Recently on my Facebook page for my psychotherapy and coaching practice for gay men, I asked readers for suggestions for new blog article topics. I’m here for you (along with my associate clinicians here at GayTherapyLA, offering counseling/coaching in person, via phone, or via webcam all over the world), and so I’m happy to receive your suggestions. Several guys mentioned that they wanted me to address issues in dating and sex for older single gay men, for perhaps those who have been widowed, or who have experienced a breakup of a long relationship.
I started working with “Craig” (a fictitious name, based on a number of clients I work with) a number of months ago, when his relationship with “Tim” was coming to an end. Tim was experiencing what we might casually call a “midlife crisis”, or what therapists might call a “developmental period” of questioning his life at middle age, after being in a relationship with Craig for over 20 years. Attempts at couples therapy revealed that Tim’s mind was made up. Tim left the very nice condo that he and Craig shared for many years, and Craig sold it shortly thereafter. Craig then contacted me for help learning to navigate the current gay men’s dating and sex world, when he hadn’t been a single man “on the scene” in over 20 years – and a lot has changed for gay men during that time.
Craig isn’t alone. The idea of a gay man being over 40 (or 50, etc.) and being single, through whatever circumstances, is common. It’s also reasonable that a gay man who finds himself in this situation would need support, such as from a gay-affirmative therapist, to navigate familiar-yet-unfamiliar territory.
There are a number of content areas that Craig, and other single, “older” gay men, have discussed with me in my practice over the 25 years I’ve been a specialist in therapy for gay men. Here are some of those areas commonly seen:
The Gay Dating Landscape
One of my favorite psychological theorists, Erik Erikson, Ph.D., discussed how human beings pass through predictable developmental stages (https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html) throughout their lifespan. From about age 18 to 40 is the stage of Intimacy vs. Isolation. This is the time when many or most adults form meaningful relationships with partners or spouses. From age 40 to 65 is the stage of Generativity vs. Stagnation. During this time, we tend to focus on establishing our careers, settling down into a domestic home life with a partner/spouse (and perhaps children), and, over time, develop a sense that we are part of the bigger picture.
For gay men, this can be a sense that we are part of a larger LGBT community, and we might naturally be very invested in seeing that community do well. This might lead us to give financially to LGBT causes, volunteer for certain organizations, and to discuss political and social issues with our peers. At this age, we tend to outside of ourselves, going from a youth that is somewhat self-centered to feeling like we are part of a larger movement that will live on long after we’re gone. We also might be debate in our minds about how much we want to work, versus how much we want to begin to “take it easy” and enjoy our lives more recreationally or leisurely. In this way, dating for older gay men might go beyond wanting to just hook up for our sexual side (although more on that, below), and dating might be more focused on how we feel another man shares our values at this time in life. If you are an older man who likes dating younger men, it might be exciting to navigate the difference between the generations, and this can be an interesting contrast, or yin-yang effect. Unlike our youth, dating might be more focused on things that older men are interested in, and we enjoy seeing ourselves “mirrored” in other men who share our values at that stage of life.
Dating for older, single gay men means that the process will only be satisfying if it reflects where are thinking and feeling is for that stage of life. Some older gay men I work get annoyed if the content of dating is too “superficial” or feels like “babysitting” someone who can’t really talk about things they’re interested in. In the dating process, it’s important to ask yourself if the man you’re on a date with feels like he “speaks the same language”, even if there is an age difference. Older gay men might judge how a date went by how they felt afterwards about the quality of the conversation, and perhaps less so on how they felt in terms of physical attraction.
Physical and Sexual Self-Care
However, that doesn’t mean that the physical and the sexual don’t play a role in older gay men’s dating, because they are important. It’s a myth that older men aren’t interested in sex. But for older gay men, sometimes discussions in therapy can “overlap” with issues they might also discuss, in a slightly different way, with their physicians. I’ve educated older gay men who are newly-single about PrEP and HIV prevention, STD prevention and management, erectile dysfunction (which has been a very common topic in my practice lately), and experimenting with different sexual styles (vanilla vs. kink) or roles (top vs. bottom). Sometimes guys who were “only” top in their previous long-term relationship want to experiment with bottoming, or sometimes guys who shied away from BDSM play when they were younger want to “explore” now that they’re out on the dating scene again. (In a previous three-part series of articles, I wrote about how therapy can help gay men age gracefully, and the first of those articles is here.)
I tend to emphasize the concept of long-term self-care. Older gay men who might have the slightest, earliest signs of “aches and pains” that we tend to associate with much older men might need guidance on how to take better care of themselves, even at middle age. They might need a referral for a nutrition consult, support for weight loss, a referral to a personal fitness trainer who “gets it” about older men, or a referral to a urologist or endocrinologist (MD’s) who treats sexual dysfunction like low libido, erectile difficulty, premature ejaculation, or delayed ejaculation (these have all been common topics for clients recently). My work with older gay men often incorporates discussions of the mind, body, and spirit, and putting together a combination of resources that help.
Craig also wanted help with how to navigate the dating and sex world socially. He didn’t feel as comfortable going to urban gay bars or clubs as he used to, and he was only partially interested in the gay apps like Grindr, Scruff, or the others (for an article on “sexting”, visit here). For him, meeting gay men could involve the websites or apps, but it also included meeting guys at gay film festivals, collectors conventions, fan events, outdoor sports areas (hiking) or charitable galas. One difference between older and younger gay men’s dating can be the setting where the relationships start. Improving your social life, whether for finding dates or platonic friends, takes some coaching because there can be issues around social anxiety, body image, self-confidence, being an introvert, coping with disabilities, and other variables that involve the mental, emotional, and sexual domains. But the rule of thumb I usually recommend is to “do what you like” in terms of hobbies or recreational activities, and then meet guys by extension of that activity. Usually, this involves charitable work, volunteerism, athletic events, arts events, political activities, pets/animals, or other hobbies. Sometimes a Google search researching activities can help, like “gay men’s tennis leagues” or “gay comics fans”, or events advertised in local gay publications, to start.
In general, older gay men tend to be more stable financially. They’ve often been building a career since their 20’s, after college, and by the time they are in their 40’s or 50’s, especially without the cost of raising children, they can be comfortable. For this reason, they can be “targeted” by younger gay men as being “sugar daddies” and objectified for their money, even if they are no longer objectified for their body (although it can be both, for younger guys who fetishize silver hair, “dad bod”, or other classic signs of the older man’s body). Just as younger gay men can be exploited for their youth and beauty, older gay men can be exploited as a walking ATM. The line between voluntarily being generous and feeling exploited can be thin, and it’s important to feel self-empowered on where that line is for you. I’ve helped older gay men clarify their values and their boundaries – some are fine “picking up the tab” for dinners out, vacations, or even shopping sprees with younger dates, and other older men want to only be with their financial peers who can split costs, to avoid feeling like they are “sponsoring” someone else. I’ve seen this go either way, and while I don’t think there is a “right or wrong” way to approach this, I do encourage older gay men to give this some thought, and to clarify their values on what feels right to them.
Dating and sex for older gay men can also be infused with a sense of meaning. What was important to us when we’re younger might change at a later stage of life, or after we have learned the lessons of a relationship that lasted many years. For Craig, learning to trust again after feeling betrayed by a long-term partner who left him will be a continuing challenge. Instead of building a life together at youth or early middle age, a relationship for an older gay man means forging a relationship that will likely take him into an older age, true seniorhood, and looking at how one can play for a healthy and robust lifestyle, even as a senior. It can be done, but unfortunately, there are not as many visible resources for senior gay men, but this might change as the American “baby-boomer” generation ages. I think the considerations and resources for senior gay men will only increase with these demographics, and there is a demand to meet the physical and psychosocial needs of this population. Gay men who are single and dating at late middle age now will need to consider this as they “evaluate” the men that they meet, and clarify what they want from new partners or spouses moving forward.
Working with older gay men can be especially rewarding for me as a gay men’s specialist therapist, because there aren’t all that many gay-affirmative therapists who can discuss how to write a gay app profile, how to learn to bottom comfortably, or how to find a doctor who prescribes Testosterone Replacement Therapy, or how to manage social anxiety in dating, all in the same session. If you are an older gay men who would like some support for these, or any topic related to getting “back in the game”, consider therapy or coaching for healthy aging in gay men. I offer sessions in my office in Los Angeles, or via phone, or via webcam (Skype) to guys in California or all over the world. It’s never too late to cultivate a robust social, dating, and sexual life as a proud gay man who has been around, but isn’t even close to being done yet.