I'm waiting, all of my life been waiting
To get it right, but that still seems like it's so far away
And I'm taking all the advice I'm given
Trying to find out how a kid like me becomes a man
'Cause I guess I'm just scared I'm the only one here
Growing old, growing old but not quite growing up
- Waiting by Matt Wertz
One of the hardest parts about lifetime singleness is the feeling of being forever stuck.
Advancing through the stages of life is a lot of fun. No matter the stage or how tough it gets, you can keep going because the next stage brings new experiences, new hope, new joy.
It's like seasons.
Towards the end of every summer, people start talking about how they can't wait for colder weather. Sweaters and hot chocolate beckon.
And as winter wears on, people start complaining about the cold and dreaming of warmer days at the pool and the beach.
We've experienced it a million times, but the hope-drenched newness of changing seasons is powerful because it reminds us that we're still alive and that our present dark days won't last forever.
That means that if high school sucks, college will be better.
If singleness sucks, being married will be better.
If newlywed life is hard, maybe kids will bring a fresh start.
If dirty diapers stink, then just hang on til they're in high school. It'll be easier then.
In the early phases of life, institutions—school, jobs, etc.—pull you forward into the next phase. But then it flips, and family becomes the pull-er. Family is time's tow truck, dutifully transporting us from one season of life to the next.
Of course, it doesn't matter if the next stage doesn't deliver on your romanticized version of it. What matters is that there IS a next stage. The hope—even if only faint—of something new keeps us going.
I think maybe this is why empty nesters, older people, and retirees struggle. There is more life behind them than ahead of them and the only "next stage" they can see is declining health, nursing homes, and...well...death.
This is why I have a lot of compassion for older people. It's got to be really hard, and we'll all be there one day.
This stalling out makes the lifetime-single road a tough one for the gay Christian. You're skipping through the stages of life until you graduate college and matriculate into the working world where the progression stalls out. By your mid-20s, you're staring at 50+ years of unstructured time. Of course, this isn't awful. 50+ years of unstructured time can be an incredible asset, but it's not nearly as valuable alone. Friends keep advancing to the next stage and beyond. They disappear one-by-one, raptured into married life.
The rapturing device?
Special events are hard for the lifetime single gay Christian. I know this firsthand.
Company cookouts are hard with dads hoisting diaper bags, moms huddled up, chattering about kid stuff, and kids laughing and running in every direction.
Church events are hard too, because they're catered mostly to families. As I've mentioned before, there's nothing wrong with this, but the single person still struggles to belong.
Holidays are difficult too as the single person often finds herself sitting around a big, festively-decorated wooden table as the only non-coupled participant. You glance around the table and see couples dressed in their cute sweaters, cuddled up, glowing with Christmas cheer. Then you see the kids at the kids' table and secretly wish you were there again. You secretly wish for days where your greatest fear was Are You Afraid of the Dark? and your greatest love was Nintendo. I always felt closer with the kids than the adults in those settings.
But no special event is as emotionally taxing as the American wedding.
By my best guess, I attended about 50 weddings in my 20s and early 30s. And I think I was actually in about 15-20 of those as a groomsmen or usher. I've seen it all...
I've been to weddings in churches and fields and libraries and lakeside and in old factories.
I've been to $100k weddings of trust fund kids with entire tents dedicated to shrimp & grits.
I've been to weddings where groomsmen passed out and where the groom passed out.
I've sat through torturously awkward rehearsal dinner speeches and can count on one hand the number of good ones I've heard.
I've been to weddings with 45 minute "messages" from the officiating pastor.
I even officiated a friend's wedding once which was terrifying, knowing I was one slip-up away from Youtube fame.
And no matter the setting or circumstances, each wedding was hard in its own way.
I cried at probably half of them. Some were tears of joy as I watched someone I love be so happy. But often, they were tears of sadness, watching friends "graduate" from singleness, leaving me behind—a grown-ass man, sitting in a tiny chair, elbows on my knees, at the kids' table of my mind.
I remember going to a fall wedding in a wealthy but rural suburb of Indianapolis once.
The rehearsal dinner was at this farm, set amongst rolling hills of corn, disappearing into the distance in every direction. The dinner was top-notch, set up underneath a big white tent. It was dusk, and you could see the sun setting on the horizon, dipping down beneath the corn stalks. As it got darker, the inside of the tent lit up with a warm, romantic light from white party lights hung along the inside edge of the tent. The tables had been carefully set with flowers and candles and wine glasses. The scene was heavenly.
I remember sitting in my chair in a suit and tie, taking it all in. I remember breathing in cool, Indiana air. I remember friends toasting the bride and groom and telling funny stories from college. I remember the flowers and tiki torches, and the sun setting in the distance. And I remember my eyes welling up and looking away from it all, trying so hard to hide grown-man tears. I wasn't as good at it back then...
Suck it up, Brett. This isn't for you. Don't let them see you crying or you'll have to explain why. You don't need this anyway. It's not for you.
Rehearsal dinners are always interesting, but the wedding ceremony itself is where the action is.
Standing up on stage amongst the groomsmen gives you a good view of the whole scene, and I've done that a lot. Most weddings are pretty predictable and boring, but I learned a trick to entertain myself:
Watching the dad of the bride.
I'd always keep one eye on him during the ceremony—analyzing the waves of raw emotion as they'd roll across his face. I can't imagine what it must be like to raise a daughter from infancy and into adulthood and then be standing there watching her walk down the aisle and into the arms of another man. I'd study his face hard, trying to imagine what that must feel like.
I'll never forget one wedding in particular. It was at some kind of old factory—a cotton mill maybe—that had been converted into a hip wedding venue.
The bride's dad was performing part of the ceremony. I could watch him to my right and still keep an eye on her family, seated on the front row. I had a great view of all the action.
The dad talked about how he'd had the key to his daughter's heart since she was a little girl, and that he knew he'd have to give it to a man one day—a man who would love and protect her as he had done. As he told the story, he got choked up.
I locked my gaze on his face...this one was going to be good.
First was the lip.
The quivering lip of a grown man is a rare thing, even for the dad of a bride.
Next came the tears—first filling the eyelids, then spilling onto the cheeks. He was losing it.
I broke my gaze and looked back at the family to see their reactions. I noticed the bride's granddad—a white-haired gentlemanly type—and noticed he's crying too. Behind him, I see a cousin of the bride—a random cousin—and noticed the same thing. More tears. Lots of crying men...this was very unusual for a southern wedding.
In that moment, I was pulled—dragged really—out of my observational, research-y state.
I'd become a master builder of big stone walls to protect me from my emotions, but in that moment, the love in that room stormed across those old wooden floors, crashed through that wall, and reached into my chest, Last of the Mohicans style. My eyes filled with tears. I looked down—determined to hide my moisture like a little boy who'd wet his pants.
Trying to gather myself, my heart raced at what I'd just seen. My mind furiously scanned its dusty shelves of past experiences, trying to find something to compare this to...
What on earth? What is this? What is love and how can it just slay men like this? How is that possible? What is fatherhood? What does it feel like?
I'd never seen such beauty.
I'd never felt a love like that.
And knew I never would.
Every wedding was a little funeral for me. I held a little sad ceremony in my heart...a ceremony for one.
I'd mourn the loss of the life that could have been—grainy films playing above the casket on a black and white TV.
I'd watch the wife I never had
caring for the kids that didn't exist
playing a baseball game that never happened
in the backyard
of the four-bedroom house
we never built.
All alone, I'd be joined by the ghosts of that family I lost many years ago when my biology went rogue and decided men were more lovely than women.
Damn this biology.
Damn this same-sex attraction.
Damn this wedding.
Damn these crying men.
Damn it all.
And damn you, Brett...
Walk down the aisle...
Exit down aisle...
Look straight ahead...
"Growing old, but not quite growing up."
Give me my shrimp and grits...👊
All photos by Sterling Graves. Copyright Blue Babies Pink & Sterling Graves.
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.