Tuesday, April 13, 2021

13. Find Your Role In The Cycle Of Lonely

“Mark” had lunch with me at a Creating Change conference several years ago.  He shared his trepidation about being a gay man turning 40 in a certain major U.S. city.  Mark was (and still is) a person who is considered physically desirable by many if not most gay men.  Yet he feared, "Guys don’t want to date me anymore. Already they’ve stopped showing interest.  Once you’re a certain age they’re not interested anymore.”   I was surprised to hear Mark articulate these ideas, given I knew people were interested in him, I knew lots of men would date him if they could.  But I was also aware that Mark had a very stand-off quality to him, a non-verbal way he communicated “back off.”  I knew that the reason people weren’t paying attention to him in his area had nothing do with ageism, but everything to do with the way he discouraged and repelled human energy and romantic attraction.  

Unfortunately, Mark is not unusual in this regard, I have seen hundreds of men do the same thing.  I started coming out and socializing in the gay community in 1989, and in the 32 years since one thing has remained consistent:  The self-fulfilling prophesies men use to actively participate in cycles of isolation and loneliness.  Here’s the way it looks:

(1) Mark believes the myth that there is only one way to be desirable in the gay community: young and thin.  Perhaps he is attracted to that type himself, so he wrongfully assumes everyone else is attracted to the same type.  He chooses to ignore the fact there is no universal consensus on sexy.
(2) Mark looks at his naked body in the mirror with loathing and contempt.  All he can do is see fault and flaws.  He refuses to see the beauty of his body hair and natural curves.  He just perceives “gross, ugly, wrong.”
(3) Mark enters into social situations or goes on dating apps carrying this disdain and loathing for himself.  
(4) The self-disdain energy places an energetic partition around him and prevents any interested partners or dates from offering any attention.  The few who try to get through the barrier are summarily dismissed and discounted.   
(5) Mark ends his night alone with his “evidence” that he was correct all along — no one want to meet or get close to guy approaching 40, he is destined to be alone.   

This need not be!

I had the unique experience of doing the same thing, only in reverse chronological order.  When I was younger I was thin, pasty, embarrassed and ashamed by my body.  I could not see any desirability or positive qualities in my physical shape.  So if I went out to social situations and tried to meet someone, quite often I was rejected.  In retrospect, I was closer to the “twink” type then than I am now, but my self-loathing and insecurity made it nearly impossible for anyone to have or sustain interest. 

I’m not advocating drugs as the answer to all questions, but in my experience they were an effective means to learn some valuable lessons.  When I used Ecstasy, or one of the various amphetamine based options, I had a completely different experience.  Men talked to me.  Men paid attention to me.  Men wanted to be near me.  Why?  It’s not like the shape of my waify body had changed.  

Men reacted to me differently because I felt differently.  Because I felt good, I felt confident, secure in my value as a human being, centered in my purpose in life.  Sure it was a chemical illusion but it gave me insight into an experience I hadn’t known firsthand:  When you feel great, men will will want to be around you.  When you feel miserable, men will run away. 

As I’ve gotten more centered in sober, rational, spiritual principles I’ve seen this trajectory continue.  The better I feel, the more men are attracted to me. This isn’t about my body type, this is about my attitude.  This has been even more true in my 40s than it was in my 20s — I have gotten more attention from gay guys in the past decade than I ever did at any previous time.   Of course I am never everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay.  When I feel joyful I create a different self-fulfilling prophesy from the one above:  

(1) I know I have a body that is desirable for some, not for others.  This is true at all ages.  
(2) I look in the mirror and like the naked body I see.  The ego (fear-based) mind tries to find flaws but I dismiss them as bullshit relics from the past.  I correct my thinking and see my body as a resilient vehicle capable of giving and receiving great amounts of pleasure for those who choose to partake.
(3) I go online or into social situations knowing I have inherent strength and value whether someone is into me or not.
(4) My joyful energy attracts some people.
(5) I gain more “evidence” that I was correct all along — people are cool with a guy turning 50, and age is only a barrier if we claim it's a barrier.

This is much better!

Sadly, I have seen many friends, colleagues, and clients go in another direction.  They choose to suffer and tell narratives about aging that are not based in facts. It may not be an intentional conscious choice, but anytime we use our thoughts to hurt ourselves we are engaging in a decision

There are people who complain about getting older, stating they feel “ignored” or “invisible.”  In nearly every instance this person dismissed and discounted themselves long before another person showed up.  They were playing out the self-fulfilling prophecy -- they already loathed themselves and THEN interacted with others from that energy, not the other way around.  As I wrote in Lesson 15, we have the option to practice being a mentally grounded tree instead versus an emotionally unstable leaf.  No one can "make" you feel ignored or erased without your permission.   No one can diminish your experience of self-love and worth when you set that as your intention from the beginning. 

Although there may not be any universal consensus of sexy, in my fifty years I have seen a pretty universal consensus of what is unsexy:  actively practicing disdain for yourself and others.  If you communicate to the world you are not a person worthy of respect or value, then often times you will draw people in who are going to agree with you and confirm that.  Here are some of the ways people can repel the healthy energy and attention available to them:  

— If you are practicing thought patterns that diminish your beauty and value, and others' beauty and value, then you will repel healthy energy and attention.
— If you spend your days and nights on social media complaining about the ways you see yourself as a victim, you will repel healthy energy and attention.
— If you are actively mean or cruel to people in your life you will repel healthy energy and attention.
— If you make sweeping generalizations or stereotypes about people because of their race, gender, or background, then you will repel healthy energy and attention.
— If you drastically alter your physical appearance in a way that communicates to the world how much you dislike your body, you will repel healthy energy and attention.
— If you spend more time looking down at a phone than at the people around you, you will repel healthy energy and attention. 
— If you consistently display behaviors that show others you are emotionally unsafe and unstable, you will repel healthy energy and attention.

Looking for your part in the cycle, and taking responsibility for your role in self-fulling prophecies, is not a normalized process in the United States.  It is generally considered acceptable instead to blame others for how you feel, complain that others are ignoring you, exercise destructive thought patterns, and then experience the direct consequences of those thoughts by feeling anxious, depressed, and lonely.  Working with a knowledgeable therapist or counselor can help to break these habits.

I say it's time for a different cycle.  We are at the beginning of a new dawn of aging, healing, playing, loving.  By the time I turn 65-years-old, there will be more people living over 65-years than people under 18-years. Why not enjoy getting older and building community with clear minds, healthy thoughts, functional behavioral patterns, and lots and lots of fun?  Let's do this!

 Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at Damon@DamonLJacobs.com or 347-227-7707

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