While it may be better to have loved and lost, for mature women and men on the dating scene, the question turns to whether it will be possible to love again. Dating over 40 provides its own challenges, and with 20-plus years of romantic history in the bag, the rules and strategies have changed. We asked the experts for advice on successfully dating at 40 and beyond.
Starting Over After 40
“Often, people over 40 reentering the dating scene are newly divorced or separated. As a result, it can be difficult for them to know how to start again,” says psychologist Salama Marine with EliteSingles. “Some people may be ready to date immediately; others need to build their confidence by meeting different people.”
The dating site EliteSingles surveyed 2500 members over the age of 40 and discovered that over 40 percent reported not finding fellow older singles attractive/interesting enough, while 36 percent said that they had difficulty finding other people who are single later in life. Despite these perceived challenges, 96 percent of respondents agreed that it was possible to fall in love at any age.
“The biggest thing for dating over 40 is to actually start dating,” says certified sex therapist Natalie Elliott. For many men and women, the problem is knowing how to start.
“Go on practice dates,” says spiritual advisor Ursula Lentine. “Go out with male friends just to get used to the opposite sex again.” Once you begin “real” dating, consider dates without alcohol. Lentine recommends a walk in the park or a bicycle ride, and Elliott suggests a coffee or ice cream date. “Dating is awkward and uncomfortable,” says Lentine, which can cause people to get nervous and drink — sometimes too much.
Instead, be honest about your feelings, even if it means admitting your nervousness. “Short statements like ‘I feel happy,’ or ‘I feel comfortable’ will do the trick,” notes Lentine. Chances are, your companion also feels a bit anxious, and acknowledging the awkwardness could lighten the mood.
Today, dating and technology go hand-in-hand. From online dating to texting, everybody’s doing it, including the over-40 crowd. In fact, in the EliteSingles survey, 78 percent described online dating as a great way to meet people.
Maria Sullivan of iDate says, “Since most over-40 people do not have time to meet people in the former conventional ways, [they] now look to online dating. A great dating profile and picture are absolutely necessary.”
Feature a profile picture that shows your entire face as well as shots of your full body. Write a strong profile; get help or feedback from a trusted friend as you compose it. “It took you 40 years to get here, and hopefully there is more to share than a few words,”
With an excellent write-up and photo, any site can be a match for your next great date. “It doesn’t matter what site you get on, if you have done the self work you need to do, you can meet the love of your life,” says Elliott. “Self work” has different meanings for each of us, but Elliott advises making sure you are in a good place with old relationships, can articulate why they failed and have balance in your family and work life.
Licensed psychologist and childhood domestic violence advocate with Atlanta Psych Consultants, Dr. Linda Olson agrees, “We have to be happy with ourselves first before we get into a relationship.” Don’t look for something in someone else when you still have answers to find within yourself.
Let’s Talk About Sex
Once you hit the dating scene, you’ll likely encounter sex after 40 too. “The mature dater seems to know more about what they want in a partner and what they will or will not tolerate,” says therapist Crystal Bradshaw, LPC, NCC, Gottman 7 Principles Educator with Synergy Counseling Innovations, LLC. “However, the challenge sometimes comes down to sharing this with someone.” To assist clients with navigating the tough questions, Bradshaw developed a “sex interview” that couples can use to find out more about each other’s likes and dislikes.
Despite the difficulty that surrounds conversations about sex, make sure you are willing to have that talk, especially when it comes to safe sex. Ask your partner when he or she last had a full STD panel. “If you are not comfortable talking to your partner about this level of the relationship, then I want you to see that as a red flag,” says Elliott.
Red Flags or Opportunities?
While you may be completely ready for a concerted dating campaign, chances are you will encounter dates who are not. “Dating in your 40s can involve people in unique situations,” says Dr. Shay Thomas, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Some people may be separated/divorced; others might be serial daters or commitment-phobes. In some cases, folks in their 40s may have unresolved issues from childhood or past relationships.” Be alert for general statements, such as “women always,” as well as reactions that do not match the situation – for example, a meltdown over where to go to dinner. If this happens in a relationship you are interested in pursuing, it’s time to communicate. “It’s not about things being perfect. It’s about when there are mistakes, how do we resolve them,” explains Thomas.
In fact, the opportunities provided by dealing with past issues and learning to communicate give older daters a boost, according to Olson. People in their 40s and 50s are more willing to look at how they have built-up anger and resentment, which can be positive for dating. “We can’t heal what we won’t acknowledge,” says Olson. “The more we avoid our fears, the more we tend to repeat them.” Mature daters are more likely to begin to look at their patterns and how they recreate what they fear the most. “And that is a good thing. Self-awareness is critical to having a healthy relationship,” she says.
Surprise — your 40s can be ideal for dating and relationships! Maybe it’s time to put your life experience to work for you and try viewing the dating scene from a positive perspective. You’re smart, savvy and seasoned, and someone out there is waiting to meet Y-O-U.
Maria Sullivan, iDate — www.idatetips.com
Dr. Shay Thomas, DMFT, LMFT, Dr. Shay Speaks — www.drshayspeaks.com
Salama Marine, EliteSingles — www.elitesingles.com
Crystal Bradshaw, LPC, NCC, Gottman 7 Principles Educator — www.SynergyCounselingInnovations.com
Ursula Lentine, Spiritual Advisor — www.ursulalentine.com
Natalie Elliott, Atlanta Sex Therapy — www.atlantasextherapy.com
Dr. Linda Olson, Atlanta Psych Consultants — www.atlantapsychconsultants.com