Midlife Dating: From Solution to Evolution
Few people have a long range goal of dating in midlife. To the many who find themselves faced with the possibility, midlife dating can seem like a mystifying, even overwhelming, journey to find a partner.
The reality is that despite the horror stories of friends or the fictional depictions of perfect couples repelling down snowy peaks, the experience of midlife dating really depends upon your goal.
When you expand the goal of midlife dating from finding someone to finding and re-defining yourself, the experience changes. Instead of a solution to being alone – midlife dating becomes an evolution of self.
Why Midlife Dating?
Usually something has or has not occurred in the lives or personal relationships of people ages 40- 65 that makes midlife dating a consideration. Some have left a troubled or contentious marriage; some feel they have been the one left; some have never looked up from a career; some have weathered the illness and death of a partner; and some have decided they are finally ready to settle down.” Most don’t want to be alone.
Some Important Considerations
Notwithstanding these different starting points, here are some common issues worth considering as you take on midlife dating as a personal experience.
Everyone is Anxious – No One is Perfect
If you are anxious with even the thought of midlife dating – it fits. Dating at any age conjures up feelings of insecurity, fears of rejection and worries about whether you or anyone approaching you will be desirable. When you introduce dating into the reality of midlife, the worries increase and the assets are too easily forgotten.
“I haven’t dated since high school – I can’t do this.”
“Have you seen ‘Sex and The City’ – where do you I fit into that?”
“What would I say I’m interested in – my kids?”
“Who wants a guy on medication?”
For too many, Bob Seeger’s famous lyric applies, “I wish I didn’t know now, what I didn’t know then!”
In fact, if people accept their personal best, remembering the experiential benefits they have acquired and re-focusing the goal from fear of judgment to curiosity about the experience, they can often lower their anxiety enough to find out that no one is perfect. They often find that many share similar feelings, differences can be interesting and age is not an issue.
Everyone Comes with Baggage. It’s What You Do With It That Counts
Many folks approach midlife dating with the pain of lost or broken bonds. Understanding what you carry can often help you use rather than misuse your history.
Death of a Spouse or Partner
- Midlife dating can be difficult in the aftermath of the death of a spouse or partner. Regardless of what friends and families think, people grieve in their own way and in their own time. As one young widow answered in the book by the same title, “I’m grieving as fast as I can.”
- Often the wish to meet, to begin a new chapter, to reduce the loneliness conflicts with the feeling of disloyalty to the deceased. In this regard, others who have had a similar loss can be immensely helpful. As one widow in a bereavement group said to another, “I’ll never replace him in my heart but he would have wanted me to have a life.”
- Often when they find that they really like someone they are dating, a widow or widower will be overcome with renewed sadness and the yearning for their deceased partner. This is not a signal to stop but a verification of something special which reminds you of what will always be special.
- A trap in dating after the death of a partner is the wish to replace him/her in body and mind. To do so is to derail the possibility of a new and different experience with a person who matches the you “now” – older, wiser, and probably different in some special ways.
Divorce of a Spouse – Breakup of a Long Term Relationship
Divorce is so common in this culture that most people know of the guilt, rage, rejection and devastation that both partners carry in its wake. In a study of “Divorce at Midlife and Beyond” based on 1,147 respondents between the ages 40-79, the greatest fear reported was of being alone ( 45%) followed by the fear of failing again (31%). That said, the question of how unresolved feelings of self and other will color the decision to date again becomes an important one for divorced folks to consider.
- Some who feel rejected generalize their negative feelings to any man or woman they date. In a sense they are still married to the anger which inevitably gets in the way.
- Some want to review the story of their divorce and unwittingly turn the first date with a new person into a viewing of their painful marriage – never a great date as it brings in a third unwanted party.
- Some want so much to right the wrong, to erase the feeling of rejection that they accept too little from the first person they meet and give too much only to feel rejected again.
It is not a great feeling – but it is not the end. It is a lesson that can expand self especially if it makes you want more and know that you deserve it. Your ex-spouse has no claim on your self-worth – no one does but you. Believe it and others will reflect it.
- Some who end a marriage or relationship finally feel free to be themselves. Others are haunted by what was lost. In either case, most are very driven to begin dating – to start again.
- Dating can be a valuable and constructive opportunity if it facilitates self-understanding and clarification of needs.
- Without self-reflection (self-help books, groups, consult) there is often an unwitting re-play of the same script with new partners. “How do I keep picking selfish women?” “Am I the only woman who gets fooled by narcissistic men?”
Many years ago, a man who had ended his marriage but who was aware that his prior fears of inadequacy had played a part in the dissolved relationship, presented me with a stack of all the responses he had received from a personal ad he had placed. He reported that he was both terrified and overwhelmed – he felt he would never be able to choose a suitable person because he feared he would be taken with any w omen who seemed enthralled with him. What was planned was that he start by not looking for a new partner; but instead, looking for himself in the eyes of different women. Having never dated in his young years – this was an opportunity to learn about himself without the instant fix of someone claiming to love him- a problem when he did not yet know or love himself.
Truth or Dare – The Fear of On-line Dating
- Although they join some 5.5 million single people who use online dating, many midlife daters have some initial apprehension about how deceptive people will be on dating sites. A recent article in The New York Times addressed this very question with reported research. The article suggests that there is actually less deception on sites where people are seeking long term romantic partners -given that the initial meetings eventuate in face to face meetings.
- There is some deception but it is relatively minor and seems driven by the wish to make a positive first impression. Women, for example, describe themselves as 8.5 pounds lighter, men lie by 2 pounds about weight and men lie more often about height, rounding up a half inch. Few lied about age (something more obvious when one meets) and no one seemed willing to talk politics (probably wise). What is interesting for midlife daters to note is the suggestion that people probably make the same kind of minor adjustments in reality when they meet people face to face.
- Notwithstanding those occasional people who clearly misuse the dating sites with no intention of appropriate connection, most midlife on-line dating as reported and written about offers positive opportunities.
- While it may not be for everyone, one midlife dating author reports that one out of every five marriages are between two people who met on-line.
The Acceptable vs. the Authentic Self
The question of deception and on-line dating is important in that it illuminates an age old dilemma pertinent to midlife dating-the effort to balance an acceptable self to the prospective partner with an authentic self.
If we re-define the goal of midlife dating as not simply the search for a partner but a journey of re-definition and expansion of self then we need room for flexibility when deciding who to date as well openness to the thoughts and feelings of others.
So maybe you don’t describe yourself as a skier but as someone who would like to try. Maybe you date someone from a different culture and find it very interesting. Maybe you are considering being more intimate with someone until you realize that this person will not talk about or be flexible about sexual connection. Maybe you hold your core values even as you explore and expand.
Often when we are excited about re-defining ourselves we become more visible to others and they become visible to us.
Be sure to join me on blog radio on Wednesday with Kelley Connors – I will be interested in speaking to you about Midlife Dating http://eepurl.com/hLeaI
Here’s the radio show
Midlife couple photo available from Shutterstock.
Phillips, S. (2011). Midlife Dating: From Solution to Evolution. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 10, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2011/12/midlife-dating-from-solution-to-evolution/