When Amy Jensen found herself single again at age 48, she realised that the last time she had gone on a first date was in the previous century. “I had to learn to flirt again,” says the marketing director and mother of two, whose name has been changed to keep her teenage son from being mortified. “It was like exercising a muscle I hadn’t used in years. But you know what? I’m having a lot of fun!”
Whether you’re newly single after a long relationship or still looking for your first great love, dating after you’ve passed your 40th birthday has its own challenges, but also plenty of advantages. Maybe you have some emotional baggage. Sure, who doesn’t? You’re almost definitely juggling more responsibilities than when you were a twenty-something sharing an apartment with three friends and sleeping till midday on the weekends.
But that also means you’ve put in the time to know what you truly want, says psychologist Carla Manly. “When you’ve used the previous decades to become more of your authentic self, that makes you a great catch in your 40s and beyond,” she says. “If you’ve been successful at work you love, you’re a great parent, or a great friend, you know who you are more than ever.”
It’s also easier to separate the romantic wheat from the chaff when you have a few decades of experience in your rear-view mirror, says Paul Hokemeyer, psychotherapist. “By the time we hit our 40s, we’re more interested in partnerships that nurture and enhance who we are rather than relationships that drain our energies and detract us from attaining our goals and fulfilling our responsibilities,” he says.
Denise Albert, 46, agrees that dating in her 40s is a big improvement over the younger version. “I truly believe in the beauty of wisdom and experience,” she says. “Also, since I have my kids, I don’t have any pressure about finding a partner, which many people do in their 20s as they’re thinking about building a family,” she says. “Now, everything would be a bonus—a bonus partner and teammate and bonus kids.”
Here, answers to some of the top concerns about dating, adult-style:
What age range should I be dating in my 40s?
Your 40s are a real sweet spot for dating. You can date up or down the calendar—and the beauty of being in your 40s is you don’t really have to give a damn what anyone else thinks!
And while you may be more comfortable dating someone who gets all the same cultural references (“What? You’ve never heard of the Fonz or New Kids on the Block?”), in the end, it’s really about deeper values, says psychiatrist Dr Leela Magavi. “You can date adults of any age as long as your core values and belief systems align,” she explains. “I have patients and friends in their 40s who have fallen in love with individuals much younger and older than them.”
Manly points out that while the most successful relationships tend to be among people born within a few years of each other, there is no hard and fast rule. “If you’re having fun dating someone younger, but your gut tells you it’s just a fling, not a long-term commitment, that’s fine—but you have to be clear with the other person about it.”
Of course, if you date someone born in a different decade, you may have to get over some technological hoops first: “I started seeing this guy who was 12 years younger than me,” says mum, Amy. “And he only ever wanted to text. He texted me all day, and I finally said, Please pick up a phone and call me! I’m thinking of looking for someone older than me next time.”
But what if I’m just exhausted from the whole dating experience?
If you’ve been dating steadily for the past couple of decades, the thought of having one more cup of coffee while you explain what you do for a living may just push you over the edge. In that case, it may be time to take a dating break to refresh and refocus, says Manly.
“Use that break to think about what exactly you found so exhausting,” she says. “Were you spending every night looking at dating apps? Were you not screening your dates enough in advance? And then figure out a way to go forward differently,” she says.
Manly also suggests you use your downtime to make a list of all the great things you have to offer a potential partner: You might include your stable career, your gentle sense of humour, or your skills as a parent (or your desire to become a great step-parent); and why not add your ability to whip up the world’s best pancakes or explain the plot of every Marvel movie? These are the things that make you you. Keeping those in mind will give you more confidence as you move forward.
Okay, I’m ready to date. How do I get started?
Sure, we’d all love the tell the grandkids a meet-cute story about locking eyes over that last bag of avocados at the farmers’ market, but the fact is more couples meet online or on apps than any other way. Signing up for eHarmony, Match, Bumble, Hinge, or even, yes, Tinder is actually a great way to ease in, since you can test the waters by communicating online before you meet in person.
Just be sure to create an honest profile and be clear about what you want (if you’re eager to start a family, mention that upfront), so you don’t waste anyone’s time—least of all your own. Hokemeyer suggests you team up with a friend to sort through potential dates together. “An effort shared is an effort both diminished and made infinitely more enjoyable,” he says.
Fine, I’ll try the dating apps, but is there any way to meet people in real life?
If you feel like you keep seeing the same 10 married couples at every social event, get a dog. No, seriously. If you love animals, and are committed to caring for another living creature, this is a surefire way to expand your circle, says Manly. Not only is a dog a great ice-breaker, she points out, but you’ll feel more comfortable going out to places like coffee bars or parks by yourself, where someone is bound to lean down to scratch Rover’s ears and start up a conversation.
Other options are joining groups that share your interests, whether that’s vegan cooking, standup comedy, art (check out groups near you—in person and virtual—through Meetup). While you may not find Mr or Ms Right at the next Spanish art film screening, you have a great opportunity to make new friends, and those friends may have gone to high school with or work in the cubicle next to your love match.
Am I being too picky?
There are certain things that you should absolutely be picky about when dating in your 40s and beyond—someone who is kind, empathetic, and respectful, for starters. But there is also a lot to be said for throwing away your old checklist, which may have led you down an unfulfilling path of dating only Mets fans who have a graduate degree and a similar cultural background to you.
“One of the greatest obstacles people who are dating in their 40s must push through is their resistance to dating someone out of their lane,” Hokemeyer says. “Yes, it feels more comfortable in the short run to stick with a well-travelled route, but in the long run, you’ll miss out on the excitement that comes from exploring something new.”
Even if you don’t wind up together forever with your toss-the-checklist date, you may wind up with a valuable new friend, says Albert. “After my divorce, I dated a few people who I am still friends with and who I really feel were truly great experiences.”