I can only imagine the depth of your pain after more than six decades of pretending to be someone you’re not. After all, it’s a basic human need to be who we really are—and for others to know us as we really are—and the ache you’re experiencing is the ache of an incarcerated self, a self that’s been held in solitary confinement.
Now, at age 65, you’re asking how sharing the truth might affect your boss, your mother, and your friends, but I want to suggest that we look at your question from another angle: how it might affect you. Because that, it seems, is what you’re essentially asking.
Let me put it like this. When people sit on my couch during a first therapy session, I want to know not just why they’ve come in, but why now. Why, on this particular week, did they pick up the phone and call me, when their problem may have been going on for months or years or decades? I ask because generally when people take the step of reaching out, it means they’re ready—consciously or not—for change.
That’s what I hear in your letter. On the one hand, you want to do what you’ve always done—keep things to yourself. On the other, the emotional toll of keeping this secret is so agonizing that you feel like you might burst—to the point where you’re finally coming out and sharing your secret with me.
This is a significant departure from how you managed your dilemma in the past. Some people deal with an inconvenient truth about who they are by forming a second self to protect their original self, and then distinguishing between the two becomes difficult. Other people do what you’ve done, which is to deny the true self by creating conditions in which it would be impossible for it to flourish.
For instance, your crushes have always been on heterosexual men, which means that even if you were to share your romantic interest, it wouldn’t be reciprocated. And just to make sure that it can’t be reciprocated—that your true self stays in check—you often choose men who aren’t only heterosexual, but also in a relationship and therefore unavailable. Conveniently, the likelihood of any real-life relationship under these circumstances is almost nil. (And in your boss’s case, sharing your romantic interest at work, regardless of sexual orientation, is always fraught in all kinds of ways.)
I think you wrote to me because what’s worked in the past—stifling your desires—is no longer working. As you approach old age, maybe you’re realizing that instead of keeping you safe, your self-imposed solitary confinement might be causing more harm than coming out would.
So how would living your truth benefit you? Well, once you step out of your jail, you’ll be free to pursue relationships with available men. Your friends, who might already suspect that you’re gay, will get to know you on a deeper level and likely feel much closer to you. (It’s hard to have meaningful friendships when an important aspect of your identity remains hidden.) Your mom, who, like you, grew up in an era rife with intolerance, might have complicated feelings about this but might also feel great relief and satisfaction from knowing that she’ll leave you on this planet as a whole, happy human being. And you will develop networks of friends and—hopefully—fall in love with available partners who embrace you, and not the facade you’ve been hiding behind.