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…
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.
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.