Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield
How Do?

"I'm a gay man and meaningful relationships are difficult to find"

Now Then's agony uncle, psychotherapist Mat Pronger, answers a question from a gay reader about the men he's attracted to and how he can move forward. 

Man by a window

I'm a single gay man in my mid-thirties, and I seem to mostly be attracted to younger men (usually about ten years younger than me). This makes forming meaningful relationships difficult, as there is often a gulf in terms of life experience, interests and sensibilities. I've had a couple of relationships with people (all younger than me) but it hasn't worked out each time for these reasons.

What might have caused this (i.e. is it something to do with my younger self?) and is there anything I can do to start having more authentic and mature relationships with a wider range of people?

Carl R.

It sounds to me like there’s a shift in your desires taking place and you now want “authentic” and “mature” relationships, presumably in contrast to your past. This shift in desire is a natural and a normal part of life; think about what you needed in your early twenties and how different your needs are now. You are transitioning from one stage to another and, as you do this, what you need and desire is likely to evolve.

For a lot of people, their late teens and twenties are a period of establishing patterns around relationships. It’s when we learn how to meet people, how relationships work, how sex works, and what is/isn’t acceptable in relationships. It can be a period of rapid and terrifying growth and for many LGBTQI+ people, this also takes place against a backdrop of trying to find a community that affirms our identities. At best, there is a base-level hum of societal homophobia and gay erasure, but for some this is much greater than a ‘hum’. As a straight man of about your age, I know that there were very few representations of men in healthy relationships, and I can only imagine this was even more challenging for gay men.

How are you really?

I wonder what lessons you learned in that period of your life and how many of those lessons you still follow. I wonder how many of those lessons still serve you.

Perhaps it’s time for something of a relationship audit. What you want from a relationship is changing, so there are some important questions to ask:

  • Why do I want a relationship? Is this driven by a desire to love and share, or fear and inadequacy?
  • What relationships (fictional or real) do I respect and admire? What is it about them that I admire?
  • What have my previous relationships taught me? Am I acting on this?
  • When I’ve had moments of feeling like a relationship was working, what was working?
  • What needs do I have now that I didn’t have then?
  • What parts of my life do I need a partner to validate? Is it important that they validate me physically/emotionally/intellectually/sexually?
  • Where do I want a relationship to go? Think about relationship configurations like open vs. closed, mono vs. poly, distance vs. proximity. Is marriage important to me? Would I want a family?

Auditing our feelings about relationships can be extremely valuable, but for you it feels particularly important as it sounds like you know what you want but that you are struggling with articulating it. How can you find what you want if you don’t know how to ask?

But there’s also another bit you’re struggling with: once you can articulate it, you also have to act on it. Don’t keep repeating the same pattern in the hope of a different result. If you have historically found partners in one place, look elsewhere. If you find yourself falling for someone who is like your previous partners, ask yourself, ‘am I doing the same thing again?’ and if the answer is yes, understand the result will be the same.

I don’t say any of this lightly. Asking yourself “what do I really want?” is hard, and our cultures and personal histories can make this even more challenging. If you have a friendship group where you can talk freely about this kind of thing, an outside perspective can be really helpful. If you feel a professional to talk things through with might help, Pink Therapy have a directory of therapists who are well positioned to explore these thoughts with you.

You are caught in a cyclical pattern, and the only way out of it is to break it. This is going to be uncomfortable, you are going from a pattern that you know into the unknown. This is how every great adventure starts. I hope you find what you are looking for, and I hope it is amazing.

If you have a question that Now Then agony uncle Mat might be able to help you with, email [email protected]. Find out more about how it works here.

Filed under: 

Previously from How Do?

More How Do?

More News & Views

More News & Views