I see 5 common symptoms of gay loneliness.
Do you have any of them?
You don’t seek out and then read articles about loneliness as a gay or queer man unless you’ve come to the realisation that you’re lonely. The stigma and shame you feel is real, and it takes a lot of courage to even engage with the subject.
I’m proud of you for opening this article. I recognise and admire your courage. Now that you’re here, let’s start getting you connected to yourself, those most important to you and to your community.
This article was written and published on Ngunnawal country. I wish to acknowledge and respect the Ngunnawal people’s continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of Canberra and the surrounding region. I would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – and other First Nations people - who may read these words.
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Some of my favourite shows growing up were medical dramas. There was ER, House and – if you’re Australian of a certain age – A Country Practice.
The good doctors in those shows all had the ability to look at the patient holistically and diagnose the real cause of their malady by looking beyond the immediate symptoms.
I find myself doing the same thing with loneliness. I see the symptoms and begin to ask questions to see what the root cause may be. I often find that addressing the root cause – in this case, loneliness – tends to quickly clear up the other symptoms.
I notice that there are five common symptoms. Perhaps you may have one or more of these symptoms. Perhaps the root cause underlying these symptoms and behaviours is your loneliness and need for authentic connection.
A disclaimer: I’m not a clinician, a physician or a psychologist. The purpose of these words is to inform and inspire you rather than diagnose you.
Besides, loneliness often doesn’t need a diagnosis. If you feel lonely, you are lonely. The beautiful thing about loneliness is that you most often don’t need to see a doctor to get a prescription for the antidote to loneliness. You can self-generate and self-administer the authentic connection you need.
1. Mr High Achiever
Dr Alan Downs describes this symptom in his book The Velvet Rage. It’s when a gay man seeks to prove his worth and worthiness through pursuing success in his chosen field.
Mr High Achiever often starts down this path in school, where the quest for acceptance and only seeking positive judgement starts by getting good grades, sporting accolades or other awards for being awesome. This continues to university and then into the workplace.
Outside of the workplace, classroom and lecture theatre, the chosen field where Mr High Achiever seeks to prove his worth and worthiness can be in community work, within his own body or other places.
While this symptom has some positive side effects, the Mr High Achiever can learn that no amount of success and praise silences the judgement within.
However, because high achievement and perfectionism is one of the only ways he knows how to find his worth and worthiness, Mr High Achiever feels that there’s no other option but to persist with ever more success. He becomes tired and scared that if he’s not perfect, he’s unworthy of love and belonging and the people around him only love him/respect him/fear him/see him because of his successes and achievements.
This is one of my symptoms, by the way…
Mr High Achiever’s loneliness begins to shift when he allows himself to be human and learns that he’s worthy of love and belonging precisely because he’s human, not because he’s perfect and has had success and achievement.
2. Mr Nice Guy
Mr Nice Guy is the first person to volunteer to drive someone to the airport, even if they only met the person a few moments earlier. He’s the first to offer to help someone move house, do their taxes and change smoke alarm batteries.
We gay men often grow up as the living embodiment of the adage: The only way to have a friend is to be a friend.
And what amazing friends Mr Nice Guys are. He’s always there when needed.
Mr Nice Guys can form when the gay man resolved sometime in his youth to protect himself from judgement for being different by being the nicest person who was friends with everyone. He avoids conflict at all costs.
No one can hate the person who’s the nicest guy ever, right?
That may be so, but in avoiding conflict externally, he’s often at war within himself. No amount of external niceness silences the hateful internal judgement.
And while Mr Nice Guy presents in a most lovely and appealing way, the truth is that he’s a cunning social manipulator.
He enters others into unspoken social contracts whereby the other party is somehow bound into being a friend based on Mr Nice Guy being a friend first.
Mr Nice Guy is crushed whenever someone doesn’t abide by their social contract. However, he’d rarely express his disappointment and chooses to suppress it instead. Mr Nice Guy then resolves to show up in an even more friendly way in the hope/expectation that the connection is reciprocated.
Mr Nice Guy’s loneliness comes to his attention because of the disappointment and exhaustion he feels from all the effort to show up for others. However, he doesn’t feel worthy of allowing others to show up for him.
Mr Nice Guy’s loneliness shifts when he resolves to know his values and creates and communicates boundaries based off those values. He often resists setting and communicating these boundaries out of fear that he’ll be perceived as an asshole if he’s anything but eternally friendly and pleasant. That’s got to have hit some of you in the guts [continued below].
3. Mr Organiser
Every social group, family and workplace has an organiser. Mr Organiser is the person who makes shit happen. He’s the one who organises the dinners, the parties, the trips away.
Mr Organiser often presents as the social butterfly or the Mama Bear. He knows what’s going on. He’s got a group of friends who he protects and defends. He’s loyal and loving when you’re in the fold.
Mr Organiser does his thing because he’s terrified of being left out.
He’s guaranteed to be invited if he organises the social event. Mr Organiser often keeps ‘his people’ close so he can be the first to know if he’s being judged and falling short. Each organiser I support has clear memories of times when he wasn’t included in social activities in his youth. His response to this trauma is to ensure that it never happens again.
Mr Organiser’s loneliness often comes to his attention when he learns that things have been happening that haven’t included him. Sometimes this may have been a deliberate exclusion or an accidental oversight. Either way, Mr Organiser is crushed and has concluded that he’s still unworthy of love and belonging. He’s often said or done something that’s upset someone he loves because he’s responded from that place of hurt.
The Organiser’s loneliness shifts when he learns that he cannot control the words, thoughts and actions of others.
4. The Grump
It’s easy to see The Grump’s loneliness. The Grump will often be the first to admit it, too.
The Grump can be grumpy in many different environments. He’s quick to point out flaws during in-person social interactions (when he has them). He often is the keyboard warrior in LGBTIQA+ spaces online who expresses his dissatisfaction with the current topic or the general state of the world.
The Grump wants you to stay away. But The Grump also wants you to move past the prickles and stay. His grumpiness is a kind of test. If you can withstand him at his worse and still stay, he’ll generally open up to you.
The Grump’s loneliness is akin to him living on an island. The island is his protection. He spends his time alone on his island constantly bemoaning how no one sees him, visits him or includes him. However, when he sees a ship on the horizon and sees that it’s coming his way, he fires cannons at it to protect himself and his island. He keeps firing at the ship until it turns around, at which time The Grump continues bemoaning how no one sees him, visits him or includes him.
The loneliness island is The Grump’s place of comfortable misery. He created that island in response to something that deeply upset him: social exclusion, a sudden break-up or perhaps the death of someone he loved dearly.
The Grump’s loneliness shifts when he bravely and courageously begins to allow visitors to his island. This is a tough for him to do, because he’s terrified of being hurt again.
5. Mr Itchy Feet
Mr Itchy Feet is perpetually looking for what’s next. He’s often also looking for who’s next.
Mr Itchy Feet is non-committal. He’s flakey. He won’t give you a definite answer until he knows that there’s no better offer coming.
You know Mr Itchy Feet soon after beginning a conversation with him. He’s looking around you when talking to you to see who else he can talk to. He’s the guy on Grindr who’s chatting with dozens of guys at once to see who’s best to exchange bodily fluids with.
Mr Itchy Feet doesn’t hold down jobs for long. He doesn’t stay in relationships for long, either. He travels to – or possibly relocates to – new cities, states, countries often.
Mr Itchy Feet is keen to be seen and heard doing the right things at the right places with the right people.
Mr Itchy Feet's loneliness is hard to see at first. He barely sticks around long enough for you to see it.
Mr Itchy Feet is terrified of being seen and being heard for who he fears he is. He moves on when he feels too seen and too understood. He fears that if you see him for who he is behind the carefully constructed masks he wears, you’ll judge him and he won’t be found worthy.
This fear fuels Mr Itchy Feet’s loneliness. He desperately wants to be seen and heard so he feels that he belongs, but desperately avoids being seen and heard. As a result, he never feels that he belongs but is on a constant quest for belonging.
Mr Itchy Feet’s loneliness can shift when he begins to take off his masks and allows himself – and a few others – to see him for the awesomely and beautifully flawed human he is.
Any of these familiar to you?
Did you recognise yourself in any, some or all of these?
Of course, the symptoms of loneliness are as unique as the person experiencing them. However, these are what I most often encounter in my work with gay men experiencing loneliness who want to feel authentically connected.
Did you notice anything?
Did you notice that these symptoms are often generated as a response you have to something traumatic from your past?
Your behaviours were formed in response to this upsetting event – or events – and kept you safe. In that way, each of the symptoms has a clear benefit. However, they each have a very real cost in that they can feed your loneliness when they’re the only way you know how to relate with yourself and others.
Your choice now
My words may have made you aware of how your behaviours can be a symptom of your loneliness. Your choice now is what you do with that awareness. Do you get curious and explore them further with me or anyone else in your life? Or do you file that away as something interesting and continue on in your current mode?
You’re making a choice either way, with one choice feeding authentic connection and another feeding your loneliness.
What do you choose to feed?
Thank you for reading.
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I’m right here for you when you’re ready to grow and evolve and feed your connection. I’m right here and I’d love to support you.
Check out my services page when you’re ready for my support and guidance.
I’ll also have a coffee and a chat with you on this topic for the next episode of my podcast.
Please, join me from Saturday 11 February 2023 for 5 symptoms of loneliness.
Important notice: All views expressed above are my own/the authors and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Services page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.