I married my first date. My second first date was at 47, after my decades long marriage ended abruptly.
Dating in your 40s after divorce is not for the faint of heart. I figured a few things out along the way that might be helpful.
- DO YOUR HEALING WORK
DIvorce is an opportunity to learn from your past mistakes. If you married young you may not have developed your own identity fully or understood what you wanted and needed in a partner. This is where your age becomes an advantage. Dating in your 40s or 50s you are more likely to know yourself, how likable you are, and to choose a partner that compliments your lifestyle and values.
Take the time to learn to love yourself so you will attract people who are healthy and you will quickly recognize unhealthy behaviors in your potential partners and move along. Being alone is better than being lonely in a relationship. As a couples therapist, I have seen a lot of examples of marriages over the years. With my divorce, I had a lot of baggage to unpack, including figuring out how I could have ignored major issues that were right in front of me. I spent a lot of time in therapy, in groups, and reading everything I could get my hands on while I unraveled the mess. Even though you may want to rush it, if you are dating in your 40’s after divorce, take time to do your healing, you will be less likely to repeat your mistakes.
- HAVE FUN
After a year of crazy emotions of grief and finally feeling like I was getting a hold of myself, I decided I was ready to take my friends’ advice and get back into dating. The anxiety was intense. With little dating experience, I didn’t know the rules of the game and they sounded complicated. If you have been rejected, it’s normal to feel anxiety about being hurt again. I wondered if I was attractive enough, how to navigate the discussions around sex and intimacy and when that should be introduced to the relationship. What if my stretch marks, saggy boobs and grey hair were a turn off? I decided I was taking it too seriously in thinking I was looking for another partner and I should just get out and “practice” dating and make friends. This felt a lot more manageable. Don’t listen to the fear, just move forward and see what happens. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
- NARROW THE FIELD
Take some time and make a list of qualities your ideal relationship would include. In addition, list out the absolute non-starters. My ideal partner had high emotional intelligence, must be able to name their feelings and work through any issues with a fair amount of skill. They must have a number of rich intimate relationships with family or long term friends and children of their own. Nonstarters were addiction issues, problems managing money, and narcissistic traits.
Believe it or not dating in your 40s after divorce can be fun!
3. DECIDE HOW TO MEET PEOPLE
Once your “ideal mate” list is complete, it’s time to think about where you will find your potential dates. By the time you start dating after divorce in your 40s you are going to have to think about whether you are comfortable meeting people using an online platform or not. My preference would have been to meet someone through a friend or in a setting that was more about a shared interest. I had thoughts that my ideal man would show himself in the Market of Choice produce department talking about the best way to prepare butternut squash. I spent a lot of time and money in that grocery store but no dates materialized. As a therapist, I’m not going to meet people to date at work and most of my friends are married. Single men were not easy to come by in my environment, so I decided to sign up for online dating.
We’ve all heard the horror stories about online dating and there certainly were a lot of undesirables. What people choose to include in their profiles says a lot about what they have to offer. I didn’t want a partner that was all about money and trying hard to sell me on their desirability. I wanted someone that was self-aware, kind and sincere. Over a period of a few weeks I read about 400 profiles and narrowed it down to maybe 10 that were of interest. It’s a lot of work, but I felt pretty confident that most of these people, provided they were honest in their correspondence, were potential partner material.
If you don’t like the idea of online dating, consider signing up for a meetup group doing an activity you enjoy. Put the word out to your friend group that you are interested in dating and would like to be set up. Or find someone that is single in one of your regular haunts like the gym, church or a volunteer organization.
4. TAKE IT SLOWLY
There’s no fire to put out. You don’t suddenly become an unattractive potential partner at your next birthday. Remember, being alone is much better than being lonely-choosing a partner that is wrong for you will cost you time. Take your time now.
My plan included exchanging messages with some of these men I found online, making sure that my list of must-haves was as complete as I could tell without meeting them face to face. One in particular was interesting and we agreed to meet somewhere for dinner.. We had a nice evening, including a walk along a pier on a beautiful summer night and lickety-split I was in my second ever relationship for the next six months. Until I figured out that I had missed a few red flags. Oops. That was not taking it slow. What had I overlooked and why was I missing those signs? I decided that another prerequisite for the dating profile was a modicum of humility or the ability to laugh at themselves.
The next round was much more fruitful. I decided to keep the dates short, including only a drink or lunch rather than the formal meal of dinner so I could escape quickly and easily if they were not what I was interested in. I went on quite a few first dates and met some very nice men. By the end of the first date, I could often rule out serious relationship material or decide if we could be friends. One, in particular, drew my attention because he had a funny list of things he was good at in his profile including holding very still at the dentist’s office. That was the humility I was looking for.
5. COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Put it all out there. “Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone — and finding that that’s ok with them” says Alain de Botton. If we all entered relationships with it all hanging out, we have no phase of idealizing someone and then being disappointed by their faults. Share the ways in which you know you are flawed, what challenged you in your last marriage and what you have learned from your life experience. If someone is turned off by the ways you are weird, better to know that now than later. Move on and find someone that will love you for who you are.
Five years later, I am happily engaged to a dentists’ dream guy.. Did I get lucky? Yes! But I also think that my dating approach had something to do with it. I took the time to know myself and what I wanted. I understood what I had to offer. I had fun meeting people and picked up some great stories along the way. Dating in your 40s after divorce took a little courage, a lot of willingness to sort through the profiles for a hidden gem, and the willingness to try. It was worth it.
DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.