The Brutal Truth About Being Single in Your 40s
There are a lot of myths you may have heard about what it means to be single over 40, and about what dating might be like at this age. Some things are true, though, and here are a few:
You tend to be more settled in your lifestyle:
You’re probably living your best life in many ways. You earn your own money. You have routines. You’re happy with your regular exercise plan, your book club, and get-togethers with close friends. You’re likely to have a better job, but one that gives you less free time than you had in your 20s. You may have children (or they may). It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone – typically, as we get older, we tend to resist change more and more.
You know more about who you are and what you want:
The plasticity of youth has become more solidified. Where you might have been toggling between preppy, goth, and grunge in college, you’re not often still experimenting with lifestyles. Life has taken on a certain shape. You’ve done more self-reflection. You’re less influenced by external pressure. You know what you’re good at and what eludes you.
By the same token, you don’t suffer fools as gladly as you once did. The fact that he’s a Ryan Reynolds/Hugh Jackman/Denzel Washington lookalike might have been enough at one time, but now you notice that he’s chronically late, always in debt, and not very nice to his dog. You’ve discovered the importance of integrity, kindness, and wit. His cool car isn’t so much a draw.
You tend to approach relationships more seriously:
You’ve done dating for a while, generally speaking, or maybe you’ve been in a marriage, but in either case, you’re more inclined to view dating now as something leading to a committed romantic relationship. While dating may still have an element of entertainment and fun, you are probably keeping a close eye on whether you’re wasting your time – time that is increasingly more precious.
The dating pool is different:
Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of people – we’ll look at those statistics in a minute. They are just different people, as are you. They’ve also been dating or married/divorced, and/or parenting. They’ve had jobs or a career. The people who knew they wanted to be married or in a long-term committed relationship may have already taken themselves off the market. While single means something different at 40 than at 20, it’s not always negative.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t still plenty of options. Some people put off marriage while they focused on a career. Others traveled or developed themselves in other ways. Many didn’t feel ready personally and are just now comfortable with themselves and confident that they’ll be good partners in a way they wouldn’t have been fifteen years ago.
Sex is different:
Notice that I said, “different,” not “worse.” While a quickie on the beach may or may not have the same appeal it did when you were 20, for SO many reasons, you’ve learned more about your own body and that of your potential partner. You’re more patient. You may be more discerning about your own pleasure. You’ve probably learned a few tricks along the way.
On the other hand, you may be self-conscious about body changes (yours AND his) that affect your self-esteem. Mechanics may be less reliable. Your focus has likely shifted from the immediacy of the impulse to a richer experience that includes what goes on before and after the sexual act itself. You may also be better at sustaining an ongoing atmosphere of intimacy.
What you might notice is that none of these things is intrinsically good or bad. They’re just what’s so. In fact, many of them are distinct improvements on dating when you were younger.
What percentage of 40-year-olds are single?
The movie “Sleepless in Seattle” set us all back a long way when they said that it was easier to be killed by a terrorist than to find a husband when you’re over 40. That mythology took hold in society and didn’t let go. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that 50% of the population over 40 is single. Not only that, but 49% of females and 51% of males are single.
That said, when you were 20, every event you attended and every social group you were in was populated by single people. Now, it’s reasonable to assume that about half of the folks around you are married. It’s also harder to meet people in general, even platonic friends. You find yourself exchanging quantity for quality.
Those 40+ often have responsibilities that make it hard to prioritize dating: Children, aging parents, and absorbing career paths can take precedence. Difficult previous relationships or marriages can make people reluctant to proceed toward romantic relationships. Unrealistic expectations may also color who you find acceptable, especially if you are still invested in certain physical attributes.
What to do when you’re 40, single, and looking for love?
Make sure you’re ready:
Prioritize personal growth. Focus on your own well-being. Discover who you really are and what you want if you haven’t already done this. Professional assistance might be helpful. While friends and family members can be great, a talk with a therapist, a dating coach, or a relationship coach is more likely to reveal areas where you might be getting in your own way.
Ensuring your own financial stability means you will be making better choices independent of wanting someone to provide for you. Getting in good physical shape not only means that you will be more attractive to prospective partners, but also that you’ll be more confident and energetic.
Keep the past in the past:
It can be tempting to paint all prospective dates with the same brush, based on previous experiences. People are different. While our minds are set up to generalize, open yourself up to the likelihood that this new person is not at all like someone you dated before. Simultaneously, bringing up exes in a negative way is often seen as a red flag – on both sides. It can indicate you’re holding a grudge, not over the relationship, or even that you were the problem in the first place!
Sometimes as we get older, it’s convenient to feel like we’ve seen it all. A component of youth that we need to actively cultivate is being open to something new: new friends, new hobbies, and new things about new people. All of us want to be seen and heard without being compared to someone else.
Be slow to judge:
Validating someone without judgment can be one of the most appealing things you can do. We’ve all made mistakes in life, and hopefully, many of us have learned from them. Past experiences can trigger so much caution that you can find yourself being critical about things that don’t even affect a relationship. While it’s good to be discerning about things that really count, being overly picky or critical can hurt your chances of happiness with someone who is actually great.
Unrealistic expectations can also get in your way. While it was reasonable to expect a 25-year-old partner to have a full head of hair, it’s less reasonable at 50. Is hair that important? Does it really exclude someone who’s kind, thoughtful, generous, funny, and fit? And sure, it might be nice to find that guy you can wear your 6″ heels with and still feel petite, but is it really a deal-breaker for the long haul? Ideally, by this age, we’ve figured out more about what’s actually important.
Similarly, use that same generosity with yourself. Our inner narrative can focus on the places we feel we don’t measure up. “No one is going to be attracted to my older body.” “I still rent an apartment instead of owning a home.” “I’m not as advanced in my career as I should be.” We tend to incorporate these messages and let them drag us down unnecessarily.
A more positive framing creates a more confident and cheerful demeanor – which is objectively more attractive. And trust me, most single men are not noticing what you’re noticing about yourself. We all have insecurities, but remember that he doesn’t know what they are unless you make them into an issue!
Don’t rush into sex
Another place the movies have done us a disservice: when you find your perfect match on your date, you can barely get home before you’re wildly tearing each other’s clothes off and having magical no-foreplay sex on a kitchen counter. I’m never one to discourage passion, but unless that’s all you’re looking for, it can hijack an authentic connection.
For more mature adults, talking is the real path toward getting to know one another. Sex can divert that focus and give a big burst of lust without creating the underpinnings of a viable long-term relationship.
Since it may seem to your prospective partner that your unwillingness to jump into bed means you’re not attracted to them, it’s always best to be honest about this. Let him know that you find him very attractive, that you are sorely tempted, and that you are sufficiently interested in him to keep moving forward sexually as time goes by. A genuine prospect for a romantic partner will hear this and understand. The cads will also reveal themselves when they whine about waiting for sex, so it’s a win-win.
Another place to wait: kids
If you are widowed or divorced, kids need time to process the idea of this loss. It can often take a year or two to work through grief, anger, and other emotions. When you begin to date again, it is best at first to do so when children are with another parent, family member, or caregiver.
After 5 or 6 months of dating, if the relationship is looking promising and headed for a serious commitment, you can start to talk about what you admire about this new person while giving them room to say what they like and don’t like about you seeing someone new. Create a safe space for them to feel what they feel.
A group outing where everyone can meet can come after your children’s priorities have been met. Similarly, if he has kids, hold off on meeting them while the relationship is still casual. If you don’t have children, but he does, understand that his role as a parent should always come first. Be patient with canceled plans or working around a difficult custody schedule.
Navigate independence, interdependence, and gender roles:
We’ve often, but not always, gotten pretty good at being on our own by this age. Usually, we are either people who have practiced dependence and may be very giving ourselves but aren’t adept at doing things on our own, OR we’re very independent and expect everyone else to be.
We can be over-enmeshed or insufficiently vulnerable and caring. Discover how to strike a balance. Communicate about what you expect in terms of gender roles, which can be tied into this. Do you want the door opened, or does it offend you? How do you split expenses? Good fodder for conversation to avoid misunderstanding.
Lastly, look in the right places:
Where to find love? Single men are out there, but they’re not in your living room. Get out of the house and out of the office in your free time. Make a point of going to the places where you’ll find shared values. Take up hobbies, exercise, political causes, and volunteer. Eat out or travel alone, even out of the country, or with a tour group. Go to that high school reunion. And, most importantly, date online with consistency (since that’s the single easiest place to meet single men!)
Life is waiting! Be someone who lives. Practice gratitude and love, even when it’s just to your neighbors. Love takes many forms. Talk to strangers. Spend time with married couples – they’re notoriously excited about setting you up with a single friend. See the world as a place of abundance – you have accumulated plenty of gifts to share regardless of your relationship status, and there are plenty of single men waiting to appreciate them.