Since writing this article last summer, I've received tons of messages from gay men with questions about acceptance, concerns about body image and doubts about it "getting better." Between responding to these notes the best way I can and interacting with various men in my own social circles, a theme emerged -- unhappiness.
Why are gay men so unhappy?
While this complex question cannot be answered in one blog post, I believe there are four simple, correctable, things that are preventing us (yes, myself included) from living happier lives.
1. We put so much pressure on ourselves.
Although it's not just gay men in this pressure cooker of life, to mask the shame society told us we must feel, we gay men have a tendency to turn our own pressure cookers on high. Dr. Alan Downs discusses this in his amazing book "The Velvet Rage" in which he describes the gay man's attempt to neutralize shame by being the most successful, outrageous, fabulous, beautiful and masculine. Sound familiar?
There's absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals for yourself, being driven to succeed or wanting to be in shape. I spend a lot of time at the gym, too, but that's because Planet Fitness has bagels, pizza and Tootsie Rolls. My advice? Make sure you're going at your own speed and doing it for yourself -- not to earn the validation or appreciation of others.
2. We're in the wrong squad.
Is it me, or did some gay men watch Mean Girls and take it a little too seriously?
If the people around you are mean and miserable and make you feel like crap, it's time to recast. Surround yourself with inspiring, upbeat people who bring sunshine into your life and feed your soul. Also, recognize who your "friends" are and what role they play in your life. Know who your going-out friends are and who your I'm-going-through-a-hard-time-and-need-someone-to-talk-to friends are.
Check out The Walking Dead's Colman Domingo on finding your support and your "tribe."
3. We are afraid of love.
Ask yourself this and answer honestly -- do you have love in your life? Most of us have functioned without it for most of our lives. We didn't get it from our families. Our friends are fun to go out with, but we don't feel connected to them. All of our romantic relationships ended before we even thought about uttering the words (or we were so afraid of letting him in, we sabotaged it.) Whatever your reason, it's hard to let others in and it's hard to accept the love we deserve. The most important thing to know is that you are worthy of love and you have love to give. It's not sustainable to run on empty forever. If you're hurting inside, speak to someone and work on letting it go.
Now, when you're ready, change your Tinder, Grindr and Scruff profiles from "just looking for fun...open to whatever" to "living for love" or some other cheesy pop song lyric.
4. We don't love ourselves.
Speaking of love and cheesy pop songs, we have got to learn to love ourselves. I mean, how many singers have to sing it and how many times does RuPaul have to say it before we believe it's true? I first learned to love myself when I heard Christina Aguilera sing "don't be scared to fly alone...you'll find your way..." on her Stripped album. That's the power of artists. We don't know them, but they help us know ourselves. I digress. Anyway, that's when I decided to stop giving a fuck about what people had to say about me and I started to embrace every part of myself -- my sexuality, my skin color, my small arms and my watermelon size head. And when I did that, my self-confidence skyrocketed and that positively impacted every other aspect of my life.
Ok, so the last two might not be that simple to correct, but it's possible. In the end, "it gets better" because you get better. To get yourself out of your unhappiness rut, ditch the shovel and start building instead. A good place to start is with yourself because only you can create your own happiness.