Don’t Take It Personally / Maybe the Problem Is Yours
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’ve always found it rather difficult to meet other men. There’s often no way to tell in real life who is gay, and many gay men are very left wing and averse to any views that they see as right wing. In some ways, I tend to be more conservative, and I enjoy discussing ideas, but this makes it difficult to find common interests. In fact, a lot of men I’ve met are quite averse to any ideas other than their own.
There are dating sites and apps, but it seems that this is based largely on physical appearance. I try to present myself as separate from my philosophical views, but I still include them so as to filter out those who might eventually reject me because of them. In my experience this results in little or no interest.
As if that were not enough, casual sex does not appeal to me. And when I put that in a profile it results in a deafening silence. Am I doing something wrong, or is all this a sign of the times? Pursuing a romantic relationship is important, but it seems needlessly difficult. I can stand the intellectual loneliness at times, but I struggle when it comes to the actual physical loneliness.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Here’s the bad news about a relationship: It’s hard to find a good match. The good news is that it only takes one. Let’s walk through your examples. You said that people who don’t like your political views express aversion. In one way, that’s hurtful or annoying. But in another way they’ve done you a favor. They’re basically telling you, “If you don’t share my outlook, then I cannot like or respect you, and therefore could never love you.” OK, then. You’ve learned something you needed to know, and neither of you will have to waste another minute of the other’s time.
Ditto for casual sex. Someone who rejects you for that is only looking for a short-term fling. It’s good to know that early on. Dating is not for the faint of heart. Get comfortable with moving on, and try to view what you see as personal attacks as ways of communicating differences.
One key to romantic happiness is finding someone who’s different enough to make it interesting, but not so different that you’re incompatible. This can apply to abstract issues like politics and ethics, but it can also apply to matters of everyday life, like cleanliness, television show preferences, food tastes and so forth. You’ve probably read that one of the biggest things couples fight over is money, but in fact it’s never really about money; it’s about priorities. When you’re deciding how to spend a finite amount of money, you’re forced to make choices. This is where people really disagree when they fight over money. Sex and politics also involve priorities.
Persist in your search. You’ll eventually find what you want. But on the road to finding it, try not to get bogged down in negative thinking. Remember that you want a relationship, but you don’t absolutely need one. If you view a relationship as something to add to your life, rather than complete it, then you’re more likely to find one that will do both.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I have lived next door to the same older couple for a long time. We used to get together often, and became good friends. But as they have grown older and have begun to experience various physical maladies, I have pulled away from them. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t want to see them as “old,” or if I don’t want to bother them as they deal with their physical problems.
When I run into them, they always suggest we get together, and I heartily agree; only to peek out the window to avoid them as they get their mail. I can’t stand the fact that I might be hurting their feelings, but that doesn’t change the way I feel.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Old age makes everyone uncomfortable. Nobody likes it, for obvious reasons. In therapy, I try to help people embrace the things they dislike. “Embrace” is not the same as to tolerate or endorse. You don’t have to approve or disapprove of old age. It’s simply a part of reality. We all age over time, so why fight reality?
If you’re avoiding your neighbors simply because they’re old, that’s obviously not very nice. But getting together with them merely out of charity or guilt wouldn’t be very nice either, and they probably wouldn’t like it if they sensed that that’s what you are doing.
The real issue here seems to be your issues with aging. Why not embrace the thing you dislike? Give yourself permission to not like getting old, while at the same time recognizing that it’s inevitable. Easier said than done, because it’s an emotional issue, and emotions can be very powerful. But if you start trying to view your avoidance of your neighbors as your issue rather than theirs, you might begin to feel like you can do something about it.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.