Grieving the Loss of an Older Partner

The following was written by someone who’d read an essay I wrote about younger gay men who are attracted to older men. I frequently hear from younger men who are questioning why they are exclusively attracted to significantly older men, but this subject isn’t frequently addressed. This type of relationship is also often misunderstood even by those of us in the LGBTQ community. I wrote about it in Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight in a section called “Men with Rounded Corners.” Here are “Jim’s” comments (edited to protect his identity and used with his permission).

I just read your essay “The Curse of an Attraction to Older Gay Men” in Psychology Today, and it was strange to read something so personal, insightful and very close to my own thoughts. I have read it a few times and have shared it with friends. I will order your book when I get back to Ireland. 

I had a lot of self-questioning and also self-doubt about my attraction to older men that led to a search for my own answers. It has been difficult not having a broad base of friends who felt the same way about older men so that I could pose my thoughts to them. But you have done the work and asked many questions—many I hadn’t even thought of.

I was shocked when I first discovered on the internet that younger men liked older guys and older guys liked younger ones. It seems so ridiculous now, but it was a real eyeopener back then, and dare I say sexually exciting. Reading the experiences and thoughts of others showed me I wasn’t weird for liking older men. Back then I thought, “Ah, but they’re all in the USA. No one in Ireland is like that.” Boy, was I wrong!

It’s so funny thinking back to that learning curve. I struggled a lot and juggled a lot to keep my sanity. I had a continuous battle between my guilt and shame and my sex drive. It was like when I was a kid; I’d masturbate and then bargain with God that I’d never do it again. But ten hours later I was making a new deal. Eventually you stop feeling guilty and realize you’re hurting no one and that’s fine.

I am approaching fifty years old, and “Walter” would have turned eighty had he not passed away this year. I am in deep despair. Walter suffered from a debilitating neurological condition for over two decades, a condition he had the entire time we were together. Your description in the essay about the depth of love and caring of the younger man, and how the care-providing partner often puts his life on hold for their partner, is exactly a description of me. Caring for him was all I wanted to do. And it was all I did.
My partner was my world, and I was blessed to be with him, holding his hand when he took his last breath.

It’s been a while since Walter died, but I long for his touch and his voice. I got his bathrobe and wrapped it around a pillow, and I buried my head into it to smell his body. I put heavy books and stuff on his side of the bed to trick me into thinking he’s there. Since then I have tried to pick myself up again. Walter’s family has been amazingly supportive and very caring. They saw how much I loved him, and they said that had it not been for me, his life would have been shorter and much more difficult than it was.

When I made a video for Walter’s funeral, many things struck me. In addition to his neurological condition, we also battled his cancer together. He had been a hairy man with a full beard, but with the chemotherapy and radiation, he lost his hair and it never grew back. While going through the photos for the video, I really saw Walter for the first time—as he was when he died—in a wheelchair, tired, skinny, and frail. It broke my heart because in the photos I saw him at the end of his life as if I’d never seen him before. In my mind, he had always looked so much like he did when we met, walking, healthy, white hair with a rich full beard and a beautiful face. He was lovely.

Walter and I did have a large circle of gay friends, but they were mostly his friends and predominantly older. Our gay friends didn’t care about our age difference. Many of them are good-looking men, so the good part for me was the eye candy. My friends were mostly all straight, and the ones I told never cared much about judging us. They just saw me as happy. Many of my friends never knew us as a couple, although some did. So after Walter’s death I was continually coming out to our friends because I couldn’t disrespect the love we had by allowing them to see him as just a mere friend.
Many of Walter’s friends had wondered about his sanity. Walter loved classical music and literature, while with my tattoos I resemble someone from Jimi Hendrix’s rock band. They freaked. What Walter said he liked about me was my enthusiasm about life, that I never smoked or drank, and I valued loyalty and honesty. He told me I was too good to be true. Before Walter, many times I wished I were “normal,” but that was before my journey took afoot. Now I wouldn’t change it for anything. The life I have led is interesting, broad and diverse in experiences and attitudes, the two things that help shape who we are as humans. Mine are such that I love who I am and what this pocket of sexuality gives me.

Both our families accepted our relationship. Once Walter’s family got to know me, they embraced us as a couple. When I met my first partner, I told my mother first before I came out to my family. When I told her I had met someone she asked me if I had a picture. I said, “Yes,” then hesitantly added, “He’s older than me. He’s your age.” I showed her the photo; she looked at it and said, “He has a kind face.” Then she asked me two questions. “Do you love him?” and I said that I did. Then she asked, “Does he make you happy?” and I told her that he did. Then she responded, “Grab it with both hands and run with it. Many people will go through life and never experience what you have, so make the most of it.”

I did wonder about the “daddy complex.” My father was a pretty shit dad. I grew up in Ireland and my dad was the warrior type, a real alpha male. I was six when Mum left him. My mum was beautiful in every possible way. I was youngest of six, so she had to work hard to raise us.

I really only experimented in the gay scene after turning thirty. I realized I had either to decide to marry my girlfriend or to give in to my attractions to men. So I chose men. I met an older man who was very nice and he looked after me like the caring dad I never had. It was a mutual attraction. He was the first guy I was with sexually. Later I met a man thirty years my senior and he was the first man who I can honestly say made love to me. Just smelling him and tasting him was electric. The smoothness of his cock on my tongue was like tasting food for the first time. I was satisfied and nourished in the soul without really understanding why it would be so. Everything felt right and natural. We were together for several years before I realized I couldn’t trust him. Such is life. We are still good friends, but it was hard. I know being attracted to older men will become a problem as I age.
I have looked for other older men for sex, and I have found many who have expressed interest. One man was an older widower who was lonely, and when I asked if we could just cuddle in bed overnight and nothing more, he said yes. That is the thing I crave most since Walter’s passing. Not sex, nothing but touch, intimate touch. Another man was much older and he also was lonely; his wife has dementia and his kids lived a long way away. We had sex and it was incredible, but Walter’s touch and his voice are what I want the most.

I just wanted to thank you for your work on the topic and for your article. It was marvelous. I will share it with friends who are in younger-older relationships in Ireland. I must admit I never thought I’d ever read about this topic, and I’m happy I can. I hope it saves young ones who feel the same attraction to older men and had the same struggles that I had and gives them a pathway to follow that will ensure they, too, understand what this kind of love is. I really didn’t know.
Much love to you and happiness.