The stars looked down – 118

Retirement Planning – 2

IMG_2400There has been some progress since I last reported on this. The current plan is to retire probably in February 2020, which is when I will be 60. As we discussed in RP-1 I have been looking at various options for ‘what to do’ then.

Doing ‘nothing’ is not an option. Retirement for me is about moving on and doing different things and having the opportunity to enjoy them.

For many years, I had toyed with the idea of doing a music degree as a full-time mature student. There are advantages to that. It’s something I would like to do; it is something I am interested in. The down side is it would be full-time five days a week and expensive at over £9k p.a. in course fees for three years. It would be purely for enjoyment with no ultimate objective beyond that. Longer term, it would be nice to consider going onto a masters and a doctorate. That would map my life out until I was around 70. It has to be said that part of me would like to do that.

However, part of me says that whilst it is all eminently ‘doable’ does it really lead anywhere? One issue I can see is being a 60-year old in a university class of 30 teenagers… doesn’t exactly appeal.

At the end of RP-1 I was talking about options to study photography and attending open days at various places. Well, the first open day has taken place which was at Hugh Baird College in Liverpool, which is an FE/HE establishment. They offer a Foundation Degree in photography, which is the modern name for an HND. This is over two years with an option for a third year to make it to a full BA Honours. It’s slightly less expensive than a standard degree, but not by much.

This course is quite different. Small class sizes – typically 6 to 15. It’s two full days per week rather than being split across the week. The reason for this is that the course is comprised of mostly mature students, most of whom are working. So agree range seems to be mostly 30s/40s or so.

This would seem to be an attractive option: it’s a subject I’m interested in; the logistics of the course being on two fixed days a week are good and viable; the age range is attractive; the course could lead in new directions for employment.

So, I am currently considering submitting a UCAS application to start in autumn 2020…

 

 

Advertisements

The stars looked down – 117

_DSC2597Do you sit at home alone and wonder? I do.

I get sad as the sense of being alone settles on me. I feel myself wilt. There is a catch in the throat as it closes, tears may well up. This is what happens when the sense of being alone without companionship crashes in on you and has nowhere else to go.

It takes its toll: it leaves you tired and emotionally drained.

People say to me that I have ‘such a good lifestyle’ because all they see is that I’m busy ‘doing’ things. These people are usually married or at least partnered. What they see is someone who has the freedom to be able to do what they want whenever they want to. This contrasts with their life where they probably feel constrained by the demands and needs of accommodating a partner or family.

Of course, this is true, and it is in fact part of why I am dubious that a relationship that involved sharing a house is likely to work for me. I have lived alone for too long (nearly 35 years) for this to be an easy adjustment to make.

What these people do not see is the crushing depression and debility that being alone brings with it. Yes, today I went and spent a few hours with people I know, and we rehearsed some music together. Was it a nice thing to do? Yes, it was. So, what’s the problem then?

A rehearsal has a structured purpose: you come together to read and play some music together.

What it does not do is provide that social part where you get to just sit and chat about nothing in particular. You don’t get to talk about the things which are bothering you.

It’s doing things like that which helps to reduce the social isolation and it provides a mechanism to relieve some of the stress. We all need that ability to be able to just talk about things – it helps to stop things getting out of proportion.

This is certainly something that I struggle with. None of us has that many people who we can turn to in a moment of stress to just talk to or even rant at. The person I am most able to talk freely to I have known for very many years, but they are not local to me and I see them maybe 2 or 3 times a year at best. There are some others I can talk to a little, but none of them I feel able to talk completely freely to, and also, I’m not sure they really want to be in that position.

So, this just compounds the problem.

It would certainly help if there were people reasonably close to hand that I could just talk to, or meet, for a talk over a coffee or a beer or two. It would most certainly take some stress out of things.

What would certainly help would be someone sat next to me, that I could talk to, hold hands with, and even better hug and cuddle. That is what is really missing.

Sadly, I see no sign of that changing. When I came out, I was optimistic that would resolve ‘soon’ since with dating apps it was all supposed to be so easy.

But it hasn’t and it isn’t easy – it’s very, very hard.

The stars looked down – 116

_DSC2608Yes, it’s another Friday evening and as you’d expect I’m at home on my own. So, the benefit of those that say ‘throw your cares to the wind and just go for the dating apps…’ here’s a brief summary of my experiences with them just this week.

I use three at the moment: ‘A’ is aimed at older guys who may be larger and generally hirsute or bearded (i.e. ‘bears’); ‘B’ is similar vein – casual types perhaps; ‘C’ is a general-purpose meet/hook-up app with little pretence to anything else. I’ve tended to avoid C as it doesn’t really sit with me, but people keep saying that there will be more people on it.

So, what have we had then? We can eliminate B as it’s virtually dead. Some of the people on B are also on A, but I see very little activity on B. A has had quite a lot of traffic recently with quite a few messages and apparently my profile has been ‘viewed’ by a few people. This week has seen about 8 viewers. You can click on them and then you discover that some are 8,000km, 10,000km or more away and you go, “Huh?”

There have been some messages via A too. Some have no picture and almost no profile. They say things like “Hey – like your pic! Join me at highlydodgywebite.com”, or, “Join us for sex party – check out anotherdodgysite.com”. These are ‘bots’. At best, they are just trying to get business for paid-for porn or dating websites, or possibly escorts. At worst they’re out-and-out scams. There are some more ‘normal’ posts. Usual stilted stuff: “Hi”, perhaps “How are you?”. Might be followed by: “Into?” It’s difficult to get them to go any further. Sometimes you get a little more, but not this week.

The reason for trying C this last week has been the exhortations of guys insisting that whilst it is ‘basic’ it has more people on it. Numerically, this is true. Log in and yes there are a few different faces… but some of the same ones too. Whilst there are a few more faces, it’s still not more than a few within say 3 miles and in fact still very few less than 10 miles away.

Can we deduce anything? A few things: the number of gay guys on apps in my part of the world is small. App C has a younger demographic and few people in my age range (say 40 and over). App A is a better demographic but very few people anywhere nearby.

The conclusion is that I’m not very likely to even find a casual hook-up nearby, let alone much in the way of prospects for something more serious or long-lasting.

This means that there’s little choice available – other than trying to engage with events in the major cities. That is rather frustrating as the cities are at least an hour’s drive away and public transport via train is very limited.

So, finishing this off at the end of the weekend, it was empty again. Friday was dead. Saturday would have been dead except I made the effort to just go out with my camera. Had I not done that, then it would have been dead. Today was only better because I had my regular (sort of) monthly music group, which took up a few hours.

It was all brought home via FB last night when an acquaintance through work was posting online. It’s his birthday today (mid-30s) and he posted some pics from a night out (probably Manchester). After a painful break-up a year or so ago, he now has a new bf and was celebrating with what looked to be 3 other gay couples. I don’t begrudge him that but I do wonder what I have to do to be in a position where there is the vague possibility of me doing something similar.

I wish I knew, but I don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stars lookd down – 115

The Black Dog

IMG_2096It gets to be very old.

I have a relatively free evening, so there are things I could do. But no, the black dog has to visit. I just sink down in to feeling depressed.

We talked in a recent post about ‘the monitor’ that sits there controlling – or at least interfering – in things. It’s the nagging little voice that causes me to not take that extra step, or causes me to pull back, to not enjoy things. I am pretty sure it’s a remnant of ‘catholic guilt’: it needs to go away, there is no place for it in my life.

It’s very frustrating but it seems to be very difficult to get past it at the moment.

The absence of that close friend that can be someone you can just talk to about anything, or nothing in particular, that you just hang out with. That is what is rather trying at the moment. What is there to look forward to? Concert, theatre, cinema, opera, weekend away? I’ve done all of them, some of them very many times, on my own.

It’s not fun, it’s not enjoyable. Travelling on your own, eating on your own, going to the concert or whatever on your own, the interval on your own: it’s all horrible. As a one-off or occasional thing, then sure, not a big deal. But when that is the way it always is, then it gets to be very old very quickly.

I used to go to concerts, the opera, theatre etc. on a regular basis on my own. I cannot face it anymore. It’s just too painful.

The stars looked down – 114

IMG_2098

Where to start? I don’t really want to write yet another blog post where the theme is the well-trodden path of being single, being lonely, and the angst and pain that goes with that.

But, it cannot be denied either. I worry that it may come to define me in some way.

As previously noted in SLD 113, for the last few months I have started to attend counselling sessions. This is no ‘magic bullet’ solution – counselling takes time and it’s as much about reflection on things as it is about changes of direction.

So far, it has not really revealed anything I did not really already know but has perhaps helped to set a perspective on things.

An issue that has been there for a long time is that of me ‘giving’ but getting little in return. This perhaps requires more explanation. As part of my catholic upbringing I had ‘giving back to society’ driven in to me as a constant theme at school assemblies. The impact on me of that has been that whenever I join a group or an organisation I almost always (with very few exceptions) become part of the administration (committee, council, trustee etc).

Now, this is all very well and commendable, but there are downsides to this. First, let me say I am (without being egotistical) good at admin and organisation, after all I have done a lot of it. I have a long track record of sorting out organisations which are in a mess. So, on the plus side you get organisations that function better, work well, and people do tend to appreciate what I do (again, there are exceptions). The downside includes things like my involvement becomes such that I don’t actually get to enjoy the events and activities of the various organisations because I’m too busy making them happen and making sure they run properly. It also means that at the regular meeting or rehearsals there is less opportunity to socialise as again I will be involved in the admin meaning there are people to see and talk to about the organisation’s business.

So, I am busy contributing to these organisations and helping to make them work, but there is little reciprocation from all of this giving. There is rarely any benefit in terms of social experience or in terms of developing a personal network other than those which benefit the organisations.

Some examples may help. I was on the committee of my local astronomical society for over 20 years and held every post from the most junior to president. I walked away at the end of my term as president as I realised that I was not valued and all I got for my considerable effort was abuse. I have been on the committees of a number of choirs for up to 15 years and again I have been chairman of them. I get to organise concerts and events, some very large and very time consuming. Again, I eventually left the organisations when I realised I was more use to them and I was getting little in return: in one case I got abuse.

Despite all of this work in making organisations function and prosper, little comes back. You get very little appreciation for the time and effort you put into these things. When I was younger, part of my reasoning for becoming involved was to be a part of things and to enhance the opportunities for socialising and meeting people. Perhaps I have been unlucky, but it’s not been a feature of my experiences. There are five groups I have had a long-term association with: the astronomical society (over 20 years); church group over 30 years; two choirs – about 15 years each; music summer school for 8 years. Out of all of those groups and the collective nearly 90 years of association (obviously in effect not actually elapsed time) only from the astronomical society do I have any enduring friendships: I left the society over 20 years ago.

In many ways the church related group was the worst. I was involved heavily with that from my late teens until I was 40 and still associated for years after that. Despite decades of close involvement and being a part of things for such a long time, I have zero enduring friendships from there – some of the people there I have known since the early 1970s i.e. over 40 years. Of course, there is one rather toxic element, namely the catholic church’s attitude to homosexuality. I could write at length on the hypocrisy of that and I have commented on it previously in one of my posts about religion.

So, none of the groups I have been in for the last 20 or more years has really generated any new true friendships beyond casual acquaintances.

It’s not easy to work out why or what is going on here. Plain simple fact: people who are in couples tend to only associate with other couples and rarely do single ‘friends’ get invited to social gatherings (unless they’re open events to all members of the group rather than private events). Even people who I would have regarded as friends seem to discount me when it comes to hosting events, as I discovered numerous times over the years. There have been notable exceptions – one lady in particular made a special point of inviting single people to her dinner parties – but they are rare.

The second point is a related one. The last twenty years has seen me through my 40s and 50s. It is inevitable that the vast majority of people in that age group will be partnered and in couples. So, the demographic is against me as well.

The third point has been covered before but it is the challenge of meeting other gay guys in a social context. The prevalence of so-called dating apps has virtually wiped out the old LGBT centres, clubs, and groups where gay men used to meet and socialise. If you’re young, or if all you want is casual sex, then the apps can work for you. However, they are terribly superficial since people are making decisions about whether to meet someone or not on the basis of very superficial criteria in a profile displayed on a phone, rather than on the basis of having met the person and chatted to them.

I’ve spent a week writing this post on and off. Usually I write them in one go at a single sitting. Partly I wanted it to be more considered. The last few paragraphs have been written on a bank holiday Monday. So, what are my latest thoughts?

I have already decided that I need to stop being the person who ‘gives’ all the time. I have been sitting on committees and doing that for well over 40 years. As of a few weeks ago, I am no longer on any committees or trustee of any charities. I have contributed more than my fair share back into society.

I have decided to try joining groups using meet-up.com. So far, I have joined two types of groups: some photography groups, and some LGBT social groups. I’ve had three social events thus far and a photography one coming up in a week or so. There are issues – none of these groups is near home and all involve substantial amounts of travel, but that is the penalty of not living in an urban / metropolitan area.

The weekend has been mixed:  social event for a few hours on Saturday afternoon, orchestra on Sunday, but an empty day on Monday.

It’s too early to tell if these new events and different directions will work to take me forwards or not. We can just try and see where it goes.

 

The stars looked down – 113

DSCN3024Some of us are single and very much alone. This can and does cause a great deal of pain. The issue is that because the majority of people do not experience this, they cannot relate to it and have no understanding of it at all.

 

If we go with roughly 5% of people in UK are LGBT, that means 95% or so are ‘straight’ Most straight guys in UK start dating in their teens around 16 or so (it varies – US teens seem to be earlier than that). Most guys by their early 20s will have had one or more ‘relationships’.

The experience of gay guys tends to be different and also depends on which generation you belong to. If you are an older gay then you may well not have come out until well into 20s or 30s and relationships thus equally delayed. Since being gay is more widely accepted now, younger gays are coming out much earlier and there is significantly less stigma attached to same-sex relationships. The other issue is being 5% means that your chances of meeting someone are commensurately harder.

That’s the general scenario. For some people (straight or gay) circumstances can be much more difficult. In my case I get hit by several factors. First of all, because of catholic guilt, I got stuck in the closet, in denial, until my mid-50s. Being in mid (now late) 50s makes everything much more difficult. Add into the equation that I live in a rural, not urban, area and it’s even worse. Gays are a minority and minorities tend to congregate together in cities – hence gay villages in cities like Manchester. There is one shocking statistic: my age group was the one hit hard by AIDs in the 80s and 90s – a lot of gay men in that age group died.

The stars looked down – 112

IMG_2294

I’m not entirely sure where to start this edition of SLD. There have been some events and activities in the last few weeks, which have been a welcome change of pace in some respects. Perhaps I should outline some of them?

The ‘big’ item is that I finally started counselling in March after a six month wait. The logistics of the session are painful, but at least it’s happening. It is of course a slow process and has mostly consisted of me providing vast quantities of ‘back story’. To some extent, this is frustrating, since I am well acquainted with it. Having previously been through counselling – albeit 25 years ago now – I know what to expect and I know the kind of things to look for.

There have been some learning points. To be fair, they are ones I was aware of anyway, but perhaps pushed them into sharper focus. The main one being perhaps the need to put ‘me’ first rather more. I tend to ‘give’ as is evidenced by my tendency to get heavily involved with organisations that I join, typically by joining the committee and occupying a post of some sort. The very obvious issue if say you are the secretary of an organisation, you spend your time providing support to the group, but you do not necessarily get very much in return. Just about every group that I’ve joined I have ended up being part of the organisation, so I always end up ‘giving’ but often get little in return.

So, a major thing has been to ‘drop’ the remaining commitments that I had. I was already aware of this and had already cut back a lot. For the first time since 1976 I am not currently on any committees or a trustee of any charities.

In an attempt to be part of more social activities, I have joined some groups on meet-up.com. I joined the organisation probably over a year ago but had not signed-up to any local groups. I have now joined four: two to do with photography, and two LGBT groups. I have been on two social events thus far: one in Chester and one in Manchester.

Whilst there are positive things, there are still negative things and the big one is still the tendency to ‘fall off a cliff’ when I find I am on my own and alone, which is a lot of the time. The lack of social interaction, the shortage of friends, a complete absence of sexual partners all add up to what can be a great deal of pain. There are no quick fixes to this. So-called ‘dating’ apps don’t really suit me as there is not enough connection for me in what are really just hook-up apps – they’re not really about dating in the conventional sense.

Hopefully, the meet-up.com groups will help to move things forwards: only time will tell.