’m assuming you had thought it might be otherwise.
I think that in wanting love for ourselves, and in having many forces tell us that we should want love for ourselves, the category of ‘love’ starts to carry a whole lot of things which it may not actually entail. There is the exhilaration you might have felt at the possibility of finding love, and the loneliness you feel when the possibility of love seemed far from your grasp. Any number of these feelings, among many others, might have been accompanied by a sense of possibility, a question of what those feelings might become if shared with a companion. These feelings were real, and they cannot be separated from the whole of your emotional life. But this may be why finding intimacy may seem somehow disconnected from the anticipation of intimacy, or why you may have felt like you have lost some form of excitement. It is the end of the life you spent wanting love.
Buried in all these feelings was, perhaps, the hope that a loving partner might change what or how you feel about your life, and that your life might change in turn. And while adjusting to the openness required by sharing your life with another person might be a huge shift for you, part of the joy (and a healthy sense of security) that can emerge from love comes from someone loving you as you are, and in you doing the same. You and your partner will be there for each other through good and shitty days alike, but no matter how powerful your bond is, they will still arrive all the same. The grim reality of this might feel boring.
By no measure does this devalue the bond itself. It might just mean that the excitement you seek, or what you want to feel about your life, may not be described by the word ‘love.’ What love can give you instead is a partner in figuring out what that feeling might be. I would advise you to ask yourself a question Cher posed 20 years ago: “Do you believe in life after love?” The answer may be fascinating.