I work with a lot of gay men. Here’s what I’ve noticed: Gay men are very busy.
It takes a lot of time to:
- Make it at work
- Stay fit with gym visits
- Respond quickly to social media and texts
- Stay on top of trends
- Eat right
- Be socially active and funny
- Have a beautiful and clean apartment
- Find and keep a relationship
- Be a dutiful son
- Give good parties
- Have a sex life
The straight men I know, and the ones I work with in my therapy practice, often are more “chill.” They tend to be more comfortable with leisure time and doing less.
If This is True, Why?
No one has spent money researching this thesis so there’s no way to prove if my sample of clients of urban men in therapy is somehow different.
But I can share what we often discover underneath the exhausting busyness.
We typically learn that it’s the result of being exposed to homophobia at an early age. In other words, it’s called growing up gay on planet earth.
Being productive, admirable, popular, elite, or muscular is one way not to feel “one down,” “less than,” or a social outcast.
Relaxing is a luxury that some gay men can’t afford. Being yourself without any alteration could lead to being called a “fag.” That is the unconscious belief that sometimes runs the show. And when you are growing up there’s nothing worse than being called a fag. It’s social death. And occasionally, actual death.
Doing a lot, and doing things well, often felt good as a kid. It still feels good. But just “being” without “doing” is risky. You might lose ground and fall behind. You could get left out. You might not be valued. You could end up all alone. These are the central fears of the gay experience. These are the good reasons people stay in the closet until it is too painful to continue to do that.
The equation is: when you are busy improving and producing, you can be loved. And you can love yourself. Even if your sexual attractions are “disgusting.”
How Do We Chill-Lax?
Learning to feel entitled enough to relax may require looking at some of these unconscious motivators.
If you’ve come out then you already know the value of placing a higher value on your personal needs rather than just meeting the expectations of your family or culture.
That was step one. This process of relaxing may be step two, three, or four.
If you want to slow down a bit and enjoy your free time more, you can experiment with telling yourself some of the following statements, all which are very likely to be true:
- “If I do 2% less at work no one will care or notice, and I will still get promotions.”
- “__________ will love me even if I don’t answer their text until tomorrow.”
- “People are too busy with their own insecurities to notice if my pants look funny today.”
- “I am entitled to enjoy this experience of being a human on this planet.”
- “How I feel about myself is what matters most.”
- “I don’t think my friends, family, or boss would want me to suffer like this.”
- “Fat feels good in bed.”
What Happens Next?
Once you start to give yourself permission to slow down, new issues may arise.
You might get bored.
And you probably will get a little anxious.
You’ll be facing the important scary question: Who am I if I am not producing? Do I have any value?
And what do I want to do with my free time anyway?
The answers to these questions will eventually become clear as long as you keep asking them with a self-compassionate and curious tone. If you have been using busyness as a defense against feeling “less than” for years, then it may take months or years to learn to bring more ease into your life.
Boredom is fear in disguise. Underneath the experience of being bored is a rich palette of emotions. It can take a little courage to slow down and figure out what you are really feeling.
How Do We Move Beyond Fear and Boredom?
Meditation and yoga can help us be more comfortable enjoying the moment. However, it can be a trap to add “learn to meditate” to your already long to-do list. If it becomes just another project for achievement then the purpose is defeated.
Meditation can be challenging. Full disclosure: I once ran away from a week-long silent meditation retreat. I learned a lot, but I only could take two days of learning.
Spending some time alone and perhaps going for a walk is a good place to start.
Without some alone time (and I mean quality time without the distraction of email, phones, TV, Facebook, or alcohol), it is hard to be a good friend to yourself. Distracted friends who don’t listen well do not make good friends. Do you check in with yourself the way you check in with a friend? Do you ever call you?
A famous 2014 study published in the journal Science discovered that people would rather receive electric shocks than be in a room by themselves with nothing to do. 67% of men and 25% of women chose to inflict themselves with electric shocks rather than sit quietly alone in a room for fifteen minutes.
So don’t be surprised if you “fail” at doing less at first. This isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Why Is Slowing Down Important?
Not to get too depressing, but one of the top five regrets of people who are dying is“I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
A palliative nurse named Bronnie Ware recorded the most common regrets of the dying and put her findings in the book, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, and not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This sounds like a good manifesto for living to me.