‘I’m a gay man in my 40s who is not single by choice’

Tell me about it: His relationship ended and he wants marriage and a family

PROBLEM: I am a gay man in my 40s. Just recently, my partner of four years left me. It’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had, though I’ve been in a few relationships over the past 20 years. This, along with everything that’s been going on in the world, has left me without any appetite for life.

A lot of my friends have gotten married and started a family in the last decade and I’m jealous; these are things I want for myself. But these are things that I think and fear I may never have. And I’m not that interested in work or travel or any of those other things that can fill a life.

My question is how can I start to find meaning and purpose as a single person who isn’t single by choice? And what do I do with my desire for companionship and my desire to take care of someone/something?

ADVICE: You are going through heartache and loss and of course this means experiencing loneliness and sadness, so the first thing is to know is that this is a very normal human response to a huge event, especially as your values are clearly centred on relationship and family. While it is very natural to feel pessimistic about future possibilities, the fact is that you have had a four-year relationship, and this shows you can you engage in a serious relationship with the capacity to persevere through the ups and downs that ensue. In other words, the outlook is positive for any future relationships you might have.

In the meantime, you ask a good question about finding purpose and happiness as a single person. We know from statistics that more and more of us are going to spend significant parts of our lives as singles and so this question has implications for many of us. We all need to have something we care about in our lives and this varies enormously from person to person – in your situation you have a strong desire to care for someone/something so investigating how this need can be met is an important step for you. The list of needs is very long and ranges from fostering possibilities to helping out with voluntary bodies. Engaging in something like this will have the added bonus of taking your mind off your sadness and loss while also connecting you with other people who are caring and responsive.

If you find that your mind is very caught up in negative thinking, you might consider training it to stay in the present through mindfulness classes, meditation groups or martial arts. There is a lot of evidence to show that these activities contribute hugely to an overall sense of wellbeing and a sense of contentment in the world (Maureen Gaffney’s book Flourishing is excellent on detailing the myriad of ways we can find peace and pleasure in our lives).

As you become more connected and less hopeless, your sense of confidence will return and there is nothing more attractive to a potential partner than someone happy to be in their own skin and fully present in the moment. Your judgement should also improve with contentment and so your choice of a new partner might be more fitting for you in the long term.

No intimate or romantic relationship can happen without taking some risk and when we have been hurt or let down, we are often slow to put ourselves up for further rejection. However, if you do not do this, you are not honouring your core values and it will probably niggle you for a long time that you have not tried harder.

There are many gay men who want what you want (lifetime commitment and family) and the need is to find a way of connecting with these possible partners. Simply typing this desire into a search engine will return up a number of options. It takes effort to make new friendships and/or new relationships and if you are motivated enough to stick with it these efforts usually pay off. It helps if you have someone who does this journey with you so if you have a friend or relation, who you could keep updated on your progress it will help you stay on track when you have setbacks.

Right now, you are suffering the disappointment and loss of something you had huge investment in and it is going to take time to recover. Allow yourself more time than you think (we demand that people get “back on the horse” much too early), take comfort from small things such as walks, movies and spending time with close friends or family. Then when you have the energy and motivation, demand what you need from life and take the steps to make that happen, knowing that setbacks are normal and inevitable.

You are right that you have a lot to give, make sure the recipients fit with your values and don’t be afraid to reach out for what you want.