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L.A. Affairs: I’m 56 and have never been in love. Do red flags matter at my age?

A hand holds a cellphone whose screen displays a man holding a mask.
(Paul Tuller / For The Times)

I removed all dating apps from my phone. You might wonder what provoked this grand gesture. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist. It was a man.

A little about me: I’m 56, gay, funny and fit and I have never been in a relationship. The longest I’ve been with someone was for a few months, but the bulk of affairs have lasted three to four dates. They were too this or too that. Some of my most ridiculous excuses to not see someone again have been: They had a thumb ring, wore Top-Siders or said, “Sup?” This is my cross to bear and one of my most embarrassing admissions.

I‘ve never been in love and have never been loved by someone else. When I share this with people I am on dates with, there’s usually palpable silence.

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I’m single, in my 60s and a cat mom. Maybe finding romantic love isn’t for everyone.

I also have other excuses. In my 20s and 30s, I wanted to play the field, and in my 40s and early 50s, I was focusing on my career. The reality is that I have been afraid of intimacy and have used these excuses to protect myself. Those dating apps became a security blanket, something I could swipe at and feel like part of the process.

When you are in your mid-50s in the gay world, you could swipe right on everything and have limited options. I finally hit the jackpot and got a match. He was in his early 40s and very attractive and he wanted to meet. When we met at Precinct Bar in downtown Los Angeles, I was smitten with him. He was really handsome and sweet and he seemed to be smitten with me too.

Our first meeting turned into a few dinners and many text messages. We relied heavily on fantasy in our texts. My role was “the sugar daddy,” and he was “the struggling hunk.” I was going to take care of him, and all he had to do was be cute and love me. The fantasy really took hold and we were off to the races.

I didn’t have to be myself. I was this two-dimensional character in this torrid romance novel playing out on our phones, morning, noon and night. We would go to dinner. Then I’d pay the bill, and we’d settle into our roles.

We would furiously text one another all day, every day. Some people would think that’s communication. I would say we communicated our desires but not much more. I felt the challenges of staying in character. I didn’t mind taking care of someone’s needs, but at the same time, I wondered: Is that the only reason you are with me?

I thought love was about how I felt in the moment. Then I embarked on a roller coaster of a health journey with Carl.

One night, I invited him over for dinner, during which he asked his sugar daddy to pay for his car registration. I am usually not at a loss for words, but in that moment, what could I say? We had only dated for a few weeks, and all we talked about was me taking care of him. When tasked with taking care of him in reality, I was paralyzed.

I thought this was what I wanted — or more accurately, all I could ask for. He was in my house, and we were alone. I was scared of what he would do if I said no. Would he leave if I asked? Would he hurt me? It is strange when you think this person is the one, and then when they come over, you hide your belongings.

I had wanted him so badly and I so badly wanted to be done with dating, the apps and the small talk. What could I do? In our fantasy, the sugar daddy would pull out a money clip and start counting Benjamins to make his problems go away.

Fantasy became reality as I sent him the money over Zelle. My bank account was lighter but my heart was heavy. I had to take responsibility. My fantasy self wanted this “romance.” My reality self felt like a dirty old man who needed to pay to play. The situation hit me like a ton of bricks. For a guy to like me, I felt I needed to be someone else and sweeten the pot with cash and prizes. He went home a little richer, and I went to a dark place.

I could have reached out to him and adjusted the boundaries of our “relationship.” Instead, I sent him a text, our preferred communication portal, the next morning and told him I needed a break. I saw the three dots and thought he would be pleading for another shot, but the response I got back was: “Sure.”

We never spoke again. I felt used, but truth be told I was using him as well. Someone once told me that sometimes we pay for workshops we don’t know we are attending.

Ruben and I spoke by phone daily, and our relationship only deepened. I planned to visit him in Mexico whenever I could, and we’d enjoy whatever time we could spend together. Then came COVID-19.

For the low, low, low price of $300, I did learn some things and saw some parts of myself I didn’t want to look at. Fantasy just isn’t sustainable. And if I am going to rely on it, at least I need to give myself a better role. It’s a fantasy, after all.

I also realized I am always looking for the shortcut when it comes to love. I don’t want to do the work that is involved in creating intimacy. Part of that process can involve revealing your fantasies and also revealing yourself, your true self.

And my other takeaway? That I can give some sugar, but that I’m looking for a partner who wants to share his sugar with me too. I am more than my stuff, and hopefully I can find someone who sees me and can support me.

Until this all really sinks in, I am going to stay off the apps for a bit longer and do more introspection. I will get back out there at some point but no longer in the role of a sugar daddy.

The author is an interior designer living in northeast Los Angeles. He is on Instagram: @modern.nest.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.


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