If you’ve been out of the dating scene since Titanic was king of the world, er, box office, you might be at a bit of a loss when it comes to coupling up in 2018. And you’re not alone. While researching their mid-life guide Just When You’re Comfortable In Your Own Skin, It Starts to Sag, authors Amy Nobile and Trisha Ashworth spoke to dozens of women apprehensive about dating in their 40s.
“A lot of these women literally were like, ‘I need a tutorial. I need a class,’” Nobile recalls, referring to the new apps and changing expectations about sex and relationships that need navigating. “We talked to one mom who said, ‘We had a book club and we tossed the books out and talked about how the heck we’re supposed to get back into dating now and how to support each other.’”
There’s no one-size-fits-all advice when it comes to mid-life dating, but Nobile and Ashworth have dedicated a whole chapter of their book to the topic of relationships (“Is This Really the Only Husband I’m Ever Gonna Have?”) and have gleaned a ton of knowledge from experts and interview subjects alike. Here, they dispense some of that knowledge about 40-year-old dating, whether you’ve always been single or “it’s complicated.”
Keep reading for intel on how to date when you’ve been out of the scene.
If you’re divorced…
Before you even think about typing up a Tinder bio, Nobile recommends taking the time for some serious self-reflection, especially if you’re coming out of a marriage. “Really ask yourself some tough questions about what worked for you in this marriage, what did you bring to the table that didn’t work, [and] what would you like to work on before you get into another relationship,” she says. “Once you feel like you’re working on that—whether it’s through therapy or whether it’s talking through it with a friend or really just thinking about it—then move on to the next exercise of who it is you really want to go after.”
And how do you figure that out, exactly? In their book, Nobile and Ashworth walk readers through a little something called the “Marriage Map,” a simple exercise devised by Chicago-based matchmaker Bela Gandhi. Here’s how it works: On one piece of paper, write down the qualities you’re looking for in a potential partner: tall, funny, successful, what have you. On a second piece of paper, write down the qualities of someone (be it your best friend, your sibling, a co-worker—it doesn’t have to be a romantic partner) who brings you complete joy. “Take that first piece of paper,” says Nobile, “and crumple it up and throw it in the trash. Because that [second] list is the list you go for.”
If you have kids…
Only you know what’s best for your children, but Ashworth warns against falling into the pitfalls of guilt and avoidance when it comes to dating as a mom.
“Women feel like, ‘I want to put all my time into my kids,’ and they don’t give themselves permission to be happy and permission to be in a relationship—to the detriment of their children,” says Ashworth. “It’s sort of the reverse: You really want to show your kids that there is a balance in your life. That’s part of our job as a parent—to be a role model.”
“You really want to show your kids that there is a balance in your life. That’s part of our job as a parent—to be a role model.”
And there are no hard and fast rules about when and how to tell your children you’ve started seeing someone. One woman Nobile spoke to during her research said that she only introduces her kids to her new partner after six months of dating—but that might not feel right for you. “It’s different for everyone,” says Nobile.
And that also goes for whether you have a discussion with your ex about dating. If you have an amicable relationship, Nobile and Ashworth recommend clueing him in so you both know who will be spending time with your children.
If you’ve always been a single lady…
In Nobile and Ashworth’s research, they’ve identified a few reasons as to why some women haven’t found a fulfilling relationship by the time they reach their 40s. “Sometimes it’s a career path that’s really taken over their lives in a way that has deceived them and they think they’re fulfilled and happy and they don’t really need anybody, but it’s just masking a fear of intimacy and getting close,” says Nobile. “And the other scenario we see a lot is women who haven’t done the work themselves—they haven’t sat themselves down and allowed themselves to really figure out [why they haven’t found a partner]. Is it various fears that they have? Were they really hurt in a relationship early on and they just can’t get past it? We cannot stress it enough: Self-care is critical here to move forward and find what we need to truly be happy and fulfilled.”
“Self-care is critical here to move forward and find what we need to truly be happy and fulfilled.”
Of course, there are also women out there dating in their 40s who aren’t looking for the white picket fence and 2.5 kids—and that’s okay too.
“One of the things Trish and I talk about a lot with each other [is] the goal to connect with others without expectations,” says Nobile. “There are so many scenarios in life where you’re trying to get something or the other person is trying to get something from you. But when you really look through life with that lense everything shifts a little bit” When you stop expecting to find a white knight and instead hope for a night of good conversation and the chance to be yourself, Nobile says, “That’s when the magic happens. That’s when we all make connections that lead to amazing things.”
If you’re just digging in to online dating, make sure and follow these tips for how to stay sane. And PSA, a new survey found that making the first move in dating could help women find love.
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