By Robert Levithan
Originally published on Advocate.com June 07 2010 5:40 PM ET
I’m turning 60 and officially single.
In our culture this is considered semitragic. We are so couplecentric and ageist that to not have a partner after 40 is often seen as a kind of failure. I don’t buy it.
Many of my clients struggle with this. Yesterday, a 60-ish client talked about his hesitation at ending a toxic relationship for fear of being alone for the rest of his life. We talked about solitude versus loneliness, and about balancing solitude with relationships, romantic and otherwise. It’s important to be at home in oneself. I always tell my clients that a healthy relationship has “two I’s and a we.” We should all be working on our healthy “I.” To create and nurture a “we” is both challenging and enlivening.
I do want a partner.
In the song “Being Alive,” composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim writes, “Somebody hold me too close / Somebody hurt me too deep / Somebody sit in my chair / Ruin my sleep / And make me alive ... ”
He speaks of not really having a relationship until he was 60. I like hearing that — that there is time for another great love.
My last relationship, with C., was a success. We are both better, stronger, more realized than when we met almost six years ago. We were always honest and respectful and told our truth as fast as we knew it, and we remain “exes with benefits.” However, we let go of plans for a joint future a few months ago. My first long-term lover has been like a brother for over 25 years, and, A., the man who took my virginity in Italy almost 40 years ago, is my friend and current landlord.
Forms change. I don’t stop loving.
My dear departed friend Felicity Mason wrote a memoir called The Love Habit when she was my age, all about her liaisons with young men: “I don’t subtract, I only add,” she would say.
I remember being at tea at her apartment on Central Park West, a gathering which included both of her ex-husbands, one with his third wife; Felicity’s long-term ex-lover and his male lover; and the boy from the copy shop she was shtupping at the time. Felicity is one of my role models.
The other night I was strolling back from an early dinner with a romantic friend when out of nowhere, he said, “You’re still in love with C., aren’t you?” At first I demurred. Then it became clear. “Yes, I’m in still in love with him. I’m still in love with M. and A. and you!”
Forms change. I don’t stop loving.
When my father died, C. was there to hold my hand and walk with me behind the casket, to shovel dirt on the coffin. M. was there as well. To paraphrase Freud: Life as we know it is just too too difficult to go it alone. Does that mean we need a partner? I’d like one, and I know that on my own I am whole — and surrounded by support. And I miss being someone’s number one. I miss having that special someone whom I call first when I get big news of any kind. I made an offer on a loft last week; C. was out of town, and I felt painfully singular. M. kindly came over and saw the space, but somehow I missed the sharing of it as “we.”
For now, I am a single man, almost 60.
Some men find my life crowded. They want more emotional exclusivity. A man I dated recently said he felt the presence of my exes. I felt the lack of his. To me, it’s a bad sign when all of the ex-boyfriends are assholes. That would make me just the next asshole-in-waiting.
We’ll see who’s up for the next part of the journey — and my baggage: a full rich life that includes an overeducated Labrador and some wonderful exes.
Is it unrealistic to see the heart as continually able to expand? I hope not.