Gay men are more lonely than straight men.
It pains me to write that. Gay men need positive inspiration and role models, not more negative statements.
However, I am highlighting this fact because I know it is easier to make change when we acknowledge painful truths.
Let’s start by reviewing some of the research on gay people. Academic journals can be incredibly boring so let me give you the brief highlights:
- Gay people are a lot more likely to commit suicide than straight people.
- Gay men have fewer close friends than straight people or gay women.
- Gay men are much more likely to be depressed than straight men.
Why are we statistically worse off on these measures of mental health? Is it something we ate?
You probably can guess the answer. It’s called “growing up gay.”
Even in today’s more enlightened times we experience more rejection as kids. And that’s especially true if we appear more feminine than other boys.
Many of us grow up expecting rejection and we remain on high alert for it in social situations. Even if you personally have never received blatant rejection, the negative culture has an impact on you. No one has to call you a fag for you to still fear being seen as a fag.
We don’t just experience this fear of rejection once or twice. We experience it for years until we come out. Science shows us that prolonged exposure to stressors has the most negative impact on our mental health.
LGBTQ individuals experience what researchers call “minority stress.” For us, minority stress is compounded by the fact we have to keep a secret from our own families or friends. Like, for example, when we are 10 or 11 years old and develop a crush on our male gym teacher.
When you finally do come out as an adult and find other gay men, you may notice that that the gay bar scene or the gay dating app experience isn’t always so warm, friendly, and accepting. Sex is easily available, but not necessarily connection, companionship, or love. That’s a further recipe for loneliness and depression.
Gay men do not show up at the Gay Therapy Center saying “I feel bad about myself because I have been marginalized as gay person growing up in my family and community.” They come in saying “I’m lonely” or “I’m having relationship problems.” Until they have done some exploration, they don’t link their current issues with their childhood experiences. Validating this fairly universal experience of growing up gay is an important first step in the healing process.
The Path from Loneliness
So what do we do about gay adult loneliness? There’s a lot we can do. The core of everything the Gay Therapy Center does is dedicated to personal growth so that we can connect more easily to others. You’ll find many answers about how to do this in our 100+ free blogs and videos and in each of our therapy sessions.
For this blog post I want to highlight the very best tip to overcome LGBTQ loneliness once you decide you are ready to tackle this challenge.
I want to ask you to join a gay group that meets once per week. The group could be artistic, political, athletic, social, service-oriented, personal development-oriented, academic, cultural, or spiritual.
When I suggest this to clients and friends I typically get a blank stare. Then silence followed by crickets chirping.
In their minds they are quietly thinking:
“I went to a group once and I didn’t like anyone.”
“I don’t like to be tied down to a schedule.”
“After work I go to the gym and I don’t have time.”
“I’m too shy to walk in the door.”
If you are lonely you will have to manage your own version of some of the above excuses and fears. You may need support from an LGBTQ therapist to help you do this.
Unless you are highly extraverted, attending an event and seeing someone just once typically is not enough to build a safe friendship or relationship. Research shows we have to see a person regularly to feel safe with them. And that is especially true if we have survived the trauma of repeated cultural rejection.
Personally, my muscles still get a little tight when I first walk into a room of people. However all the good stuff in my life has flowed from these group experiences. Organized groups make socializing easier. You connect with others by doing something together rather than just making conversation. Party conversation can get competitive and confusing quickly. That’s why so many people drink more than they want to at parties. But shared experiences in a group bring down the walls.
Loneliness is perhaps an emotion that has been developed through evolution to signal to humans when they need more people in their lives for optimum survival. It may be that simple.
Remember, you are not alone in your feeling of loneliness. When I write on this topic on Facebook I always get the greatest number of reads, likes, and shares. Some therapists believe, in part due to technology, we are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. This is hard stuff, but it is something you can change.