According to a recent survey by AARP, more gay men over the age of 45 are single than are in a relationship. Well, slap my ass and call me Nancy because every time I look around I feel that I see a sea of coupled men and just a few single older dudes, like me.
Then again, when I think about it, virtually every straight guy I know over 45 is partnered and many of my gay friends are single. Taking that admitted subjectivity into consideration, it’s a topic worth pondering.
I racked my brain and took it to the streets—so to speak—and here are some of the reasons that surfaced, from my own experience and coupled and uncoupled friends alike.
1. The AIDS pandemic
Many men my age and older lost loved ones to AIDS, and have consciously decided not to couple up again. Or don’t have the strength to open themselves up to such pain again. When I asked one friend why he was single, he said, bluntly, “my soul mates are all dead,” and left it at that. The heartache, the grief, the years of caregiving take their toll, and, tragically, many of us are war widows. The AIDS factor is crucial in understanding the lives and lifestyles of gay men who’ve survived and should never be underscored in any poll or statistic.
2. Been there, done that, grew out of the T-shirt
Once you reach a certain age, you’re more likely to know what you want and don’t want in a relationship. In your twenties, those mistakes are almost fun—especially when he’s hot!—but age translates to less patience. I think I speak for many when I say that I can tell after about an hour if the relationship has a chance (I jest, of course, it’s usually after about five minutes), and it’s not worth spending a chunk of your life living with the hope that you’ll learn to fall in love.
This is especially true with those guys who are perfect on paper—right looks, job, age, friends—but underneath aren’t a good fit. They don’t share your core values and beliefs and often make you feel more lonely than you did when you were alone. There was a time when I’d see those guys and jump right in. Now I find that goosebumps are a much stronger sign of compatibility than whether or not we both like Cher.
3. The times they are a-changin’
It’s easy to forget, what with gay marriage and gay rights and gay characters on TV and film, that there was a time, not so long ago, that long-term relationships weren’t at the front of everyone’s agenda. AIDS factors into this equation, but so does our upbringing.
No one asked me if I was going to get married to a man when I was a kid, and coupled gay role models didn’t exist. The few older gay men I knew were of the generation that often shunned monogamy and serious relationships, and those “institutions” linger. Whether subconsciously or not, many of us still view our lives as isolated and meant to be spent alone. Add the closeted men who came out late, and you’ve got one more group more apt to be alone.
When you’re straight, you are taught from a young age that you will grow up, fall in love, get married, have children, and buy a house. When you grow up gay in, say, the 70’s, you learn that your life is about survival. The over-45 club knows better than anyone that relationships are icing on the aging cake.
4. We’re born this wrong way.
There’s also a theory going around—mostly from coupled folk—that older guys who aren’t in relationships are simply asking for too much. They’re either too idealistic, hoping Prince Charming is still out there, or so set in their ways they aren’t going to budge an inch for anyone. Yet, there they are, day after day, wondering why they’re all alone for yet another New Year’s Eve.
There’s truth to this notion, although it’s often confused with another concept—that single guys are single because they refuse to settle. Some men are always coupled, and it’s just as easy to make the argument that they are unhappy with themselves unless defined by an else as it is that their single counterparts are too fussy. Both concepts are at play.
5. We’re happy this way
Many people find this hard to believe but some guys over 45 prefer to be single. And, unlike the straight world, going solo doesn’t have a lot of stigmas attached—it exists in both worlds, but less so in gay life.
The reasons are varied: A lot of guys I know have been through a couple of painful relationships and no longer have any interest in the work that comes with a partner. Many men over 45 have a well-established business and social life and don’t feel the need to add a husband to the equation. Lots of guys don’t want children and find marriage to be an outdated hetero institution.
Some guys prefer to have multiple partners without guilt, finding that you can get your needs better met by a combination of friends, family, and friends with benefits and tricks. So they just haven’t found the open-relationship strategy as appealing. Add hook-up apps to the mix, and sex has never been more accessible. Now, give us Netflix and get off our lawn!
Furthermore, studies show that coupling, especially different-sex coupling, is based on economics. Households benefit from two incomes, after all. But for men who are doing perfectly well financially on their own–maybe they have a high income, maybe they bought a house a long time ago when it was affordable, maybe they live in a rent-controlled apartment–that extra motivation is just not there.
As for me, well, sure, I’d like Prince Charming to come along. But I’d rather be single than have him be like the last one—a two-dimensional cartoon character that was so crazy he seemed like a piece of fiction…or at least a piece of work.