At first sight, one would think that living as a straight, religious married man would involve much less loneliness than being a divorced, single, gay heathen. Not true in my case.
Personally, my almost 11 years of marriage and 38 years of religious faithfulness involved far more loneliness than I’ve experienced in the last 10 years all by myself in the wilderness.
I am alone right now writing this blog but I’m not lonely. It’s not my weekend with my 4 kids. I’d much rather be with them but I had my favorite brother come visit on Friday and then I met a good friend and her husband last night over drinks. These are genuine, fun people who know, appreciate and love the real me. I feel the same about them. This morning I went on a bike ride by myself and right now it’s raining and I’m listening to my favorite Pandora quick mix on the stereo as I type. It’s a beautiful day and I’m a lucky man.
Loneliness is often compared to feeling empty, unwanted, and unimportant. I’ve had several periods of time in my life when I’ve felt lonely and not all of them coincide with actually being alone. I’d say the most empty and unimportant times for me have been immediately after significant milestones in my life: when I returned home from my church mission; just after I graduated from college; when I returned to the U.S. from Japan; after I got married; when I left the church.
Probably the only surprising time period of loneliness was after getting married. Why would I have been so lonely? Don’t people get married in part to NOT be lonely? Without trying to rehash marital details or criticize my ex-wife (who I am expecting will never read this and therefore never have a chance to defend herself), I refer back to that definition of loneliness and say that I felt empty, unwanted and unimportant.
The emptiness was my fault. Deep, deep down I knew inside that I was attracted to men. Being gay, however, was taught to be a choice and I fought hard against choosing it. I was encouraged to get married and so I did. I married someone who, all other things considered, I got along with and who was likely even more clueless than I was regarding homosexuality. I don’t care how fantastic of a woman I could have found, I still would have felt empty alongside her as a spouse. You can’t fill the emptiness until you’re living on the outside in a manner consistent with how you feel on the inside.
The feelings of being unwanted were more of a two-way street. Like me, rather than being in love with me, I believe my wife was in love with being married. We were both really just placeholders in each others’ dream of a family and celestial glory. She was no more interested or attracted (on any level…sexual, intellectual, social, emotional) to me than I was to her. We both wanted spouses, we just didn’t really want the person we had as a spouse.
I felt important in my marriage to the extent that I made money… other than that, no so much. Mostly I felt like a placeholder. Any warm body would have done. Joint decisions like moving, large purchases and such were really just her making the decision and waiting for me to agree. If I didn’t agree it merely dragged on and on until I did. I guess that’s the stuff of most family situation comedies, but I hated it. We moved six times in the almost 11 years we were married and four of those moves were situations that I said, “no, no no” for weeks or months. I didn’t believe they were all best for our family… but like many other things, my opinion was irrelevant. As an individual in a marriage I was unimportant.
As a father, I felt very fulfilled, wanted and important. I loved my kids but once I became an unbeliever I was irrelevant in my wife’s eyes. I stopped accepting church callings and spent more time with the family than I ever had before. My wife acknowledged at one point that I had become a better father since losing faith in the church so I asked her, “What would you rather have? A husband who is a good father or a husband who spends all his time at the church?” There wasn’t even a pause or blink as she replied, “the man who is at church.”
Yeah, that will make a guy feel wanted.
It was a very lonely time when I felt invisible as I attempted to jump through the proper hoops by gong to church until I realized in the end that selling myself out like that caused her to have no respect for me. I recall at one point taking stock of my life and realizing that I had set up a good life for myself… but it was someone else’s life. I felt like a guest in my own life and THAT is the most lonely feeling I’ve ever had.
You can feel fulfilled, wanted and important but be single. Being true to yourself and being authentic is far more satisfying than having a person to eat dinner with or on the other side of the bed.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve never felt lonely in the past 10 years. It’s just not as pervasive as is used to be when I was surrounded by people who didn’t know the real me.
Being a single father makes it difficult to date and develop a circle of friends. You can get together one weekend but the next one you have the kids and are excluded. It’s on and off like that. I’ve combated that by inviting friends and acquaintances at the times I CAN get together. I instinctively am not an activities instigator. I have to force myself to plan and invite people. I try to overcome the impulse to say no when I get invitations.
Of course we all want to find a life companion and never be lonely. I just try to remember that having a life companion is no insurance against loneliness. I’ve learned to live with myself in peace and yes, even in isolation. I find ways to feel important by volunteering. I have struggled to make friends to feel wanted but I have been rewarded as I’ve jumped out of the passenger seat in life and taken the wheel. I’ve reconnected with so many old friends and made wonderful new ones by taking the initiative. I fill the emptiness by writing things down in blog posts like this, participating in social events and even doing things alone if it’s something I want to do and the alternative is sitting at home alone. I travel a lot for work and so going out for meals alone doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’m kind of baffled that some people just wouldn’t do it. If there’s a movie I want to see I go see it even if even if I can’t find someone to go with me.
The alone times do not have to mean lonely times.