Thursday, June 18, 2009

Email from a gay guy who wants to 'find himself'

Last week, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

I have been a regular reader of your blog for about 2 years now and have been meaning to write and ask for your advice for quite some time. But, as is ever the way, I have always had 'something else to do' i.e. avoid confronting the issue that I want to ask about. I really like your impartial, non-judgmental advice which helps people to find a way out of whatever their problem may be, without prescribing a fixed course of action.

So what's the issue? Well it is this: I would love to find a boyfriend, The One (TM), if you see what I mean. (This was what I initially wrote but as I re-read, what I actually want is to find myself first as I think this is necessary before finding a bf - see below).

I suppose you need some context now, so I will try and provide it here in a nutshell. I am a 34 year old guy who is fully out, not in a flag-waving way, but out to family, friends and colleagues. They are all OK with that (except, perhaps, my father but that's par for the course I think) and so am I. I am pretty successful at what I do as a Financial Controller for a media firm based in Central London and I enjoy it. So far, so good. I am member of a gay sport club in London and really enjoy that for the people that I have met there and also the occasional activities as you call them! I keep myself in good shape - I ran the London Marathon this year for the 3rd time - and have also been told that I am fairly good looking.

In terms of relationships, I was with my last (and only long term) partner for about 3.5 yrs - we split up 2.5 yrs ago and nothing remotely serious since. So I think that most of the boxes have been ticked from any initial questions that you may have.

So why the lack of a significant other?

The answer in all truth is that deep down I don't think I am that interesting and if I was to meet someone nice it would be a complete fluke rather than me being a genuinely nice guy who deserves to meet someone special. I am also really bad at having friends with whom I make an emotional connection (but I do have a broad circle of friends so am not a loner).

So to sum it up, really it is a case of low self-esteem. But due to a public school education and unemotional parents, I am now so adept at covering things up that I am becoming further and further removed from my emotions.

When I first moved up to London after university I masked these feelings of insecurity through going out and taking drugs and drinking; not to the point of having a serious problem but have now moved onto exercise as the come-downs weren't worth the highs. In my mind therefore, in order to find a boyfriend, I need first to learn to like myself. So really the question is that - how do I get to like myself as I am, GB?

If you say that I should seek therapy then I agree with that but how does one go about finding a decent/trustworthy therapist? Do you have any specific recommendations? That said, it feels rather self indulgent to seek therapy when there is nothing really wrong. I think it would be fair to say that from the point of view of an outsider looking in, my life is pretty good. I don't have £40k to spank on new clothes every season (as per the 'crise existentielle'), but I am not on the bread-line by any means. So how do I get rid of this annoying feeling of slight emptiness and lack of emotional connections with those around me????

I have just re-read this and it seems rather rambling and self-indulgent but I hope that you will get a sense of my situation and what I am asking you.

Basically, I want to like myself, and I know that I have everything in place that means my life is fine so why can't I just get on with things and enjoy them. Is it mild depression? What are the concrete steps that I can take to resolve the situation?

When I received this email, I sent the guy a quick reply with a suggestion for a therapist in case he wants to do down that route, however I'm not sure that it's the best course of action.

Before addressing the main issue, the reader mentions the concept of "The One", and it's worth saying that I think this idea is a bit dangerous. If "The One" just means one's current boyfriend then that's fine, but if it means that there's just one guy out there somewhere and who's the perfect match then I strongly disagree with the concept. For that reason I was worried when ex-Boyfriend P used to use the term, but when he helped me respond to a "Dear GB" email last year, I was relieved because he qualified it by saying "there are many The Ones coming into our lives".

Instead of "The One", I reckon looking for a boyfriend is more like shopping for clothes. There's a huge selection of clothes in the shops that fit us, and even when one filters out all the clothes that don't suit our style, there's still lots left. Often one can't find exactly what one's looking for so one settles for something that's close enough, and shortly afterwards it might become one's favourite after all. Similarly an item might seem perfect in the shop, but when one gets it home one might notice flaws, or perhaps it'll wear out much too quickly! The point is that there are many clothes that could work for us, and I think it's the same with boyfriends :-). The important thing is to choose something to wear and try it out, rather than engaging in an endless search for the perfect item.

Regarding the reader's main issue, I think he's right that he needs to like himself and be comfortable in his own skin before it's sensible to look for a boyfriend. In which case, for building self-esteem, since he seems settled in most aspects of his life I can think of no better way of doing this than finding ways to help other people somehow. Since he's a marathon runner perhaps he already raises lots of money for charity through sponsorship, however if not perhaps he should be doing that.

Another idea would be to give up some of his time to do charity work. One possibility would be to do some work for London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, which I believe is always looking for new volunteers. However, there are many different charities that need volunteers, including other gay oriented ones as well as many more charities that don't have anything to do with sexual orientation. Of course, the catch is that this won't solve his problem unless he does it because he really wants to help others. If it's in the back of his mind that he's only doing it to help build his self-esteem, then his true selfish motive could doom the project to failure.

Do any other readers have any ideas for this guy?


Anonymous said...

As with all of these posts, I want to ask more questions: why hasn't he had a relationship in 2.5 years? Because he's rejected other guys? Or they've rejected him? Or is it just that he doesn't believe it can happen? What is it that he doesn't like about himself?

I wonder if he is trying too hard or setting himself impossible goals. He sounds like a nice, self-aware, intelligent guy with enthusiasms. I'm not sure that you have to "like" yourself (whatever that means) in order to find a special guy: what is more important is that you should like each other. I don't think my partner "likes himself" and he has a pretty strong inferiority complex. I love him to bits in spite of it (perhaps even because of it).

I don't think that doing good works will make him like himself better for the very reason that you give - it smacks of trying too hard. But I do wonder if there are other interests that he could develop if the sports don't give him enough. Is there something he's always wanted to do? It helps in an LTR if you have some interests that you can share and it also takes your mind off thinking about finding someone.

I don't think that there's a fool-proof way of finding a boyfriend. Long term relationships don't come easily (I like your shopping analogy but some of us are significantly more choosy than others). It may help to think about how you come across to other guys. Do you talk too much or too little? Do you come on too heavily or appear too distant? Are you interested in them? And don't assume you're uninteresting or try too hard. Ultimately, however, it'll happen assuming that you actually go out looking for them and meet them half way. If you make some moves to nice guys who you like as well as fancy, you'll probably find a few who return the favour. One of those may just turn out to be the one.

Anonymous said...

He could serach for a gay therpaist through the pink therapy directory.

This is an independent list of gay lesbian and bisexual therapists in the UK. Alternativly he may search the BACP website, for a more comprehensive list of qualified therapists

my personal recomendation would be to try to find someone through the pink directory as it can be easier to talk to someone from the same reference.

Good Luck x

John F said...

One thing in particular jumped out at me when reading this:

"That said, it feels rather self indulgent to seek therapy when there is nothing really wrong."

To me, it seems that this is indiciative of the core problem of your reader. He doesn't value himself enough to believe that something is wrong and that he's worth fixing it; that in itself is the problem.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in gay males in particular. Thankfully this reader has the self-awareness to acknowledge that for him, drink, drugs and promiscuity are not the solution to his problems.

I can relate with this gentleman's situation, having seen my self-esteem take a battering after a particularly unpleasant breakup and undergoing several months of (very useful) psychotherapy. I learned several valuable lessons and hopefully they can help him as well.

Sir: first of all, you are NOT boring. You are eloquent, erudite, in touch with your emotions, self-aware and articulate. I think on some level you realise this, but because of your upbringing and schooling you are afraid to acknowledge it because you feel it would be selfish and perhaps arrogant. The truth is: it's not. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about yourself and your accomplishments. For instance, you ran three marathons - that's a fantastic achievement! You have the right to feel good about yourself and proud of your accomplishments.

Second of all, depression can be addictive. Be careful. Making yourself feel bad can feel (temporarily) good, but ultimately can corrode your soul. That's a very self-destructive cycle to be trapped in. But don't worry - it's not irreversible! You can get out of the habit of thinking bad things about yourself right now and with practice it can become a habit.

I do think you suffer from depression. I think you are looking for someone to validate your existence and to approve of you and tell you that you're worthwhile and important and valuable. My recommendation would be to allow these feelings to come from within. Don't be shy about feeling good about yourself.

And most importantly, don't forget: when you're afraid that you're being boring, it's usually because you're bored. You don't have a responsibility to entertain anyone, nor to get down on yourself if you should feel like you're not. Self-confidence is one of the most positive attributes I know.

Hang in there, and please update us on your status and your thoughts.

John x

John F said...

Let me just add (I am British but not English): there is a tendency of people - especially English - who grew up in this country to put themselves down, and to feel like they are being arrogant or "up themselves" if they are anything else. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pay attention to your own language sometime and see how many times you might be putting yourself down without realising it. (This language will also be absorbed unconsciously by those around you and they will see you as someone who doesn't think highly of himself.) Try to replace all "self-deprecating" phrases by neutral phrases and see how big of a difference that actually makes to your self-esteem. I believe it will be immense, and in short order.

I am going to a friend's B-Day barbeque tonight. She is very self-conscious about the fact that not too many people are attending because she mentioned it in the subject line of the email and several times throughout the text ("Don't judge me by my lack of friends," etc.). This made my heart break for her; she's a beautiful, charming and lovely person who has the misfortune of having a birthday on a Friday in June when lots of people are traveling, etc. Yet she aims low and that's what she ends up with. I do hope to subtly remind her tonight that you can have much more fun with a party of two or three than a party of fifteen or twenty. But from her language, you would think she doesn't believe it. Very sad. :(

Hang in there.

Fuel Mix said...

Er... dude just what IS wrong with looking for 'The One" - other than the fact that you disagree? Has it occurred to you that the bloke who wrote in might actually be looking for someone for the long term? It might actually be called "monogamy" - currently an obscenity in the culture of the urban fag.

Rather than therapy, the bloke would be better off saving his money, getting quiet and thinking about his Values when it comes to defining a relationship. In other words, exactly what his he looking for in "The One". List it out from the ground up - then go out there, socialize, schmooze and examine the fags that come his way.

One of the pathetic and sordid things about fag culture is the utterly transient nature of everything that purportedly defines "gay culture".

The bloke who wrote in should be congratulated for implicitly taking a long term view. There's nothing wrong with his self-esteem and manning the phones at a gay charity isn't gonna help his case.

Clarity will.

badman said...

I never thought I would find the one until I did.

Believe me, it was nothing like shopping. It was more like an illness, something you catch without meaning to, something overwhelming, involuntary, disorientating; a form of madness, something felt physically. It's called falling in love.

It happened to me when I was 33. It came as a total surprise and 15 years on we are still together.

I'm not saying that everyone finds the one but quite a lot of people do and he is well worth looking for, or even waiting for. Sure, have some fun along the way, while you're waiting. But don't think that it can't happen, or won't happen.

Because one day, perhaps, it will.

Anonymous said...

Seeing a psychologist is an option worth considering. Bear in mind that psychologists help everyday people who are going through a rough patch. You mentioned feeling self-indulgent because nothing is really wrong - if nothing was really wrong you wouldn't feel the way you feel and have written in to GB. In saying that, be happy that you do seem to have life working out for you on many levels :)

I'm going to pass on comments re your search for a partner because you can't love someone until you love yourself. You seem to have acknowledged this by noting that your primary mission is to find yourself. I'm not entirely sure why GB listed volunteering with charities as an option to building self-esteem though he did appropriately qualify that by saying it only works if you have a desire to help others. The actions you take need to be a result of some fairly deep self reflection. You need to ask yourself some questions and answer them as honestly as you can to paint a picture of you and enable you to some degree to understand how you feel. An example is "what you would like to do in life". There are many aspects to this being your primary career, your other activities, and more but your answer will help you work out if what you are currently doing resonates with your goals. An example would be if one of your strong desires was to motivate young people - then if that is not something your primary career allowed you to do, you could fill the gap by participating in an activity that did.

There are many other questions (what qualities do I like in other people, what activities do I enjoy (I'm guessing running marathons will make the list)) and the best part is that you know most of the answers because it is all about you. In saying this, I operate off the logic that if you are doing the things you want to and enjoy, a degree of happiness is natural which ultimately leads to a happier, more confident and wholesome you. There are times when you can be doing all those things but not be able to see it because one judges themselves far too harshly (perhaps the friend in the post before with the birthday invites was a case in point). If this is the case, I still think one has to go back to the same questions and work towards and work on telling yourself that your self criticisms are wrong because of this, this and this. Undertaking self-reflection is a difficult task and it has to be done properly and with care to get the most from it. I recommend visiting a therapist for a couple of sessions - if you feel it is not working for you maybe you could try someone else or go it alone for a bit.

I agree with the posts above in that you're writing reflects an intelligent, self-aware man, with a range of interests. Don't let the fact there are some things about your life that you would like to change cloud that.

GaySocrates said...

It is amazing how powerful thoughts can be in affecting your reality. A lot of people have suggested seeing a psychologist but the idea of sitting down and getting in touch with your emotions with a stranger may seem like your own worst nightmare. I'm also picking up some ambivalence about seeking help-maybe because of self esteem issues?
For those not ready for the big plunge into therapy there's a useful technique developed by Byron Katie-check out the website The Work.
I think it's very clever because it gives you a chance to do a bit of therapy on yourself if you're prepared to play around with your thoughts.
The technique helps you to challenge unhelpful thoughts/beliefs/attitudes.
Everyone seems to agree that the evidence from your email suggests that you aren't boring but for some reason you have come to believe that you are! By repeating and rehearsing it in your mind you can then create a self-fulfilling prophesy about yourself. 'I think I'm boring therefore I am...'
So can you focus on this attitude about yourself and ask yourself the following questions.
1 Is this thing I believe about myself true?
You might want to scribble down a page of response to that question
2 Can I absolutely know that it's true?
Write another page
3 How do I react, what happens when I believe that thought?
And another
4 Who would I be without that thought?
And another
The final bit of the technique is to turn around the statement and find three specific examples of the reversed statement ie. the opposites of 'nobody finds me interesting because I'm boring' can become
somebody finds me interesting.....
everybody find me interesting,,,,
I'm not boring.....
I find everybody boring..... etc
I like GBs analogy with finding a boyfriend and clothes shopping-you can try out lots of stuff but you eventually end up wearing gear that you really love. There's also a similarity between shopping for clothes and beliefs about yourself. You can shop around and try lots of different attitudes towards yourself on for size. If you're wearing stuff that makes you feel totally miserable when you look at yourself in the mirror -it's time to get a new wardrobe and allow yourself the chance to see yourself in a completely different light. You just have to be brave enough to take someone shopping and be open to their advice about what might suit you!

GaySocrates said...

Oh-and just to say I blogged on the subject of Your Wardrobe of Self-Related Beliefs in my blog today-if you want to check it out

Rick Modien said...

There is no better way to find "the one" than to work on yourself first. Low self-esteem often translates to "I'm desperate," and no one wants to be with a needy, old queen (not saying that's what you are).

I don't think anyone should feel that unless he spends thousands and thousands of dollars (or pounds) on therapy, he doesn't have a chance of improving his self-esteem and readying himself for "the one." There are other ways of getting yourself together, such as reading self-help books, journaling through your issues, and sharing with trusted family and friends. But, in the end, you can only change by wanting to more than anything else, by truly believing in your own self-worth, and by taking small baby steps in that direction.

Also, don't think for a moment you ever get to a place of having healthy self-esteem, and there's no further work to do. That's just deluding yourself. In some respects, you'll have low, or poor, self-esteem for the rest of your life, and it will present itself at the strangest times.

I'll be fifty years old this fall, I met "the one" in my life in 1992, and we're still together after seventeen years, in a completely monogamous relationship, and I still have self-esteem issues, which prompted me to seek counseling earlier this year. You can't believe what comes out of these sessions when trust is built between you and your family counsellor, and when you spill your guts. I cried uncontrollably sometimes and felt cleansed and refreshed afterward. I also learned a lot about myself and received valuable advice of how to change the things in my life that caused me the most anguish.

Finally, I don't believe you can actively go looking for "the one." I believe the right person will enter your life when it's meant to happen. As cliche as that sounds, it's absolutely true.

In the meantime, work on loving yourself first, live your life fully and vibrantly, and prepare for how beautiful and wonderful being with "the one" really will be. Believe me, it it is.

I've created a blog about my relationship called Check it out. Perhaps you'll find something there that will be helpful.

Mercutio said...

I agree with many of the comments and suggestions already mentioned here, but also wonder if you might not benefit from cultivating a few new interests. You don't really mention any apart from sport.

One of the best ways of meeting people is through interests, either because you're both involved or when you meet through other circumstances you have something in common. When we meet a new person we often end up talking about our interests and what engages us about a new friend is often a bit of common ground (plus that special sympathy) so that we want to see that person again. I'm sure that you can talk about running with other marathon enthusiasts, but maybe you could broaden your possibilities.

And when we are sharing our lives with someone, shared interests are one of the greatest sources of pleasure and bring us together in other ways, not least just sharing time together.

I'm not saying that you have to invent an interest in art, cinema, vintage cars, or whatever, just to discover or dig out those genuine interests, enthusiasms and curiosity. (Working as a volunteer would count as well, as long as that is you.)