One of my favorite activities every week is my Married/Formerly Married Men's Group meeting. I never would have guessed that I'd enjoy any kind of "support" group, but I like this one. A lot.
What's weird is that, for as much as I like the group, I sometimes wonder whether I would have taken the time to get to know my co-participants if I'd met them in some other way. For example, what do I have in common with a scraggly-looking, 79 year old widow who lives 45 minutes away, in a trailer behind his daughter's house? Well, now that I've gotten to know him and his story, I have a big soft spot for him. I feel his sadness and anguish as he copes with the loss of his long-time partner and struggles to stay relevant to his children and grandchildren. He's a good man who deserves to be happy just as much as I do; just as much as anyone does, really.
For me, there's a magic to the group, a magic that I didn't really "get" until my third or fourth meeting. At first, I thought these guys were just formerly closeted men who decided to come out in mid-life. Now I've come to realize that even if their sexual preference is clear (and sometimes it's not), they're fundamentally different from both straight and gay men, and that difference isn't so much about sexual preference as it is about life experiences.
|What's this man's life like?|
What I mean is, living in the suburbs as a straight married man and raising children is NOT like living as a single, gay man in the city.
Similarly, living as a single gay man who is raising children in the suburbs is NOT like living as a stereotypical straight suburban dad.
Although I can keenly relate to various aspects of those two different lifestyles, I've found that no one truly understands what it's like to be me, a single gay suburban dad, unless they've already walked in my shoes.
|And how different is it than this man's?|
Life-long gay men, even ones who were closeted well into their 30s, just don't understand what it's like to raise children in the suburbs.
And even the most open-minded, straight suburban men don't understand what it's like to be a single gay dad.
|Gay with kids: its own lifestyle|
But the men in my support group are all men like me. They're dads, they've had long (and usually good) relationships with women, and, what they most want now is to connect with another caring man and settle down and enjoy a happy, peaceful life together.
I think it's fair to say that my participation in the support group has very positively affected the way I view other formerly married men, especially those with children.
My attraction to this demographic has grown so strong that when I started dating again earlier this year, the very first online search I did was to find exactly those kind of men. Likewise, the first guy I messaged was a single gay suburban dad. Part of the reason I found his profile attractive was because he said, "I am the father of two amazing handsome, smart, kind and good young men. They are my greatest accomplishment. They have made me a better man."
Apparently, he didn't think I could make him a better man. Or maybe he just didn't share my affinity for formerly married men with children. Either way, he never replied to my message.
Getting ignored right out of the gate immediately brought back memories of my previous year's dating frustrations. For that reason I decided to try a new approach. Instead of proactively reaching out to men who seemed like good matches, I thought I'd try "saying yes" to the men who contacted me. That's almost entirely what I did. In five months of active dating, I think I only sent an initial message to three guys, including the first one who ignored me.
One of the two other guys I messaged first was also formerly married. He turned out to be the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" when it came to my self-esteem.
I had many good reasons to reach out to him. Not only did we have similar values and interests, and not only was he a recently divorced father of two school age children, but he also lived just a few miles away, a rarity. Perhaps most promising of all, he seemed to have an interest in me because he visited my profile several times over a period of a few weeks.
I was waiting for him to message me first but I changed my mind about that when I saw him having brunch with his parents in a local restaurant. Seeing him in person was very helpful because it convinced me he was well within my league, in terms of appearance, even though he was five years younger.
I also decided to take the plunge because I knew he'd respond. I mean, he pretty much promised he would in his profile: "I especially welcome meeting other single dads."
|This guy is better looking.|
Of course it turned out that he does not welcome meeting just any single dad. He has his standards...and I didn't make the cut.
I was so surprised to be rejected that I re-analyzed my decision to contact him. I went through the mental checklist: Numerous shared interests? Check. Shared life values? Check. Age appropriate? Check. Height appropriate? Check. In my league? Check. (Somewhat similar to the guy pictured, only less attractive.) Lives nearby? Check. Willing to date a guy with kids? Definitely.
He was one of those "on paper" ideal matches. The kind of guy that I'd expect to easily be friends with, even if we didn't have any romantic chemistry. It was a no-brainer to message him. Of course he would reply.
Only he didn't.
As I've said, my self-esteem was already in a downward spiral before that, for several reasons: I had a series of strange dates and rejections; I learned that the one guy who I thought really liked me, my bf of several months, was never very interested; and, I came to the realization that too much exercise had significantly and adversely affected my once youthful appearance. Not getting a reply from Mr. Average Dad was the final kick when I was already down, a kick that my battered ego just could not take.
The only way to heal from the cumulative hurt I was feeling was to withdraw from dating for a while. Most likely, a long while.
It's been four months since I've been out on a date - and more than a year since I've had sex. You'd think I'd be depressed about those things, but I'm not. It's actually a relief not to be dating. It's one less headache to worry about.
I haven't given up on men entirely, but in their absence I have (unexpectedly) achieved an element of inner contentment that I've been missing for years. I've realized that I can be single and celibate for the rest of my life and still be happy. That's not my preferred outcome but it definitely wouldn't make for a sad or miserable life either.
Like many closeted married men in mid-life (or older), I was afraid that if I ever became single I'd be too old to find a new partner. That's not the reason I stayed married but it was certainly a big fear that I had.
Now that I'm living that reality, I have to say that it feels good to have faced that fear and conquered it. Even better, I've realized that overcoming it has laid the foundation for a much needed (and hopefully permanent) boost of my self-confidence. We've all heard that cliche' that "you can't love someone else until you love yourself first." I'd like to add a corollary to that: "You can't love yourself until you realize what good company you are."
Anyway, this is my way of saying that I'm healing and growing. I plan to continue to take time off from dating for at least the next several months. I'll return when I genuinely feel motivated to do so. Until then I'll happily keep busy with other interests, including blogging.