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I've always been attracted to younger men. Now that I am in my 50s, I'm mostly attracted to men in their 20s. Why is this? Do you think I can change? I'd like to be in a long-term relationship. Do you think it's possible for me?
Love the Cuties in Kentucky
Dear Love the Cuties in Kentucky,
If you are happy dating gay men in their 30s, then the question "Why?" is not important. It's like asking "Why do I prefer blonds over brunets?" My advice is to let yourself enjoy dating whoever interests you (as long as they are over the age of 18).
If you find 20-something guys cute, you probably will always find them cute. Your job is to accept your attractions rather than judge them. If they hurt no one, then they are good.
As a gay man, you have already spent years judging your sexuality. That didn't make you any happier. You've probably already learned a lot about unpacking society's arbitrary rules about attraction. Use those lessons to unlearn any self-reproach you have about whom you find beautiful.
But What If I Don't Like Dating Them?
Many of my clients find younger guys attractive but have been unable to find a younger man who is also interested in a committed, long-term relationship. Finding a younger guy ready to build an enduring partnership is possible, but perhaps difficult.
Gay or bi men who want to increase their odds of finding a long-term lover often wish they could find guys in their 30s or older sexually attractive. Is it possible?
If your attraction to younger guys is causing you relationship pain, you may be able to expand your desires. That doesn't mean that the 20-somethings won't always be sexy, but perhaps some of the 30-somethings can also be enticing. Some of us can bend our attractions, but few of us can change them dramatically.
If you want to expand the age range of the people you date and are prepared to consider this with self-compassion, then the following stories about gay men I've worked with might inspire you:
"Jorge" (all names have been changed)
Jorge, a large man in his mid-40s, always hated his body and has struggled with his weight for his entire life. He had no trouble finding guys in their early 20s for hookups who were attracted to his big size and warm personality. But he found it difficult to find a young guy interested in a long-term relationship. Jorge longed for a partner with the emotional maturity and economic stability that he himself had developed at mid-life.
In therapy he discovered that his exclusive focus on younger guys was related to the shame he felt about this body. He bought into a cultural teaching that young, cute guys are "the best." He realized he experienced temporary relief from his inner critic when he was able to "bed the best."
During our work together Jorge began to heal his shame and learned to appreciate his body. As this learning took hold he still found the young guys fun to look at, but less compelling. He is now actively dating guys in their 30s and enjoying them.
Will is attracted to young, thin men who evoke an air of innocence. However, at age 60, he has no interest in being a "sugar daddy." He wants a long-term lover to share his passion for the outdoors, country music, and home remodeling.
In therapy he uncovered that inside he felt very young. He saw himself as "one down" compared to other adult men and feared being overwhelmed by the power and needs of a more confident boyfriend. As therapy progressed he found his innate power and learned to express himself more freely in the world.
As his empowered self-confidence grew he noticed that the 30-somethings and even a few 40-somethings began to look increasingly hot.
Today he is in the second year of a relationship with a 38-year-old man who can meet him emotionally. While he is naturally more of a caretaker, he is now also letting himself be taken care of for the very first time.
Jeremy is a lifelong guy watcher. He is a painter who loves beauty and will even take the time to drive around the block to enjoy the visual of an attractive young guy walking down the street.
He has always been physically attracted to younger men, but emotionally he feels more connected and compatible with guys his own age of 50. His solution? He and his new 40-year-old boyfriend enjoy an active fantasy life. His boyfriend enjoys playing the role of the innocent young college student and Jeremy enjoys being the take-charge dominator.
These stories may or may not resonate with you. Your attractions may expand, or they may remain the same. What is most important is that you continue to deconstruct the "made-up" conventions about age disparity in relationships.
When you learn to accept your sexuality you will find your relationships, sex life, and overall happiness improve. When you feel good about yourself you get a lot more of what you want in life.
Adam D. Blum, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of the Gay Therapy Center, which specializes in relationship and self-esteem issues for LGBTQ people. The center offers services in its San Francisco and Los Angeles offices, or by Skype and phone worldwide. Visit its website to subscribe to its e-newsletter and free guide on building gay relationships. Follow the center on Facebookand read its blog. Email Adam your questions for possible publication. (Questions may be edited.)