You Need Help: I’m 49 and Questioning — Is It Too Late for Me?

Q:

I’m 49 and questioning. I’ve got a whole big hetero life and everything seems like a mess. Any choices/decisions I might make impact on so many people. I’m writing because I am largely on my own with this, with no queer friends.

I’ve agreed with my partner that I can date women to try and work out more about how I’m feeling. That’s going badly — the pool of ENM women of a similar age who are interested in someone with a neutral profile picture is minimal. One date that seemed to go well but nothing beyond.

If I knew what I wanted I think it would make it slightly easier to make difficult decisions. But right now I feel that I’m not moving forward, just further into not knowing and distress, the kind that is making it hard to function in all aspects of my life. I kind of know it will take time, but a big part of me feels like I’ve just left everything far too late. My bed’s already made…

A:

Dear Friend,

That’s such an unforgiving phrase, isn’t it? “You’ve made your bed. Now lie in it!” We hear it all the time, and I’ve never thought much about it before I read your letter. But here’s the thing about beds: we have to make them every single day. In both the literal and the figurative sense, making the bed is not a one-time action. It’s a series of choices we make, day in and day out, about how we want to live our lives. You’ve lived one way until recently. That way isn’t working any longer. It’s time to reevaluate how you make your bed. And I know it’s scary — change is scary! But on the other side of that fear? There’s going to be joy. Let’s talk about how you get there.

First, I’d like to tell you a little bit of my own experience. I came out at 30, after a decade in the closet. It sounds like an easy, one-time event, doesn’t it? Came out. But in reality, telling the people in my life that I was gay was, to lean on another metaphor, just the visible tip of a very loaded iceberg. Before I could embrace who I was, publicly and joyfully, there was just SO much work I had to do. It was the work of a lifetime, but once I realized that I had to face it head-on, it took me about a year to move through it to the point of coming out, living my life more freely, and dating. You’re not me, and your journey will look a little different. But here are some important things to keep in mind.

Therapy and introspective work will be important.

It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to talk about this with your partner. You are also going to need some external support, beyond what your partner can give you.

I know this word is thrown around a lot these days, but being closeted for an extended length of time is fairly traumatic. Burying pieces of yourself deep down where you can’t get at them does things to your sense of self, to your worldview, to how you conceptualize relationships. When I finally started the process of coming out, there was a lot that I had to face up to, and a lot that I had to learn. I had to grieve the years I’d lost. I had to learn to let down the high walls I’d built around myself so that no one (not even me) could know me in this very real and important way. And I had to learn to have compassion for myself, for the person I had been. Working through the ways you feel you’ve made a “mess” of things, how you feel you’ve “left everything too late,” developing genuine compassion for yourself — all of that will take time and work. It’s work you’ve already begun, but it’s very hard to do all on your own.

I did that work with the help of a queer therapist I found through my local LGBTQ+ center. If your city has such a center, they may offer low-cost/no-cost counseling services, and they will almost definitely offer support groups. If you’re not sure, googling your area + “LGBTQ center” will give you a place to start. You can also look on local community calendars for support and social groups, although fair warning, sometimes those aren’t updated regularly! (I once thought I was going to a support group for queer people and ended up at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. “I don’t belong here,” I said, and I’m certain none of them believed me. A story for another time!)

Whether or not there is a Center and community support in your area, I do think that it’s time to talk to a counselor, specifically one who is queer or queer-friendly. Depending on your insurance and circumstances, finding someone local may be difficult; you may need to go online. In this 2019 post for Them, Rosemary Donahue has a detailed list of sources to reach out to for queer-friendly counseling nationwide.

Let’s talk online dating.

I’m going to say something you may not agree with. If I’m wrong, you’ll know immediately, and that’s great! But here it is: I don’t think you’re ready to date. I say this as a person who fondly remembers her online dating profiles from before I came out, before I did the work. They always had the neutral profile pic; a pair of brown leather boots was one of my mainstays. I used a neutral pic because I was terrified of being seen, of being visibly queer, to anybody, even other queer people who were also dating online. There was so much fear coiled in my belly. I wanted to skip the work.

I even went on one blind date, at 21, a full nine years before I’d come out for real. The lead-up was terrifying, and then it was just… a flop. I felt so strange sitting in that restaurant. My walls were up. There was about as much chemistry as when I went to dinner with any one of my straight friends. I didn’t know what to say, how to let my guard down. I wasn’t ready, and afterwards, I felt so foolish. What had I been thinking? What was I playing at?

Of course, you’re not me. You say the date you went on seemed good, and that’s such a great first step! However you’re feeling about going on exploratory dates right now, I do think that posting a real profile picture will be important. I realize you’re married, and that posting on a dating site can feel very public. But when you’re able to post your own photo without fear, in a place where other queer women who are looking for dates can see it, you’ll know you’re in a more secure place, emotionally, about the idea of dating. AND you’ll get a lot more interest in your profile!

Community (and queer friendships) will be absolutely vital.

I’m so glad you’ve found Autostraddle to write in to. Pieces like this one from Laneia and this podcast episode with Riese helped me immensely as I was starting out. Online community was my go-to when I was closeted, and it became even more important after I started my coming-out journey. Years before I started writing for Autostraddle, I basically camped out in the comment section. It felt like a safe and anonymous space to be myself. I was able to read and learn and talk about complex queer concepts at a time when I still couldn’t say the word gay out loud in therapy.

That was how I dipped my toe into building a home for my new self, at a time when I was still afraid that I would be rejected and judged by the queer community for the things I so harshly judged in myself. For not knowing that I was queer earlier in my life. For having had boyfriends. For not being “brave” like the kids I knew who came out in high school.

Turns out, I was the only one judging. Once I was able to stop, my community — our community — opened fully. There was room for me here, and there is room for you! It’s important that you’re here. We’re so glad you’re here. I want you to truly know that, and to find the people who will celebrate that with you.

For me, community building looked like making friends online and then meeting them in person. It looked like going to social events and support groups at my local LGBTQ+ Center until I built some local friendships. Then there’s your day-to-day life: as you become more comfortable with your identity and start to guard it less closely, you’ll start to meet new people just out in the world! You may also learn that some of your existing friends or acquaintances are queer — we’re everywhere, after all.

a small gray symbol of a bed

Friend, you have not made a mess of your life. You’ve done your best, and now you’re entering a period of change. Your partner is supportive as you begin that journey. You have the whole rest of your life ahead of you, and the work will be hard, but the rewards will be worth it and wonderful. I promise.

Every day, we wake up and make our lives anew. What do you want your life to be today?


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


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Darcy

Darcy, a.k.a. Queer Girl, is your number one fan. She's a fat feminist from California who doodles hearts in the corners of her Gay Agenda. They're living through a pandemic, they're on Twitter, and they think you should drink more water! She also wants to make you laugh.

Darcy has written 332 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. It’s never too late to come out, but I also hear some trepidation in this letter and want to remind the letter writer of a few things.

    You say you are questioning and that’s great! Maybe you will be questioning for a long time, maybe you will feel more sure that you are queer one day and more sure that you are straight another and none of these feelings are wrong though they may be frustrating. I agree that you may not be ready to date right now. Talk to a therapist and really take some time (weeks, months, or maybe even longer) to think through some of the possible scenarios and choices you have. What would it look like to stay in your partnership and date women? What would it look like to stay in your partnership, know that you are queer (and that being married to a man doesn’t change that), and not date women? What would it look like to leave your partner/family and start anew, taking some time to be single before you begin to date, knowing that there are no guarantees as to what that might look like?

    There is more to being queer than dating and sleeping with women/other queer folks. Can you explore those areas now while you seek therapy and continue to talk to your partner? Maybe go to a local LGBTQ meet up, make some queer friends in person or online and feel out what it feels like to be a queer person in a hetero relationship. Does that feel right? If it doesn’t, can you tease apart what is lacking in your current life and a desire to live a different life…and what of that is connected to queerness versus other life changes or dissatisfaction?

    I know it’s not easy to come out later in life, but it’s worth taking some time to go slow and figure out what it is that you want before making any big changes, especially when it involves the hearts of others (your partner and potential people you may date.) Good on you for taking the first few steps and best of luck on whatever paths you take.

  2. This was a very relatable letter, and a thoughtful and compassionate reply! Even though I’m not in the same situation, I will say that in my experience, no matter what age you come out, there’s inevitably some “why didn’t I realize/say something/come out sooner?” emotions swirling. And that is really tough to handle, especially when it’s going on internally.
    What helped me was, as Darcy said, hanging out in the comments section and meeting others in the LGBTQ+ community, whether online or in person. Because the thing is, being queer is so fun! We have the best and also the worst media history, great in-jokes, hot people, the whole spectrum of sexuality and gender and refracted light. Reading Autostraddle, immersing myself in queer culture, was where I found pride and security in my identity. And that helped me feel more confident in coming out to people, in figuring out what I wanted from relationships, and where I wanted to make my social home. Plus, you don’t have to abandon your existing (hetero) life if you don’t want to–you can have both!

  3. I agree with all the advice above and want to offer a perspective—strictly mine—from someone who is of an age to be in the letter-writer’s dating pool.
    First, I know women who have come out within marriages, I know women who came out as various flavors of queer in their 60s. You are not alone.
    Second, I wonder if shelving dating for now would actually decrease the overwhelm—it sounds like you’re not only dipping your toes into queer dating but also into non-monogamy. If that’s the case you’re trying to make big emotional and practical adjustments all at once in two different areas of life. In any case, therapy can help you start making those emotional adjustments around, and then you have more ground under your feet to make practical, IRL adjustments.
    Third, speaking again just from my perspective, if I met someone in your position, I would be happy to be a friend or welcome them into the queer community as they figure things out, whether or not they end up being a late-blooming queer or a well-informed ally. So many of us have been in the position of having to figure things out and overturn our lives, early or late, you’re likely to find people sympathetic.
    But I would have a lot of concerns about *dating* someone in your position, as in: I am now her only source of queer community, what are she doing so she has other people supporting her? What kind of relationship is she envisioning with someone outside her marriage? What kind of relationship does she have with her partner—that is, what kind of relationship(s) am I getting into beyond her? What about being out—especially, is she expecting to be public with her partner but on the down low with me? And I definitely wouldn’t date anyone who hadn’t thought those things through.
    Fourth, I was only able to come out after I had found queer community; it made a huge difference to meet other people like me, start having some role models, find out how to get support from people who had been there, and start noticing who I was attracted to *before* I started dating. If you take no other steps, take the one of starting to assemble some queer community—and if you can do that in-person, not only online, so much the better.
    Finally, there is no way for this not to be at least somewhat difficult, and it is just going to take some time. There are a lot of questions to ask and the answers will appear when they ripen. Do your best to be kind and honest, with yourself and with those around you, and you will get through the not knowing and the distress and get somewhere better. Good luck!

  4. It is never, and I mean NEVER, too late to be true to one’s own self. I had similar feelings before starting my transition and with the age of 30 rapidly approaching. During a particularly bad day of this I happened across an article online about a fellow transwoman who had just come out of the closet at the tender age of 92! Regardless of the situation, be it gender related, attraction related, or otherwise, there is only one time when it’s too late to be true to yourself and that’s when you’re already dead.

  5. This is such a good response and comments are so good too! Letter writer, I’m so proud of you for everything you’ve done in coming out!! From my experience, I don’t know if you’re feeling this but dating so quickly after coming out says maybe you are – I felt a huge pressure to make up for lost time, and I want to reassure you that queer time is different and you are not alone in this situation! You’re doing great

  6. Echoing all of these: it’s never too late to come out! I came out at age 42, and have been out two years, after a 20-year marriage to a dude. I’m unusual among even my few latecomer-lesbian friends, because I didn’t have a “catalyst” person and have been happily single for two years. I, too, tried ENM while still married for 3 years, and went on a grand total of 5 first dates; no seconds, and not even a kiss among them.

    I think it can be much harder (at least it was for me) to figure out your identity when there isn’t a specific catalyst person there to shake things up. I also came out and divorced during the middle of 2020, when I couldn’t even go out to the few gay bars here or meet anyone. It was super frustrating at the time, but as the response and comments above have said, for me all that time to reflect, read *everything* on autostraddle (lol), listen to podcasts like The Lesbian Chronicles, and read loads of books on queer history and coming out and identity… that was amazing in the end for my own journey, and for my confidence. It was tough sometimes, dealing with having divorced my best friend when I hadn’t ever slept with a woman, but in the end I found my confidence in my identity through that internal work and through finding and nurturing a community of queer friends (hooray for gay kickball!). And that meant that when I finally *did* have my first encounter with a woman, I felt more prepared, and it was an incredibly affirming experience to feel “YUP, I really made the right choice.”

    Alllll of that being said, for me, the change was about more than my sexual identity (especially considering that right now, I’m happily not dating much, entirely by my own choice). My choice was about what I wanted for my future, what life I wanted–and even though I love my ex-husband dearly, and he’s been my best friend and I was nervous to close that chapter of life with him, I also desperately wanted a life of my own (getting married at 22 meant I really closed my “youth” chapter of life early). It took me about 2-3 years to figure out that living on my own was what I wanted, and I still mourned that period ending in many ways, but doing it thoughtfully on my own time means that now I am happy and confident in my new life.

    It’s not too late to come out, but it’s also not too late to take your time and figure out what you truly want. And you or anyone else who needs to talk about this, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, I mean it: I’m starr.hoffman on Gmail.

    • Hi, Starr. Thank you for this reply. I have recently come out to myself as queer and am in a 20 year marriage to a man and have a child. Your willingness to give your contact information for the letter writer and anyone else just made me …I don’t know….feel grateful and want to reach out. I have a lot to figure out and this whole column and comments section just made me feel less alone.

      Thanks, everyone.

  7. Hey friend,
    I’m about your age, and while I’ve known I was bi since puberty, I’ve only been out to anyone besides my ex and my husband for a few years. Seconding everyone else’s comments that you’re welcome here, whatever answer you come to through your questioning.

    I’m just writing in to represent the possibility of feeling happily queer within a marriage to a cishet dude. (It is NOT a “straight” marriage. Because I am in it! Hi! Hello! It me! Not straight!) I have no idea if that’s the right path for you, but if your partner is someone you’re otherwise very happy with, and if they don’t merely “accept” or “tolerate” your questioning/queerness but actively affirm it and support you, then you’re not obligated to check any relationships-with-women/non-binary-people boxes to be valid. If you want or need that, then great, I hope you find it. But if you don’t, then don’t undermine your own happiness or confidence in yourself over concerns about how you “should” do queerness.

    Get the support you need, do the work, figure out who you are, then move forward with integrity and compassion for yourself. You will be ok. You are worth the work. Come back here in a year or two and tell us about your fabulous life. :)

  8. After I wrote this, about a month ago, I never really expected it to be answered, lots of other people out there, equally or more deserving of help. I can’t say how much all of your responses have meant to me. I was nearly in tears in the way into work. Each and everyone of you said something to make me feel like things will be okay.

    Darcy, thanks so much for your reply. You addressed everything, with some accurate reading between the lines. The bed is already being made differently everyday. Soon I may be in an entirely different bed, literally and metaphorically, but I think I’m going to be able to do it.

    Despite all the difficulties and sadness I’m currently dealing with (and I’m expecting things to be as challenging as things possibly can be over the next few weeks) I can detect a glimmer of excitement within me about what might be that going to help sustain me through it.

    Love to you all.

    • Hi friend!
      I am so happy that you write in and that so many people said such kind and wise things in response! A big part of queer community is exactly this experience: we are all there for each other, and that includes anyone who needs help of any kind, and needs support. All queer people have had some type of challenges and we all tend to identify with each other’s experiences even if they are different.
      So, welcome to community!
      I am wishing you lots and lots of ongoing support, friendship, and love, and a fun and loving romantic connection!

      I also want to say that I am middle aged, too. I am now 52 and although I came out very young at 18, I met my soulmate at age 28 and it happened to be a cis gender white straight man. I was and still am very much in love and in like with this person, yet I felt frustrated because my lesbian identity had been so important to me, and I really love being with women in romance, sex, friendship, and queer community. I was afraid I would lose so much! I did lose some things. But mostly just going to all-women events, which soon came under scrutiny for being transphobic anyway, and I realized that in my friend group and wider networks, I was already friends with so many queer and queer-friendly people that I didn’t really miss it that much. And my husbian – a word I made up for my husband because I still felt so much like a lesbian and he was more like the feminist lesbians I dated before than like a typical toxic masculinity man, would have felt fine and super supportive if I had wanted to go alone to a women-only event.
      We had a great 7 years together and then had two kids and now we’ve been together for 24 years!
      Sometimes I feel sad that I never got to have a long term relationship with another woman. My longest was 1.5 years. I did date a lot, though, so I do feel like I sowed plenty to wild oats, with men and women.
      If you have kids, and they are teens or older, I don’t think you have to worry as much about homophobia from their generation as you do older generations. But I do live in a liberal bubble so maybe that’s not the case for you.
      If you live in a rural or small town community and/or in a conservative area, it is ten times harder to forge this path, but people do it all the time. So you just have to look harder to find them.
      I met a lot of women who moved to Asheville, NC from conservative areas in TN and NC, for example. Many states have that one liberal city you can maybe get to once a month for a community event. Maybe you and your partner can work on a plan for something like that, as the pandemic eases.
      I think online is a rich landscape of supportive and people and just guard your heart a bit when not on a well-moderated site. Autostraddle is the safest online community I’ve found. I got flamed at another queer Soc media exchange elsewhere and now I only stick to Autostraddle.
      But what’s amazing about this site is that ppl are Funny and deep and vulnerable and emotionally healthy, so it’s one-stop shopping.
      I don’t know most of the celebrity references because I’m Gen X and don’t watch tons of mainstream media. I’m more of a tv and movie snob and a reader. But they cater to that too!
      So, just know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE and that we see and value you as our new community member.
      The most important thing is to live a healthy safe and fulfilling life. And if you are like me and you are a queer person in an opposite-sex relationship, that’s okay and it’s just another path of a queer person. And if you at some point want to transition from that relationship, turn it into a friendship, and then forge romantic connection with someone new, that is perfectly okay and people do it all the time just in opposite-sex relationships so why can’t you?
      I also know quite a few women who are now in an opposite-sex marriage after being with women, or started out in one and then divorced to be with women.
      People who conduct studies say that for women, sexual orientation is very fluid and based more on the people than the gender or biological sex of the person they are attracted to. I even knew a feminine woman who was with a very masculine woman and would likely go back to men if they broke up. It takes a full spectrum of desires to make up the world, and life just unfolds the way it does for whatever factors are in play.

      I hope you are able to let go of any embarrassment or shame connected to your life/choices/circumstances. There is no shame necessary. No one but homophobes thinks you have anything to be ashamed of. If you meet any queers who judge you, I am sorry. Queers are human too and can be prejudiced and make mistakes. Can I tell you how many women I had to stop dating because they were racist, or pro-war, or defeatist about their artistic talent, or emotionally abusive?!?! Or incapable of relationship? Men too.
      Keep on your path despite what negative moment you may have with any individuals. They are not allowed to determine your path. Don’t let them push you off your path.

  9. Just to say yay for you for the journey you are on with yourself, and to recommend The Lesbian Chronicles podcast to reassure you that you’re not too late.(Also, I’m bi, but still find their episodes v.relevant).

    I’m not out to many people in my ĺife. I have sole custody of my two kids, so don’t really have the chance to meet anyone. Online community is the only LGBTQIA+ community I can access , so yay for the internet! I hope you’re finding community too.

  10. 35, still a virgin and not questioning! Love is love
    Very senior software engineer
    Expert in everything
    Learning machine learning because my straight roommate who did not like me back likes it lol!

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