I’ve been openly gay for decades but have failed to create a fulfilling personal life for myself. As I age, the opportunities to continue trying have faded away. A life of interacting with shallow acquaintances, attending inane social gatherings, having casual/anonymous sex, and tending my garden quietly doesn’t appeal to me. Why should I continue to exist if I can see no purpose and take no pleasure in it? I’ve thought about joining a religious community. I’ve failed to realize my potential as a gay man and cannot face the hard work of learning how to live without kindness, affection, trust, and intimacy. Is suicide a reasonable choice for me?
One of the most critical issues for each of us, as we approach our later years, is for us to have a sense of meaning, a feeling that our lives have mattered. Many older people think they have failed in one of life’s critical dimensions if they have not found a life partner or do not have a family. For others, though, a sense of meaning can be obtained through belonging to a community that they can commit their time and money to and feel that they are adding value to.
Loneliness can be a killer and is an epidemic in the United States. I have written about the topic in a post on Psychology Today. While loneliness is different from depression, comments like yours suggest the presence of depressive symptoms that might well respond to treatment. Of course, I can’t diagnose or treat online. One of the classic symptoms of depression is an inability to experience pleasure in anything, even those activities you once enjoyed.
Aging can be tough, but this time can also be a period of renewal. One older man I met once said, “I’m eight-two, and this is the best time in my life.” I do not share your belief that the opportunities to create the life you want are fading away; I think it may be more that your motivation to look for them has faded. I’ve also addressed that topic in another essay published on Psychology Today. As we age, we have more choices about how we spend our time and with whom we spend it. With age, time does carry a sense of urgency but in a different way than it once did. When I turned sixty, I decided I would never again wear a necktie, sit through a bad lecture, or go to a cocktail party when I knew I wouldn’t like most of the people there anyway. Networking? No need for that now unless I am trying to expand the guest list at my funeral.
Joining a religious community is a decision for you to make, but I do think you need a sense of community, not necessarily a gay community but a community that will accept you as you are and to which you feel you can make a meaningful contribution. These communities exist almost everywhere, but you must leave the safety of your home to find them. When depression takes away your belief that you can experience pleasure, finding the motivation to look for such a group of people is difficult.
I’m not sure what you mean by, “I’ve failed to realize my potential as a gay man,” but it does like sound you’re beating yourself up pretty badly. I seriously doubt whether or not any of us have reached our full potential, but being good enough is often just enough. Perhaps you’re seeing your circumstances in black and white: full potential versus total failure. What are the facts? Have you really failed at everything in life?
Since you’re lacking any sense of hope, borrow some of mine. I have known many, many people who’ve expressed the same feelings you have and recovered from that despair. I don’t believe that we are ever too old to find kindness, affection, trust, and intimacy.
Suicide isn’t rational. Sometimes suicide begins to look that way when we feel that we are in pain, and it appears that pain has no end to it. But pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. You are suffering, and I believe that by taking steps short of suicide you can end the suffering.
I hear your message of despair; I want you to hear my message of hope.