Bette Davis used to say, "Getting older ain't for sissies."
Amen! Neither is dating at midlife — especially if you're a gay man.
Whether you're single again after the end of a long-term relationship or you've been around the block a few times still on the hunt for Mr. Right, gay dating isn't easy.
See also: Romancing on a budget.
But don't let that be your excuse for sitting home on Saturday night watching reruns of The Golden Girls.
These strategies can help you develop your inner explorer to make dating after 50 a little less daunting:
1. Confront your fears
You're never too old to find love, but that's not a message gay men hear very often. Why? After years of "working on ourselves" and fighting social prejudice to gain self-esteem, many of us struggle to keep it. The hurdle this time? The gay community's — OK, let's get real, mostly the gay male community's — ageism.
"Within the gay community, negative stereotypes reinforce the belief that gay relationships are based solely on physical attraction, and that once youth starts to fade, we are unlikely to have any real or lasting relationships," says Rik Isensee, author of Are You Ready? The Gay Man's Guide to Thriving at Midlife.
Worried you aren't good-looking enough anymore? Who'd want you when there's some 30-year-old hottie turning everyone's heads at the gym? Don't even let yourself go there. Focus instead on being your best self, no matter what your age. And remember that the most important characteristics — loyalty, humor, intelligence and compassion — are ageless.
If you think you're too old for love or you stopped believing that you can find someone to love who'll love you back, think again. Maybe you just stopped believing in the kind of naive love that you can only trust when you're young. But what about the deeper, more mature love that allows for the wide spectrum of experience and truth? That's where you should set your sights.
2. Embrace your new reality
For every 20-something entering the gay dating scene full of wide-eyed wonder, there's a 50-something (or a 60-, 70- or older-something) man back on the market after a relationship ends. One is learning the rules; the other has "been there, dated that" and wonders, "Now what?" It's daunting to consider starting over.
The truth is that you've earned your age. You really can own it. Focus on what you've gained — rich experiences, accomplishments, survivor skills and wisdom. Your next romantic partner will benefit from all of that, and from your passions for the life that's in front of you.
Give up wishing you could turn back time. Give up trying to be perfect, too, especially if that's a code word for "young." Yes, it's important to take care of your body and your health, but no need to obsess. Instead of trying to be 25 again, get comfortable in your skin. Feel good about your body. That way, when someone touches you, they'll really feel you, and not a bundle of self-critical tension. Think more about keeping a sparkle in your eyes and less on fighting the fine lines around them.
3. Pick your meet 'n' greet venues wisely
Does walking into a gay bar make you feel more out of place than Lady Gaga shopping for clothes at a mall?
Yes, it's true that the Olympic-sized pool of dating prospects you swam in years ago seems like a lap lane when you reach your 50s. So the best bet is to cast a wider net. Get off of the sideline and get involved in your passions and interests. For example, if you like the outdoors, join a gay hiking or walking group, and meet men while you get fresh air and exercise. Focus on smaller parties, events centered on hobbies and interests, and volunteer opportunities. And, if you haven't already, try online dating, which is bringing new hope to those of us who don't have a ton of time or want to hang out at bars.
Check out sites such as Match.com that can help you find long-term relationships versus flings or hookups. Then create a profile that reflects who are you, what you want and includes recent photos. Don't post the online profile of Dorian Gray by showing off your shiny youth. When it comes to truth in advertising, it's one thing to shave a couple of years off. It's another to leave out an entire decade! If you want a real relationship, then be real. Lying raises a serious red flag. Your date will wonder, "If he's not honest about his age, what other lies is he telling?"
4. Be self-aware, not rigid
One advantage of age is self-awareness. When you know yourself better, you can quickly size up what you want in someone else. Maybe you're more careful about first dates and immediately nix a pointless second night out. You're quick to assess if your date wants the same level of relationship as you, whether that's casual or committed. You recognize dysfunction and mismatches faster now than you did when you were younger.
But that doesn't mean you should be rigid and inflexible. Keep an open mind and try to expand your horizons. Chat with a guy who isn't your "type" and stretch your boundaries. And so what if he doesn't immediately strike you as hot and sexy? Now it might be comforting to find a partner who can relate to your experiences and your outlook, and has the same pop culture references you do.
It's also a good idea to ask your closest friends for regular feedback (yes, ask them to give you input on your actions and choices), so you don't get stuck in your ways.
5. Realize you can be single and happy
Hey, you don't have to tell me it's tough being gay, single and over 50. It's not like gay subculture has given us lots of happily dating, older gay male role models. With all the focus on marriage equality these days, it's easy for gay men to think that being single and happy is an oxymoron.
There's more focus on getting into a committed relationship than there is on making sure it's the right one. The truth is that sometimes when you want a relationship so badly, you draft the first reasonable candidate. Or you're miserable because there's no prospect on the horizon. Neither is a good option.
Don't settle for anything less than chemistry, shared values/lifestyle/goals, trust, and a growing and abiding friendship.
Especially at this stage of life, why would you want a relationship that doesn't bring you happiness? I can think of something far worse than being single, gay and older. Being coupled, gay and unhappy.
Dave Singleton works for AARP Publications and has written two books and numerous columns on dating and relationships.
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