(Note: This is part 1 of a three-part series.)
Many of my girlfriends are happily married, but a few are in some stage of divorce. One or two of them have recently started thinking about what the world of single men holds in store for them. It wasn’t so long ago I was dipping my own toe into that pond for the first time, so I thought I’d jot out my thoughts and best advice for those who might be entering the dating world after a divorce.
Dating at midlife is an adventure. After my divorce, I signed up for one of the online dating services and had no idea what to expect. At first it felt a bit like shopping in a “man catalog.” You browse through and see these guys and their photos, read their profiles, and try to get a feel for who they are as a person. You imagine yourself trapped at a table with them on a date and wondering how to make a graceful escape. You imagine yourself enraptured by love and falling head over heels. You imagine yourself meeting someone’s family for the first time, but at an age where you really shouldn’t care anymore what people think of you. How will it all be different than when I was younger? Will I still get butterflies in my stomach at midlife when the right guy kisses me?
My head swam with questions on this topic, and a year later I have some real answers. (Not all the answers, mind you, but some.) Here are the first five things I’ve learned after returning to the dating pool in my 40s.
1. Every divorcee has advice or an opinion on men and dating. Some of it stinks, some of it’s wonderful, but it’s all worth listening to and considering whether it applies to you. One divorcee told me after my split that “all the good men are taken and it’s a cesspool of available men out there.” Now, that’s heartening! Another friend told me, “I LOVED dating. It was fun!” Your experience with dating is all in YOUR attitude about it – and that’s the whole truth. But be willing to listen open-mindedly to the opinions and advice from others, as even the Bitter Betties might have something useful you could learn from – even if it’s just a cautionary tale.
2. There are no rules about dating at midlife. Nothing you learned about dating in high school still applies. There are no longer rules about whether you should kiss on the first date, who pays the bill, when you can or should have sex, or when you should start meeting each other’s friends and families. Now that you’re a “grown-ass woman,” you get to decide all of that for yourself. (For the record, my own self-written rules about those things are, respectively: Kissing on the first date is okay; I always pay for myself on a first date; it’s nobody’s business when I decide to have sex; and you should start meeting each other’s people when you want to and both feel ready to.)
3. Dating at midlife comes with lots of strings attached – custody, children, alimony, baggage, medications, aging parents, impotence, finances ruined by divorce or the recession, financial success earned in the middle of a well-crafted career. Midlife isn’t simple. He comes with strings attached – and you, too, now have your own strings attached. Know what they are because they are important; they will inform your decision about what you will and won’t be looking for in a partner. And, his willingness and ability to tolerate your strings is just as important as your flexibility and willingness to tolerate his.
4. People generally know what they’re looking for and are quick to eliminate those whose attached strings won’t weave together with their own. At midlife, most people know their own wants and needs and are quick to eliminate those who aren’t a good match. Don’t take it personally. If a guy really wants a woman whose children are grown and yours are small, don’t be mad if he ditches you. You should be eliminating people for your own reasons as well. A close friend explained this to me right after the divorce – at midlife, people know what they want, and they don’t waste time dating those who don’t meet their criteria. It’s not personal. It’s about knowing yourself and not wasting time.
5. Dating is what you make of it. If you expect some duds and are prepared to view those dates as learning experiences, or great stories to be retold at parties, you may actually be able to have fun – even on bad dates. If you expect every man to be right for you or to find a long-term relationship among the first few men you date, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
(Check out “Part 2: top 15 tips about dating in midlife.”)