When your marriage is on the rocks, you're supposed to go to marriage counseling. When you're depressed, you're supposed to go to a therapist. When you're an alcoholic, you're supposed to go to Alcoholics Anonymous.
What are you supposed to do when you're a married man who has an attraction to other men?
Arrange down low hook-ups with them through Craigslist, Grindr, Manhunt and Adam4Adam, of course.
The thing about hook-ups - the thing we don't often realize or admit - is that
having an orgasm isn't the primary reason we pursue them. What matters most is
connecting with another man without the usual societal barriers.
Hooking-up is like taking a much-needed tropical vacation after spending
many months locked in a regular routine. It's an escape from the
confines of a "usual" life where you know you
don't quite fit in; it's a way to authentically bond with men who
accept you for who you are.
Although I've never had an interaction
that provided the same intense thrill that a good hook-up can, I have
recently experienced the next best thing. There's no sex involved, but, there's no guilt
or risk of STDs either.
Back in July a reader suggested that I attend a local support group for bisexual and gay men. He raved about what a life saver it was for him when he was coming out and strongly encouraged me to go.
Yuck, I thought. I really don't want to spend two hours listening to a bunch of dysfunctional people talk about how depressed they are. I've already got that covered, in spades.
Of course I didn't say that to him. Instead I said, "Group therapy isn't my thing." His response was that it was a support group, not therapy. He also said that I'd never understand what I was missing until I gave it a try.
Bah, he's right. Now I have to go, just so I can tell him it didn't work out.
I've never been a "therapy" person. I don't think I've ever had a one-on-one session where I've talked about myself. The closest I ever came was twenty years ago, when, after I came out the first time, Gabbie and I had two or three expensive and unuseful marriage counseling sessions.
Group "support" is even less appealing to me because, let's be honest, people who seek out such groups tend to be socially awkward. If they weren't, they'd have friends to support them. But because they don't, they seek out a captive audience - which is exactly what a support group is for them.
As you can see, I can be a little cynical. That alone should make me an unsuitable participant in any support group.
It turns out that the suggested support group is not just any bi/gay support group. It's only for married or formerly married men. For me, that's made all the difference.
My original intention was to go once. Because I planned to come out to my kids at the end of July, I thought it might be useful to hear other married men share their stories before I took the plunge. So I went.
I wouldn't say that the first meeting went spectacularly well. It was ok. I was a bit disappointed by the attendance - only seven men. Even more disappointing was that I was the youngest guy there and I'm 45. Also, my theory about the kind of people who seek out support groups was borne out. A fellow first-timer, a man of about 70, spoke about his very sad life for far longer than was socially appropriate.
The reason I returned for a second visit was because they asked me to. My "about-to-come-out" story was a cliff-hanger for them so naturally they wanted me to come back and tell them what happened, which I did.
I went sporadically a few more times, every third or fourth week, mostly because I wanted to see who else came; I learned at the second meeting that weekly attendance varied significantly.
I think it was at my fourth or fifth meeting that I realized that I wanted to go more often, regardless of who showed up. The reason was because I started to feel a natural kinship with several of the regulars, even those who were more than 20 years older than me.
Feeling that kind of cross-generational bond was a big surprise for me. I have father issues and do not naturally gravitate to friendship with older men. What I've learned from the group is that, regardless of age, there's something different about men who are attracted to men who have been married. They're not like straight men and they're not like gay men. I've discovered that I feel a natural comfort with these men that I've never felt with any group of men before. It's a remarkable feeling.
Another thing I've realized is that my desire to attend more meetings has increased ever since Dean and I broke up. This is why I've made the connection between the social aspects of this support group and hook-ups. Because I'm not having any quality one-on-one time with a my formerly married boyfriend, the group fills that void, and in a much deeper and more enduring way than a one-time hook-up could.
It may be hard to believe that a support group could be more fulfilling than a hook-up, but it's true. And I'm not the only one who feels that way. Bi_Gentleman, a blogger who lives near Toronto, began a "beer night" for bi-married men about two years ago. I don't believe he's ever called his beer night a support group meeting (because if he did, far fewer guys would attend), but I think the bonding and camaraderie he has experienced with that group is similar to what I have experienced.
I'm sure there are plenty of bi-married men out there who only want to meet other men if sex is involved, but if that's not you, I recommend that you check your local area and see what kind of support groups are available. If you go, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you experience.
If you're curious about what a typical meeting is like, here's a summary of what my group does:
Our meetings are once a week and last for two hours. We have a regular host who is also a member. He explains the rules to newbies (confidentially is a must; advice is discouraged) and he makes sure that our discussions stay timely and productive. What I most enjoy is that everyone is authentic and likeable . There are no drama queens or egomaniacs. The words "depressed" and "depression" do come up, but not that often. The two hours go by quickly as each person shares a little about what's going on in their lives. At the end, someone shares a randy joke, we each contribute $5 for the use of the meeting room, and those who can go out afterward for a beer at a local gay bar.
A support group is not a hook-up, there are no mind-shattering orgasm, but, in the long-run, the genuine friendship and camaraderie can make it more well worth the time invested.