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LONELINESS

Feeling alone is frightening and depressing. No matter how much money or status a man may have, no matter how many friends and tricks he can point to, he may still be besieged by an intolerable sense of alienation. Even a men with a devoted lover may experience profound isolation. There are three different kinds of loneliness two that must be accepted, and a third that can be fought. First is the loneliness caused by the death of a very close friend, a lover, or a member of one's family. The resulting sadness is always appropriate because the loss is real, not symbolic. A second isolation that must be accepted is "cosmic" loneliness. Often an individual in his thirties or forties, who has buried the ghosts of his past, freed himself from any neurotic aspects of his relationships with his parents, his boss, and his lover, and achieved a clear-eyed view of himself often this person will suddenly be hit hard by the full force of cosmic loneliness, what William James called vastation in The Varieties of Religious Experience; the adult recognition that we are born alone and will die alone, and that many of our private experiences will never be successfully shared with other people. There's nothing to be done about that.

But the third kind of loneliness can be combated. Though we don't think of it this way, the usual kind of ahing loneliness is something we ourselves have created. This loneliness is our rejection of other people, our refusal to let them become a significant part of our lives. A lonely man might say, even when he is surrounded by thousands of other gays, that he cannot relate to any of them. He will claim that all they want is sex, not intimacy, whereas it is he who demands sex and fears affection. In order to keep intact his conviction that no one is loving, the lonely man will seek unloving men. He may marry and live a double life, and then curse his inability to find male love because he is imprisoned by his marriage, a situation of his own making.

One of the most common forms of loneliness among gay men, even in these days of HIV infection, afflicts those who consciously desire to have nothing but anonymous, quick sex. Having contrived a world of quick sex for themselves, they then complain that quick sex is all that gay men ever want. Since they lack respect for themselves, they show an equal disrespect for their sex partners by not respecting safe sex guidelines and therefore endangering both lives. (of course there are also gay men who have nothing but anonymous sex, enjoy it, and don't complain about it.)

If you are caught in a trap of loneliness of your own devising, then you ought to consider changing your habits. Plan purely social times with your friends, rather than going out cruising. Love and friendship are not airtight compartments; if you can achieve intimacy with a friend, you may also be preparing yourself for eventual closeness with a lover. Meet new people in new places, or approach new people in the old places in a different way. Perhaps you shouldn't jump into bed with someone you meet at the gym; ask him out for dinner or a movie, talk to him, court him. If trying out new approaches frightens you, no matter. Better to feel anxious but change than to remain safely in a neurotic pattern that one poet has characterized as "old, inadequate and flourishing."

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