By Renee McCoy
Growing old alone was never a consideration for me. I believed there would always be another woman to love and plenty of time to find the “right” one. But, these days, I’m not so sure. Since I passed 50, each setting sun has meant the disappearance of another opportunity for everlasting, fulfilling love. Although I am fine with my own company, this does make me sad and leads me to question my satisfaction with being single. Regardless of my personal security, part of me is fearful of having only myself to talk to from day to day, fearful of growing old alone.
In spite of my years, I don’t feel old. When I think about what it means to “feel” old, I imagine a body that is unable to move, a mind that is too tired to dream, and a libido that lives only as a memory. Quite the contrary is going on. My body is strong, healthy, and surprisingly flexible. My mind has never been more capable of critical and sophisticated analyses of the universe and its inhabitants. And, I am finally experienced and secure enough to understand and yearn for mind-blowing, grin-every-time-you-think-of-the last-time sex.
In spite of my grey hair and increasing body size, I am still cute enough to look at in the morning. I am educated, relatively debt-free, and gainfully employed. I only drink socially; I am satisfied with just the memories of illegal drug use; and I have successfully completed enough therapeutic psychological regimens to be a certified card-carrying sane lesbian. In my mind, I’m a catch!
My soul, however, often feels soft and shaken and absolutely terrified at the very thought of having to do whatever we have to do to find a mate. It’s time to take a look at what’s really going on with being single and growing old in the LGBT community.
The political history of the LGBT movement affects the overall quality of our lives. Perhaps the issue that most severely impacts the development of healthy intimate relationships, however, is our personal history. Many individuals my age who have been out since adolescence have been in a series of brief relationships with wrong individuals. Others have enjoyed long-term relationships with the “right” persons but themselves did the wrong things.
Our histories haunt us especially when we step off into new situations. It’s hard to forget the woman who slept with your best friend or the one who was insanely jealous or verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. My own history is salted with much drama and the ensuing distrust has given birth to determination and disgust. I am determined not to tolerate disrespect in any form and disgusted with people who are insecure with my personal growth.
There is a second issue of age-appropriateness. This seems to be more of a concern for lesbians; older men in general find support for being in relationships with younger persons regardless of sexuality. Older women, however, are expected to seek older mates.
I find it increasingly difficult to escape a lifetime of messages that dismiss and discourage any considerations of a relationship with a woman more than five years younger. Thoughts such as this plague me even as I remember a tender, loving, exceedingly life-affirming relationship I had with a woman nearly twenty years my junior. She was one of the brightest and most mature women I have ever known. Although I did not have courage enough to ignore those messages about our age differences, I was wise enough to retain her friendship. I am blessed by her presence in my life every day.
Third, the rigors of life beyond sexuality emerge during the course of growing older regardless of one’s sexuality. Some of us are working extremely hard to raise children alone in a sexist environment that is hostile to both women and children. Also, as people live longer, many of us must care for aging parents with debilitating health conditions. This leaves little time for courtship rituals.
For seven years, my mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Caring for her required incredible time and devoured my emotional vigor. It has taken the three years since her death to replenish the love her illness demanded. Any relationship-type activities that occurred during that decade were simply perfunctory attempts to remain a “practicing” lesbian. My love life received only leftover attention, which was diminutive in both quantity and quality.
Finally, there is the matter of dating. Although I think dating is a wonderful activity, I just don’t know how to do it! When I came out you met a woman at six o’clock, slept with her at midnight and moved in together the next day. Admittedly, this type of behavior merely resulted in too many love-you-forever pseudo relationships and psychotic episodes. I just honestly do not know how to do it. I don’t know where to meet women or what to say. Something about those on-line matchmaking sites makes me feel utterly pathetic. I have big respect for women who are brave enough to use on-line dating services, but I am extremely internet-challenged. I get bored with typing and can’t quite figure out how chat-rooms work.
What’s really going on is that my generation of LGBT people seldom thought about growing old in a world where our sexuality could be so openly embraced and affirmed. We had few role models to inspire hope in long-term relationships. We expected to grow old either alone or in the company of a few “close” friends with whom we could travel and attend “special” parties. Few imagined living to see a time when same-sex couples could boldly walk down the street holding hands so we just did not work on relationships.
It is amazing how quickly things changed with the emergence of the gay rights movement. The LGBT community is now charged with the responsibility of responding to the needs its older members. Our political agenda must now aggressively support and affirm older LGBT persons so that they are not forced into abusive or inferior associations simply to avoid loneliness.
The challenge facing older LGBT persons is to infuse our lives with confidence in our worth as individuals and the assurance that growth is never a solitary act. My search for love continues and is driven by my commitment to a particular vision of the woman of my dreams and my unwavering belief that I deserve her. I continue to be strengthened by patience and a deep security with myself just as I am becoming.