Lesbian and Gay Delayed Adolesence

Jerome is 35-years-old. He has a successful career, and for many years he’s thought of himself as an adult. Last year, he began to notice that he feels sexually attracted to men. That made sense to him; he had dated women off and on, but none of them was very important to him.

What he doesn’t understand are his mood swings. One minute he feels on top of the world, ecstatic, couldn’t be happier. The next minute he’s miserable, depressed, lonely, doesn’t know what to do with himself. Jerome’s sexual feelings are also bewildering. Sex has never been very important to him; now he can’t stop thinking about it.

Charlene is also confused. She’s known for over ten years that she’s a lesbian, and she’s still with her first woman lover. They have a small circle of friends, all women who are in long-term relationships, but they haven’t had very much contact with the lesbian and until recently. Charlene began doing volunteer work at the local gay and community center, where she’s met a variety of other lesbians and , both partnered and single. She finds some of the women very sexually attractive, something that has never happened to her before. She’s also having mood swings. She’s afraid to tell her lover how she’s feeling, but there is already tension between them because Charlene’s partner can tell something is wrong.

Both Jerome and Charlene are experiencing delayed adolescence. Teenagers typically have mood swings and intense sexual feelings, to no one’s surprise. When adults start feeling and acting like teenagers, everyone is caught off guard. The adult-going-on-adolescence phenomenon is common in the gay and community. Here’s why.

Many lesbians and gays do not recognize their feelings for members of the same gender when they are teenagers. Instead, they start coming out at 25 or 35 or 45 or 55, or older. When they were teenagers, the men dated women and the women dated men, if they dated at all. Often they did not experience intense and/or mood swings when they were in their teens. Some of them married and had children. Then one day, much to their surprise, they begin to find members of the same gender attractive. Eventually, they realize they want their primary relationships to be gay or lesbian.

Delayed adolescence is a mixed blessing. These feelings can be hard to manage when you’re an adult. You have a responsible job and an established circle of friends; you’re expected to deal maturely with your emotions and relationships. But there’s part of you that wants to have a mad, passionate fling, or mope about for days on end. And no one around you understands what’s going on. That’s the bad news. The good news, for many and women, is that the world suddenly makes sense. Or at the very least, sex makes sense. Love finally makes sense. Delayed adolescence can be a joyous time, a time when you finally come to know who you really are.

Here are some suggestions for managing delayed adolescence while enjoying it:

  • Remember that you won’t feel like this forever and it won’t kill you; adolescence is not a terminal condition.
  • Try to find ways to deal with your feelings that won’t jeopardize the adult life you’ve created. For instance, even though you feel wonderful about being gay or , be cautious about coming out at work, to friends, or to relatives until you’ve taken a realistic look at all the possible responses, positive and negative.
  • Find ways to express your intense sexual feelings that will not cost more than you’re willing to pay. If you’re in a relationship, understand clearly the damage an affair could cause.
  • Whenever you get sexually involved with a new partner, practice safer sex.
  • Remember compatibility is not a sufficient basis for a relationship. If you don’t have shared values, common interests and the ability to communicate, go ahead and have a good time in bed, but don’t start planning the wedding.
  • If you have a fling with someone who has never had a same-gender lover before, understand that he or she might not be on the way out of the closet.
  • Have fun!

Jerome has been learning about delayed adolescence and finds that it helps to have an explanation for how he feels. He’s finding ways to manage his moods and feelings. He keeps a journal and also gives himself permission to ual fantasies. Charlene has started talking with her partner about her confused new feelings, which has helped. But they still are having a hard time and are looking for a couples counselor to help them through it.

As long as we live in a homophobic world, delayed adolescence will be a reality for many of us. It’s not always fun, but it is manageable, and it is an important part of our growth and development. And parts of it are delightful!

Note: The people described here are fictitious and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is coincidental.

About the Author:

Gail S. Bernstein, Ph.D. is an author and psychologist. She has a psychotherapy practice in Denver, Colorado. Dr. Bernstein speaks and writes about gay, lesbian and bisexual people for both general and professional audiences, and is the author of the audiotape, NOT HETEROSEXUAL: An Educational Program About Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual People.

Originally published 5/28/98
Revised 4/22/2009 by Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D.
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