Where are all the lonely gay men?
Updated: Jul 13
If loneliness is a modern epidemic,
where are all the lonely gay men?
We're supposedly to be in the grip of what's being described as a 'loneliness epidemic', but so few of us gay men exhibit outward signs that we've been infected. We carry on and project versions of ourselves that suggest that we've been inoculated; that we're immune.
Why is this?
Is it stigma? If we admit that we're lonely, do we fear that marks us as a failed human? Is it admitting defeat?
Is it hoping that the thoughts we're thinking and emotions we're feeling are anything but loneliness? And if it is, are we doing the typically-man thing and ignoring it and hope the thoughts and feelings go away?
Do we deny ourselves these thoughts and feelings because we should be happier in our lives? After all, we may have great jobs, a loving family and friends. We may have everything we ever dreamed of, but still feel like something’s missing.
Do we look for other reasons? 'Nah, it couldn't be loneliness' we think. 'I'm surrounded by people all the time!'
You may know that you’re lonely, but that no one else is or that no one understands. You're surrounded by people and you appear fine. You don't even know how to start a conversation with your friends about how you're feeling. All your friends appear fine, right? Inside, however, you feel like you're inhabiting a thin, fragile shell. The masks you wear keep the world from seeing how wretched you feel. Keeping those masks on requires more and more effort. You're exhausted.
Perhaps it's a mixture of everything. A little bit of this, a dusting of that. Whatever it is, let's get curious about loneliness and go exploring together.
Better yet, let's get curious together. I'll start: I'm Phil and I'm prone to feeling lonely at times. You knew that already. The website I've created spoils that surprise...
How to define loneliness?
How do you define loneliness? Is there a difference in your definition between loneliness and being alone?
It’s really difficult to get an easily-understood definition of loneliness, so I tend to go with one from Wikipedia. The line: ‘one who feels lonely, is lonely’ really speaks to me and I go with that.
But what does loneliness feel like?
I asked my friend Dr Dougal Sutherland from the School of Psychology at the Victoria University of Wellington this question for another blog I write. He wrote:
"Loneliness may well feel different for different people and therefore trying to describe it in print may be a somewhat fruitless task. We do know that loneliness is a negative feeling and, like many [or most] negative feelings, our first instinct is to try and avoid it. Keeping busy is a great way of avoiding emotions. So in order to discover what you’re truly feeling you need to stop, pause, and check-in with yourself."
Right. I see. Loneliness feels awful. It feels so awful that we often try to avoid the thoughts and feelings associated with loneliness.
There’s a clear cycle here.
We’re so busy being busy and trying hard to fill the hard-to-describe void within us. We don’t feel quite right, so we double down on what’s fulfilled us or made us feel good in the past: work, sex, exercise, drugs, alcohol, eating, gambling, shopping, travel. But the void remains no matter what we do. So we double down further on what used to make us feel good and wonder why it no longer works like it did before.
This is life on a hamster wheel. This was my life. This still IS my life sometimes. How about you?
I feel that Dr Dougal is on to something: the answer may be stopping and checking in with ourselves.
So, let’s do that: Could that hard-to-describe void you’re feeling within you and busily trying to fill be loneliness?
How does that realisation sit with you?
I get the impression that the act of reading these words that you strongly suspect (or even know) that you’re experiencing, or have experienced, loneliness.
Let’s dig a little deeper: What do you do to feel any kind of connection with others? What do you do to feel connected to where you are? Are you even connected to yourself anymore? Can you even connect with others beyond talking about ‘safe’ topics? Topics like current affairs, work, the weather, sex and sport? Are you quick to share EVERYTHING about yourself with the world? Or do you share absolutely nothing of yourself with anyone?
There’s a lot of big questions in this one, isn’t there?
While there is a social stigma and genuine fear around admitting that we’re lonely, we’re not alone as gay men experiencing loneliness. We simply need to open up and talk about it. I'm committed to de-stigmatising loneliness and being part of the global conversation about promoting real, authentic connection to self, to others and to our communities.
Care to join me?
Where to now?
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