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Jason Dilts

By Jason Dilts
Jason Dilts lives in Wichita, KS and is a graduate of Wichita State University, where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He has been the Executive Director of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party since he was 19 years old. He is also the President of the Kansas Democratic Party LGBT Caucus. He is an ardent feminist activist, avid reader and writer, and plans to pursue a Master’s Degree in Gender Studies. He loves his life as a single gay man and enjoys spending quality time with his amazing friends.
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I had to question, though: Was my desire for singlehood truly authentic? Or had it been self-manufactured as a survival mechanism?  When I accepted being gay, I had to accept the fact that I would never have a family. Marriage for same-sex couples was a distant dream, and I knew that adopting children would be a long, arduous, and expensive process, complicated even further by the fact that there would be two men involved. I understood that I could have a “partner” and make a “special family”, but those terms seemed condescending. I wanted to be embraced and accepted. Along with that, I wanted to be able to use the same language to describe my relationship that everyone else gets to use! Marriage has certain social connotations that bring with it a level of respect to couples who enter in to these legal nuptials.  I knew I would never have the real deal, and that my “partnership” with another man would never be accepted and celebrated like my heterosexual peer’s marriages.

Then came a magical day in late fall of 2003. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts had declared that preventing same sex couples from getting married was both discriminatory and unconstitutional. In an instant, a new door opened that I never could have imagined. Writing for the court’s majority, Justice C. J. Marshall exclaimed that, “Without the right to marry--or more properly, the right to choose to marry--one is excluded from the full range of human experience and denied full protection of the laws for one's "avowed commitment to an intimate and lasting human relationship." For me, it was that right to choose to marry that was most important. Although it was limited to just one state, and despite the fact that not a single state has granted full marriage rights since this decision, I can now choose to be married.

It was very important for LGBT people to have this choice. All of us want to know that the circumstances of our lives are a result of us having made our own decisions that brought us to the place we are in the present.  Absent a choice, it is easy to categorize as deficient and less than desirable a life we can never have.  Having access to marriage meant that this idea was now open for me to explore, and for a time I craved and hungered to live that life that everyone else had been living for so long.  I looked for more dates and tried out more men, hoping that I would find the magical one who would whisk me away to the mythic land of Massachusetts where we would live happily every after.  Alas – my magic man never came, and I stayed grounded in my home, the heartland of Kansas. I had the right t choose, but no one seemed to want to choose me!

Throughout my quest for companionship, my aborted attempts at relationships, and later my rabid desire to exercise my new-found civil right to marry, there persisted a constant belief that it was my fault that no one loved me. I assumed that there must be something internally deficient within me that repelled people away and made me of no desire to other men. Ultimately, it was my body where I laid the most blame, and over time I grew to hate it. That hatred eventually manifested itself in the form of an eating disorder, and for an entire year I was quite literally starving for love. I thought that if I changed my body and became thin, my luck would change. I succeeded in losing weight – eighty pounds over 12 months to be specific – but even though the new lean and slender me took up less space, I still wasn’t able to find someone who wanted to make room for loving me.

As my twenty-fourth birthday approached, I found myself increasingly unhappy and less fulfilled than ever. I discounted all of the wonderful things that I did have in my life, which by this time included a college degree, a great paying job, a nice apartment, and more friends than I ever could have imagined, and pinned all of my despair on the one thing that I didn’t possess. I agonized at the thought of another year passing without love, and bemoaned the idea that the next year could possibly be a repeat of all years prior. When my best friends took me out to dinner for my birthday, I wasn’t really in a mood to celebrate. I was too perplexed by my single problem.

There’s a funny thing about friendship, though. Sometimes it’s the one thing you have that can bring you back to yourself. That night at dinner, after rehashing my standard monologue about how meaningless my life was without a man, my friends Edey and Mary firmly and assertively pointed out that I was missing the point about what mattered in life. There I was, having dinner with two people I had known since I was in high school. We had gone through ups and downs, crazy angst-ridden adventures, personal growth experience, parental conflicts, friendship drama, and shared just about everything with each other that people can share. We’d kept our friendship together through good times and bad, and knew each other better that we knew anyone else. Yet, I refused to recognize that the best of me was seated at that table. Who I am, the “me” that makes me is forever infused in these two people, and that’s a powerful concept, more potent than the idea that another person’s love completes you.

It didn’t all come together that night, and I had many more months to go in my journey, but gradually I began to understand my real problem – and it had nothing to do with a personal deficiency. I realized that my problem would not be solved by a boy’s affections – nor would it be solved by dieting myself to death. My problem was that I didn’t truly love and value myself. I had no self-affirming identity. I had a world full of joy and satisfaction in both my personal and professional life that I had worked very hard to create; yet I refused to acknowledge just how powerful the things that are our own creation can be. I bought into the paradigm that love completes and that coupling is an essential part of the human experience. I began to question long held assumptions and beliefs about my life, and in doing so I became liberated. I became free to appreciate all that I did have, and began to evaluate my life in terms of my own happiness, and not by our society’s cultural norms and standards. My single problem wasn’t that I was single; it was that I devalued all the beauty that being single brings.

There is so much to celebrate about the single existence, and it's about time that we take notice: More people are living single than ever before, many delaying marriage for quite some time and some forgoing it all together. Even many of those who do marry will spend at least part of their life not in a romantic relationship, and they ought to realize that those years can be valued and enjoyed. The joys that living a life on your own terms bring – a life that is unconstrained by the whims, desires, or demands of anyone else – can amount to unparalleled happiness. The valuing of your own accomplishments, the education you claim, the career you forge, the community ties you build, the good you do for other people, and the enriching you do for society is a splendor like nothing else. The ties that bind you through friendship and the unparalleled satisfaction you get by having another person understand, value, and love who you are and conversely the feels of belonging that you get from having these same sentiments for others is an extraordinarily beautiful experience.

Once I learned to place value on all of this-- all the good that comes with being single-- I realized that I no longer had a single problem; in fact I had no real problem at all. All those years I hungered for love, both figuratively and literally, I was really just starving for an identity. I was craving someone to validate my existence by loving me. I was looking to find the person I am inside another human being. I was attempting to  scapegoat the significance of my own path in life by finding someone else to give it meaning. Before this unyielding, uncomfortable longing could go away, I had to ultimately realize just how significant I am as an individual.

Finally, my identity is rooted in me, and all the good things and good people that make my life worth living. I can grow to love a man romantically and that can be a beautiful thing. If I want to, and if I want it to be. We could get married in Massachusetts, or any other land that will take us as equal and full participating members of society. If I decide that I want to choose that life for myself.  Regardless,I’ll always have me – a solo, self-respecting, uninhibited individual. I have a lot of love to give, to many people in many different ways. However, I was born into this world one person, single. I shouldn’t feel ashamed for living my life that way. I should feel proud!

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Gretchen said:

My lesbian daughter told me when I was divorced and single and feeling much as you describe here that I should "Don't look for attachment; just do what you love and you will be radiant and your radiance will in time bring opportunities for attachment." I thought that was amazingly wise and found it to be true. Celebrating life, friendship, meaningful work you believe in, intellectual activity, service to your community--all this I loved...and in doing what I loved, I also found the person of my dreams.

Posted at: May 22, 2008 5:26 PM

Brent Lank said:

It took me until I was twenty-eight to start realizing that everything that I wanted out of life I could do on my own. That includes traveling, owning a home, and even having a child. Having a partner to share those things with might be wonderful, but it's not a requirement.

Posted at: May 27, 2008 3:02 PM

Seth Macy said:

I think this is just the tip of an iceberg. Let's keep in mind that things fall apart at any moment. This feels like the beginning of an idea, more than the middle. But what Jason has said here is that we must be aware of our own identities, and he has made it very clear. I'd like to think that this would be enough, but I know that when we as human beings affirm a belief like Jason's, it often quickly becomes endangered by our own doubts. Forging on...identities get lost very easily in gay culture. I'd like to know what to do once we get to this point. I've grasped it too(affirming my own identity after accepting I'm gay) but I can still feel the pressure about me embracing it. Am I/are we that distorted?

Posted at: June 10, 2008 5:28 PM

Chris Coulson said:

What Jason said about how he felt was a perfect description of me. I enjoy the things that I do in the community and haveing my own home but I'm tired of being alone without the love of a mate. I've been with two people in the last 4yrs and they both told me that they loved me and cared about me yet they both walked out on me and the most recent was just last month. How can u truly love and care about someone and tell them this to their face and yet walk out on them and not even tell them why u are doing it. I'm gay and have known this for multiple years and I fully accept this fact and enjoy being gay but it feels like there is a part of me missing not haveing someone to come home to when I've been gone or spend time with in the evening doing whatever we decide together to do. I have alot of love to give someone and am a very tenderhearted person and I want to think Jason for writeing this story but I needed to write this comment and get this off my chest as I have nobody else that I can talke to about this kind of things especially my family as they don't approve of this kind of life style but I'm 46yrs old and I run my own life not my family so if they can't except me for me and that I'm a part of that family then they aren't even worth being called family in my books.

Posted at: July 8, 2008 9:26 PM

Earl Nissen said:

I read about Jason's essay in "Liberty Press" of July 2008. It reminds me of the latest episode of HBO's "Taxicab Confessions" where a transsexual lady gets into the cab and shares her stories of love and loss. She ends up her interview by saying (I'm paraphrasing) "it's taken me along time to learn that the most important thing is to love yourself."

I've lived alone for the past 10 months and it has opened up my eyes to what I like to do and who I am. I cut out the word "should" and have just done what I like to do because it's pleasing to me! I've turned off the TV and read and listen to Public Radio and that's what I like to do!

As long as I don't harm myself or others, I'm OK. I feel if this is my last day on earth, then I have made myself happy first. Hooray for me!

Don't get me wrong. I give of myself to others (in listening, writing, visting and sharing good times) because I like to share and am joyful and curious about others. But I have let go of the desire to "please others" and am happy to please myself.

Posted at: July 18, 2008 5:48 PM

boredwell said:

Well, you might have the opportunity yet to write a sequel entitled My Relationship Problem. People who are in a relationship often want out and those who are single want in. What's up with THAT?! Our society's approach to both being single and being married is paradoxical. Both states are supposed to make us happy. Both are fraught with trial and tribulation. Yet being single carries a certain stigma, one often self-inflicted. Many people, I've found, in their desperation to be connected approach relationships with a consumer mentality. Looks, career, future are all given dominance while humor, mutuality and communication are given shorter shrift. Understanding oneself is the best, indeed, only way to aspire to contentment. Sharing this with someone may or may not be the cause for celebration of more contentment.

Posted at: February 15, 2009 10:13 AM

Rachel Rutledge said:

Great essay. I don't know Jason at all, just seen him around town at a few events. His reputation proceeds him. I am really impressed with what he has been doing with the community and the Democratic party, and he just seems to be such a vibrant and vital individual. I really enjoyed reading the essay, and I'm struggling with some of the same issues with singlehood - being a 37 year old single woman is not so easy, either. However, I do love living alone and I have friends in my life and people who love me - I still hope to find someone but I have no idea when that will be, or what kind of man it will be when I find him. Anyway, a great article, really related to it, thanks for expressing yourself so powerfully.

Posted at: October 14, 2009 1:12 AM