I’ll just call him X. Since he is no longer part of my daily life, and this really isn’t about him anyway, there’s no need to drag his name into this.
We split last year. Now I’m a gay man, well-past the 40-year mark, adjusting to living alone, taking care of myself, and being a single-dad to two wonderful dogs. I’ve still got the house — and I guess that’s something. No, that’s not fair. It’s huge. At least I don’t have to start all over again in that area. Of course the mortgage is all mine too. And the utilities. And the maintenance. Things like mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges, dusting, vacuuming, and remembering to take the trash out on collection day, all the simple things you probably spent most of your adolescent years dreaming of sharing with Mr Right, and now I’ve got to do them all myself.
I’ll leave the emotional venting to some other time. Break-ups are hard. And that’s how it should be. You don’t spend years intertwining your lives, then bring the giant meat cleaver down on that, and not have it mess up your head and your heart for a while. I’ve had it relatively easy in this department. Our break-up was a long time in the making, so there was plenty of time for emotional preparedness. Sure, I started leaving the radio on at night just so the house wouldn’t seem so empty when I went to bed. But hey, I’m a Christian guy, and I played Christian music, so I thought it had some added spiritual benefit to the house atmosphere anyway.
And I did what you gotta do when staying in a familiar environment without your familiar companion: I recreated it in my own image. I painted the bedroom, I rearranged the furniture, I threw out things he liked and had left behind, things I never really liked anyway. I cleaned out closets and cupboards. I emptied the fridge and freezer of foods that he mostly preferred. And I bought some new clothes. Okay, not too many. I’ve never been what you’d call a “stylish gay.” I tend more toward Levi jeans, simple long-sleeved shirts, and shoes all my friends say should belong to a lesbian. But I discovered the wonders of discount clothing stores (Ross, Marshall’s, etc). Who knew? The things you learn when you’re rebuilding your life, remaking your world. Alone. And after 40.
And what I discovered in the process is that none of these was a bad thing. They were unexpected opportunities for personal growth, for expanding my life-skill sets, for learning new things, trying new things. It was even exciting. Few people get the chance to reinvent themselves, and I decided I was going to take advantage of it.
BYOB – Be Your Own Boyfriend
One of my first decisions was that I was going to treat myself right. “BYOB.” Be Your Own Boyfriend. The way I wanted to be treated by that special someone, is how I was determined to treat myself. And hey, isn’t that a Christian attitude too? Just a spin on “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
I decided I would take care of myself — that I needed to take care of myself — in a few focused areas.
I would eat better. With a grocery budget now available for just one, I had more freedom to buy better quality food. Good-bye prepackaged stovetop side-kicks. Hello, organic produce, whole-grain breads, free-range, hormone-free chicken, and even higher quality junk food (I love me some Pepperidge Farms Brussels cookies). And ya know? I can probably justify some decent coffee, too. Although cooking was usually X’s department, I used to be pretty handy in the kitchen, and I still find chopping vegetables and stirring a pot of something fresh on the stove to be almost therapeutic on lazy Saturday afternoons. Like the pot of beef stew with sweet potatoes I’ve got simmering right now. All those hours in front of the Food Network gotta be good for something. Even my dogs are eating better — I dumped their Pedigree for a better quality, grain-free food.
I would maintain my body better. I’ve never been a gym-addict, and even regular exercise was always a struggle (as my neglected treadmill will testify), so I have no illusions about joining a fitness club. But I did buy a subscription to Men’s Health, and that counts for something, right? And I am slowly learning the benefit of just doing something physical every day, a little at a time. I read that you’d be surprised at the changes in your body by just doing 100 pushups a day (spread out throughout the day), and since I figured my butt could stand a little improvement, I added in 100 squats a day for good measure. A set or two in the morning, some squeezed in during lunch, a few when I get home from work or on commercials during my tv time, and maybe even a few before bed. Easy. (Well, in theory, anyway ….)
That covers food and fitness. A good friend, my pastor, also warned me not to withdraw into my shell, not to become a recluse. That way leads to a certain downward spiral into depression. So I committed to maintaining — hell, if I’m gonna be honest, to start — a healthy social life. X was never big on having friends around too much, and we had few friends in common. So this was gonna be breaking fallow ground for me. I made up my mind to spend time with friends on a regular basis. Just hanging out. Or going to lunch or dinner. Or spending a little more time just chatting with people after church (still working on this one). The key is this: a person’s sense of happiness is often directly tied to the quality of their social interactions. Friendships. “Life is with people,” as the Jewish perspective goes. So if I am going to stay sane and healthy, this area is gonna require special effort.
And hey, maybe in the process, too, I can rediscover myself. I can rediscover some of my early passions that got squeezed out by the daily demands of a long-term relationship. I’d always loved music — and by “music” I mean quality stuff, classical, orchestrated, even modern, anything good as long as it had “layers,” a depth of sound, and was fully emotive. Not some insipid Top 40 drivel that gets the most commercial air time (including some of that aforementioned Christian music crap). But X wasn’t a music-lover. And it wasn’t by any deliberate decision, but over time, I’d stopped listening. The multi-component stereo system I had when we met had devolved into a simple boom-box. That was gonna change — is changing. I bought some new Sony equipment, excavated some of my old CD favorites, and my life already feels just a bit richer. Music is gonna be welcomed back into my life.
Art, music, literature, theater, travel. The staples of a gay man’s life (supposedly). I hadn’t been to an art opening, a museum, or a concert in over a decade. The pages of my latest passport are glaringly blank. The things I used to refer to in college as “quality of life” had gradually fallen to the wayside. I can’t blame X for this. Some of this is the natural consequence of growing up — of changing focus from a life of self-gratification and enjoyment to one where paying the mortgage, the medical insurance, and joint living expenses takes precedence. Fine. I can’t be a carefree, irresponsible youth anymore. I don’t even want to. But I do miss a good musical.
And that dating thing. Phew! The world has changed radically since my former dating days. The internet hadn’t progressed much beyond AOL chat rooms over a 24K modem when I was last actively in the market. Now the internet is buzzing with social networking sites, from match.com, CompatiblePartners (eHarmony doesn’t do gay, so they invented this sister site) and okCupid, to wild phone apps like Grindr and Growlr where you can connect for random hook-ups. (So I hear … eh hem.) I’m checking the safe ones out, to be sure – ya never know where you might find true love.
Do I even want get back into a life-time, monogamous relationship? Doesn’t everyone? Lord knows, it’s not about the sex — well, not just about sex, especially when you’re closer to mid-life than puberty. “It is not good for man to be alone” — God said that, so who am I to argue? X may be gone, but I’m still here. Life doesn’t end when a relationship does, and I still have a good 30 or 40 years ahead of me. I’m not the only “divorced” guy out there trying to rebuild his life after-40. Maybe I’ll run into one of them on this new leg of my journey. (“Call me.”)
I’m confident, with God’s help, I’ll someday be married again — even if it’s not recognized by my state. But it’s gonna be a lot tougher on the new guy. Once I get used to treating myself really well, to being my own boyfriend, he’s got a hard act to follow. The bar will be set a lot higher than it was when I was in my 20s and 30s.
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.