Will & RJ,
I’m Austin and I’m a 19 year old from Nebraska. I’m having a hard time finding out how to simply love myself. I don’t mean this in an arrogant or overly confident way, but simply in the way that I don’t know why I’m not happy, how to make myself happy, and why I continue to let the same things get me down when I know they shouldn’t.
One of the biggest things that I know has been bothering me for years is my lack of confidence. You could say I’m “out” to one of my brothers, my mother, and many of my friends but for some reason I feel completely unable to openly talk about it or even say the word “gay” to them…
Another reason that I feel like I find it hard to believe in myself is the fact that I’ve had no more of a connection with other men than being close friends. It feels like an endless circle: My lack of confidence is rightly unattractive to other homosexual men and in turn my confidence is only battered down more and more…
…It would mean the world to me if you could just reply to me with any advice you two inspirational men might have. I just want to be happy for myself, who I am, and what I like.
Thank you so so much,
I felt compelled to answer this question since your situation kind of echoes the one I found myself in shortly before I met Will. Like you, I felt lonely, disconnected, depressed, unsure of myself, and deeply guarded. Then, along came this guy who changed all of that. But make no mistake, Will would have changed my life even if he hadn’t ended up dating me. See, in addition to being the love of my life, Will also taught me a lesson very early on. It was an epiphany that I desperately needed and that so many members of our generation unfortunately do not realize.
You are the only one responsible for your own happiness.
It sounds like an over-simplification, but it’s true. If you’re not happy, then you’re either not doing something, or there’s something that you’re doing wrong. It sounds like you’ve already recognized that there is a problem, and it also seems like you have at least a vague understanding of what that problem may be. But that simply isn’t good enough. You also have to recognize that you are the only person who has the capacity to fix the problem, and that you are the only person who has an obligation to fix that problem. You were only given a certain amount of time to live on this earth, so it’s your job to determine the quality of that time. Would you rather spend that time feeling sorry for yourself, or would you rather spend that time going after what makes you happy?
Now part of my problem back then was also not being able to recognize that I deserved to be happy, and I imagine that might be part of your problem, too. It’s difficult to make yourself happy if you don’t feel like you deserve to be happy. Now you’d be hard pressed to find a person who will readily admit to thinking this. Instead, you’ll find that these people feel the need to put other people’s happiness before their own. This is especially true of people who, for instance, want to come out but fear losing or harming those closest to them. I refused to admit to my bisexuality for years, partially because I was afraid that my mom, who works for the Catholic Church, might lose her job. But, unfortunately, my silence came at the price of my happiness. Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make other people happy, especially those closest to us, but it cannot come at the expense of your own. Otherwise, this will eventually bring bad blood into those relationships. You will begin to resent these people, subconsciously and even consciously, for taking your happiness from you. Thus, putting your own happiness first is not selfish, it’s vital to the survival of any healthy relationship. And if those closest to you want to have a healthy relationship with you, then they should recognize that. But then again, why wouldn’t someone you love want you to be happy? If not, then they are not worth having in your life to begin with.
The second thing you need to know is that too many people take the wrong approach when it comes to going after what makes them happy. That is, too many people take an “if-then” approach to their happiness. It goes a little something like this: “if I find the man of my dreams, then I’ll be happy”. Their happiness is contingent on the outcome of a certain situation. So many people have that list of things in their minds… “if I get a good job”, “if I make a certain amount of money”, “if I get married”, “if I have kids”, the list goes on and one. The problem is that many of these goals at least partially depend on factors that are beyond our control. People are essentially giving up control of their happiness and leaving it up to the Universe to decide if they get to be happy. Even worse, even when we manage to attain one of those goals, the happiness that we get there only lasts for a limited amount of time. Even if you attain everything you want in life, you’re still the same empty person that you were before, so it’s only a matter of time before you search for new goals to fill yourself up with.
So how do we combat this problem? We focus on the only factor that we can control—ourselves. It’s okay to have goals, and it’s especially okay to go after those goals. It’s more than okay, it’s vital. But instead of letting ourselves fall into the “if-then” pattern, we must instead focus on investing everything we can in the process of striving for our goals. Instead of focusing on whether or not we achieve our goals, try to make sure that you go to bed every day knowing that you made the most of the time that was given to you. So you flunked a test. So some guy rejected you at a bar. So your boyfriend broke up with you. Point is, from the moment you got up to the moment you went back to bed, you did everything you could, and you can take solace and be proud of that fact. You’ll find that, once you get into the habit of thinking this way, it becomes much easier to dust yourself off after something doesn’t go your way. Rather than feeling like a victim, this allows you maximize the control you have over your own situation. Not to mention that, once you’ve uncovered this newfound persistence, you’ll find that things will start working out in your favor anyway.
Of course happiness is a problem that we spend our entire lives trying to solve, but I hope I at least gave you somewhere to start.