Coming out later in life
‘At 51 years old, after a 22-year marriage and a series of relationships with men, news of my relationship with a woman was unexpected.’
“I’ve started seeing someone,” I shared in a text to a friend last week.
“Oh really? I can’t wait to hear all about him!” She texted back.
“Well,” I responded. “HE is actually a SHE. I’m dating a woman.”
“Oh!” she wrote back. “Oooooooooh!”
Let’s just say that at 51 years old, after a 22-year marriage and a series of relationships with a wide assortment of men in the five years since my divorce, news of my relationship with a woman was unexpected.
It turned out, however, that while she wasn’t expecting it, she wasn’t completely shocked by my revelation either. Her reaction was similar to my own.
How did this happen?
Aside from a brief and somewhat complicated situation with a woman in my early 30s, I was straight, or so I thought. I even had the ex-husband and two children to prove it. And yet, a few years ago, I found myself thinking about that brief experience more and more. There was a feeling I had experienced at that time that I hadn’t felt in any of my relationships since.
“I can’t be gay!” I’d tell myself, because I had been involved with a lot of men and found myself attracted to only a few select women here and there. Most of them were actresses or athletes. I don’t think I personally knew any gay women at that time, which made the idea of actually exploring what I was feeling seem fairly unrealistic.
I convinced myself that I was “straight with a twist” and would eventually find a man who I would connect with in the way I thought I should.
It didn’t happen, and believe me when I say that I made a valiant effort. I dated a lot. There were even a couple of times when I developed strong feelings for the men I was involved with, but deep down I knew something was missing and eventually I had to break things off.
A couple of years ago I joined a dating app and opened my search to both men and women, but that didn’t last long. There was something keeping me from fully exploring my interest in women, but I didn’t know what it was.
In September of 2020, I released a memoir in which I exposed dark secrets from my past. Before my book was published, I had lived with shame and guilt and feared that I would be harshly judged for the self-destructive ways I had dealt with several traumatic events.
To my surprise, instead of being met with criticism, I was shown empathy and support. In sharing my truth, I felt a type of freedom I had never experienced and this freedom gave me the courage to look inside myself and discover who I was and wanted to be.
That’s when everything changed.
I took a hard look at my past relationships and interactions with men. I thought about how being with men always felt somewhat performative, as if I was playing a role. I was only able to connect at a certain level, and it was mostly physical.
To put it bluntly, having sex was easy. Feeling an emotional connection was much more difficult. I would enter into a dating situation already knowing it wasn’t going to work out. Basically, I expected to be disappointed, and I always was. As I said, something was missing.
It wasn’t that I had been hiding my sexual identity. I just hadn’t been ready to fully acknowledge it, until a few months ago.
I decided that I was no longer going to be dating men and that if I were to get involved in another relationship, it would be with a woman.
Here’s the tricky part: I had no idea what to do next!
“Coming out” later in life can feel pretty daunting. Let’s look at things one challenge at a time:
What am I?
Am I gay? Maybe I’m bisexual or even pansexual. It seems like there are a lot of labels to choose from these days. The good news is that there’s no rush. Take your time in figuring out how you want to identify or if you want to identify at all. It’s your journey and there’s no right or wrong way to travel it.
Will I be accepted by the LGBTQ+ community?
I worried about this one.
I had heard that there could be stigma attached to coming out later in life. There’s the assumption that women like me are either going through a temporary “gay phase” or just looking for a fun experience. We aren’t taken seriously.
As a result, I felt like a fraud. It felt like I was too gay to be straight and too straight to be gay. Because I had waited so long to make this change, I questioned whether or not I had the right to. I assure you, your feelings are valid and don’t have to make sense to anyone but yourself.
Why does it take some women so long to figure this out?
Sexuality runs on a spectrum, according to Kate Goora Fried, a Toronto-based Disruption coach who empowers women to break through barriers around sexuality.
“As women age and become more comfortable in their own skin, they become more comfortable exploring intimacy and their own individual wants and needs,” Kate explains. “With age, they also become more aware of their own mortality and their concern over what others might think starts to lessen. Many women follow the path they think they were supposed to follow: marriage, kids, etc, without exploring what would bring them fulfillment. In mid-life women have more space to question and explore and this can open up an immense sense of freedom that wasn’t there before.”
There’s never a wrong time to discover who you are and it’s never too late to make the changes necessary to be happy.
What will my friends and family think?
In my case, most of the people I’ve told haven’t been all that surprised. Without even realizing it, I had been dropping hints for a while. I believe the people who love us just want to see us happy and won’t have any interest in judging what that happiness looks like.
There is one thing, however, that I find particularly frustrating and that’s how some friends assume that the reason I decided to date women was because of my decision to stop dating men. Loving women isn’t about disliking men. It doesn’t have anything to do with men at all. I appreciate my male friends. I just don’t want to date them.
Not everyone will be comfortable with the change and some will question if you’re doing the right thing. I see it this way: at this point in our lives, we have more years behind us than in front of us. Personally, I’ve spent way too much time trying to be the person I thought I was expected to be and now I refuse to waste another second being anyone other than who I’ve evolved into.
It’s always great to expand your social circle and there are many LGBTQ+ support groups and meetups offering guidance and support.
How will I know what to, um, do?
It’s never easy being a beginner at anything, especially when everyone else has had years of practice. It also seemed a bit unfair. I mean, after spending so much time in heterosexual dating land, I was comfortable and confident in the bedroom.
Suddenly, I found myself unsure and a little lost. I had to learn a whole new set of skills! Here’s the good news: It all comes pretty naturally when you’re with the right person. When the connection and attraction are strong you stop overthinking and just let your body and your desire take over. Not everyone gets to experience something brand new in their fifties, so stop worrying and enjoy yourself!
Is it worth it?
Absolutely, without question, yes.
For most of my life I’ve felt like a puzzle piece that never quite fit, and now I understand that the problem wasn’t me. It was just the wrong puzzle. The process of figuring things out felt a little messy, but now that I have, everything makes sense. I feel very lucky to have made a connection that feels as easy as it does exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.
People like to say that age is just a number, but I disagree. Age is a collection of experiences that give us the wisdom and the courage to live life with a fearlessness that can come only with time.
Now is your time. Enjoy the heck out of it!
Your might also enjoy this article about body acceptance.