Dear Dr Ren,
I’m in my early 40s and need some help breaking a pattern.
I work in a trauma unit, where something exciting is always happening. I love the continual rush. Then I go home to a pretty solitary and boring life.
I was married to a woman for almost 10 years but couldn’t live the lie any longer. I came out five years ago and had a series of hot encounters, but I haven’t been able to sustain anything.
I have developed a routine of working during the week and then blowing out every weekend. I drink and drug too much and then skulk back to my bland existence, deeply ashamed and embarrassed. I’m getting nowhere fast.
This is not where I saw myself at 40. I feel I am living two lives: the responsible and adrenalized caregiver and the irresponsible, ever-seeking party boy.
I want the hot sex and promising infatuation I found when I first came out, but I want to be satisfied with continuity, too. Nothing ever seems like enough. What am I doing wrong? Why am I constantly…
I’m trying to sort out how much of what you tell me is simply part of the human condition and how much is problematic. It’s a matter of degree, you see. After all, with such a high-torque job, your expectations of “normal” could become skewed.
The adrenalized state you enjoy from your job results in a daily drop in energy at the end of each shift. Your evenings seem dull by comparison. Your high-excitement weekends mimic your weekday situation. What results is a nearly constant state of high-intensity stimulation followed by a crash when calm returns.
If you spent your days in a more even-keeled manner, you’d experience less let-down. Then again, you seem to thrive on the excitement.
I wonder what your upbringing was like. Many kids who come from chaotic homes become accustomed to ever-shifting scenarios. They remain ever-alert. When a calm period hits, everyone gets a bit nervous, waiting for the next commotion to erupt. Only then does the familiar return and everyone reverts to their customary roles.
This is common in homes with an alcoholic, abusive or drug-involved parent. The kids learn skills of instant assessment of situations that are valuable later in life, but they can also remain on alert even when they needn’t be. High-stress settings are second nature to these individuals. Unrattled by chaos, they function well and often emerge as leaders and organizers.
This is not to say that every person working in a high-stress profession comes from a dysfunctional background. Far from it. If this fits for you, it is worth considering; if not, let’s move on.
You tell me you were married to a woman for 10 years, coming out relatively late in life. You thrilled to the discovery of sex and romance that fit your authentic template and long for more of it.
Let’s talk a bit about developmental sexology.
Hot boys becoming aware of their attraction to teen girls are supported in their struggles with dating etiquette, sexual experimentation and social interactions that bolster confidence about how to navigate the choppy waters of interpersonal relationships. Not so for gay kids. You kept your feelings hidden and depended on the affection and minimal attraction you felt for women to get you through. You repressed your same-sex feelings and “passed.”
Years later you came out, effectively a 30-something teenager. You had to learn how to date anew, with different rules. First sexual experiences are not easily replicated; they provide a shiny thrill that changes with familiarity. If you are electrified by the chase, you must continually change partners.
With time and experience you will find partners who fit well enough that you’ll enjoy their familiarity. Developmentally, it makes sense. Give yourself that time.
You seem to have established a pattern that works for your personality. I don’t hear that you are hurting anybody, even yourself.
You made an enormous life change only five years ago. Could it be that you are being impatient? If you gave yourself permission to enjoy your high-pressure job and low-key evenings, would you enjoy both more? If you went out on the weekends (perhaps using alcohol and drugs to enhance rather than obliterate your feelings) to meet guys to date, rather than to try to recapture that first-time thrill or meet your Mr Right, might you actually have a good time?
I’m struck by your words “deeply ashamed and embarrassed.” I don’t see anything for which you need to apologize. If your drinking and drugging are really out of control, get a handle on that, and do so quickly. Those problems will cloud any other issues you want to address.
Otherwise, you sound like a man who enjoys a responsible job, maintained a decade-long marriage despite its poor fit, recently entered a new dating scene with a bit of social insecurity, and is perhaps too hard on himself. Not a bad report card, I’d say.