03/23/2012 04:37 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

61, Gay, and Closeted: Is It Too Late for Him?

So here's a letter I got in:

I'm a 61-year-old gay man who is still pretty much in the closet. I've very selectively come out to a few friends over the years, and, of course, to my gay friends. But I just can't seem to build up momentum to come out in a bigger way. Naturally, I feel like I'm keeping something back with straight friends, but I'm so used to this way of being that it seems overwhelming to change it. This is more complicated, too, because it's so much harder to fall in love as you get older.

When you're young and your life is ahead of you, coming out has so much more to offer. I'd love to come out, but I can't see the benefit, since I don't see the possibility for a deep, meaningful relationship at this point in my life. I guess I'm writing to you because I'm hoping that you might be able to offer some insight into my situation. Thanks.

Hello, dude! Thanks for writing me.

First of all (he said, on his 54th birthday), 61 is not that old. It can feel old. And the main reason it can tend to feel old has much more to do with perception than it does with physicality. If you're 61 now, it's a good bet that your parents were born in the 1920s, and that their parents, your grandparents, were born about 1900. In 1900 the average life expectancy for an American was 46 years. Forty-six! That means that your parents grew up believing in the model of old age they inherited from their parents, which is that 46 is old.

In other words, chances are outstanding that you, just like your parents, grew up convinced that 46 is dang near geriatric. And that belief and concept matters. It fully informs your entire understanding of what old is and means. Saying you inherited outdated information about what old is might sound sophomoric or easily dismissed, but it shouldn't. What constitutes old is exactly the sort of core information about life that we learn from our parents. It's the sort of thing that gets hardwired into our entire life paradigm. We don't question that sort of thing, mainly because it's so counterintuitive that our parents could be wrong about something so basic. We just assume what they assume, which is that they know perfectly well what old is.

But they don't. They know what they and their parents considered old. What they don't know, because emotionally and experientially they don't really have any way to know, is how much longer the average life expectancy is for their kids than it was for their parents and grandparents.

Check it out: In 1800, the life expectancy of an American was 35 years. In 1900, it was 46 years. In 1950, it was 68 years. Today, it is 78.5 years. It's gone up 10 years just since you were born!

When it comes to what being old is, you're working from an outdated model. Everyone is. It's just... weird like that. I guarantee you that your idea of how old you are is a lot older than you actually are. If it weren't, you wouldn't have these concerns of yours. You don't, in other words, sound like someone who, in fact, you are, which is someone who, it's reasonable to think, has another 30 years left to live. And there is no way that 30 years isn't long enough to enjoy a seriously deep relationship. (And I would know: that's exactly how long I've been married!)

Another thing to be said here is that none of us ever feels fully prepared and primed for life. Throughout every phase of life, there are all kinds of insecurities making us feel all... insecure. When young, you're insecure because you're young; when old, you're insecure because you're old. That shit never stops. There's always a new set of reasons to feel insecure. But one set is rarely more insurmountably real than the last or next.

There's really no unique, particularly debilitating condition known as "old." There's being sick. There's being depressed. There's being out of shape. There's being out of touch. But "old" carries with it all kinds of negative connotations -- all kind of hooks for our insecurities -- that aren't at all necessary conditions of being any age at all.

Here's the real bottom line: all people are in truth the exact same age, because every person, at any given moment, has the exact same relationship to time: the moment they are in, and a guarantee of nothing more. We're all the same age, which is now.

Anyway, about the coming-out thing. The reason you want to come out is not because of what it will do for your relationship with others. It's because of what coming out will do for your relationship with you. It's just plain unhealthy to deny in any way who you really are. The kind of stress born of living a lie will age you prematurely.

You're gay. Be gay! Say "fuck 'em" if they can't take a bloke. If any of your friends have a problem with you being gay, then they're not friends anyway, and learning who they really are saves you the time and effort you might have otherwise invested in those relationships. But if your friends dig the news? (Nothing rocks like hippie-talk rocks!) Then your relationship with them becomes more open, more honest, and deeper. And how is that not a beautiful thing?

You want to come out to at least all of your friends, because not doing so means nothing less than closing yourself off to the possibilities of life. You don't know who you might meet, for instance, if everyone you know knows that you're gay and looking. There's a ton of stuff that might happen to you, and with you, if you only stop hiding who you are.

You don't want to arrive at the end of your life (30 years from now!) and know that all along you kept people and possibilities an arm's distance away. Don't do that to yourself. Start using your arms, right now, to hug first yourself, and then others.

Also, showing the kind of honesty and integrity it takes to come out sets a great and encouraging example to others. It sends a very positive message to everyone that they, too, should be, and can be, brave about being who they are. That's such an vital message to send. It's what makes life work: we all get our strength from the strength, goodness, and bravery of others.