This is the feature from The Irish Independent from 12th July 2022... fantastic to get a few radio interviews as a result.
Dating when you’re older is not for the faint-hearted, but there is also a freedom to create a relationship that suits your needs, writes the Midlife Coach, Alana Kirk
At midlife, many people find themselves searching for ‘the one’. Again. A new ‘one’. Another ‘one’. The peak age of divorce in Ireland is 53, the majority instigated by women. Grappling with Grindr and deciphering sexting aside, dating at midlife, while not easy, is a chance to redefine what a relationship can look like.
We have an extra 20/30 years of life expectancy, to be lived in the middle, not the end of our lives. With unprecedented freedoms and opportunities, the historical handcuffs that traditionally kept women tied to a formal relationship structure no longer exist. We don’t have to get married or have children. Those that want to don’t have to stay in unhappy marriages. And post marriage, women can live alone without risking being ridiculed as the mad cat woman.
We’re healthier, fitter, looking and feeling younger for longer. Who we want to be with in midlife might be very different to who we seek in youth. With all this potential after the family-making marriage has ended, the possibilities for what a midlife relationship can look like are endless. Men tend to remarry more than women; after being cared for in one marriage, they still want someone to look after them. Many women, however, are not queuing up for that role on Tinder.
As The Midlife Coach, I work with women who want to invest some thought into what they want amidst the mayhem of their midlife, be that a career change, or because they’ve reached a new stage, like kids leaving home. Many of my clients are also grappling with the end of a marriage. Some would like to meet someone new, and some are choosing not to co-habitat again, often because historically, when a women lives with a man, she does more work.
As we get older, there is a freedom to explore who we are to ourselves, after years being many things to many people. Suddenly women are living a third of their lives post-menopausal and are experiencing a freedom after decades of being held hostage to our biology (puberty, years spent trying not to and then trying to get pregnant, birthing children, and then the mayhem of menopause).
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Dating in midlife isn’t for the faint-hearted. At least youth have stamina. They can hang around a bar until the small hours hoping to catch a roving eye amid the strobe lighting. By midlife, there are responsibilities. There may be more money, but there’s less time. Busy being carers for parents and adult children who never leave home, pursuing hobbies and careers, spending hours trying to be witty and wily on a dating app every evening can be soul destroying. Most people will have kids and baggage.
But there is also a freedom to create a relationship that suits your needs, not take over your life. This is attractive to a lot of women. After years of holding a marriage and family together, often overwhelmed with the physical and emotional burden, women are seeing this time to devote to themselves. They often want romance without the relationship workload.
When I was newly separated seven years ago, facing the singular horror of single parenting, the last thing I wanted was to jump straight into another emotional entanglement, constantly having to consider someone else’s needs. I wanted to explore who I was out from under the overwhelm of a decade of marriage, breeding and parent-care, needing a fun and frivolous part of my life that was just for me. I’d joke to my friends that I wanted to take a man’s shirt off, not iron it. Except I wasn’t really joking.
The key is to know what you want. Some of the men I meet on dating sites want a rebooted version of their old marriage. Some are looking for casual fun. Getting clear about what everyone wants can save a lot of heartache.
Men used to look at a woman’s physical assets. Now, seemingly, they can also be looking for her financial assets too. While women may or may not be looking for a husband, men are sometimes looking for a home. Many single men are living in rented accommodation, as their kids and ex are in the family home.
I have a friend in his early 50s who cannot afford to buy a home by himself now, and hates the precariousness of renting. He has told me his next serious partner has to come with a home, as well as a fun personality.
Another interesting fact about midlife dating is the age options. While men have always dated younger women, women are now too. I have a 53-year-old friend who is seeing a 27-year-old. She doesn’t need a father for her daughter, or a man to pay the mortgage. With a vibrant career and social life, she doesn’t need ‘the one’ to be everything to her, but to simply be something special for her. She’s happy to have a fun, sexual relationship for its own enjoyment. No apron-strings attached. That has been my experience too.
There is definitely a market for younger men wanting relationships (in various levels of depths and devotion) with older women. When I started using apps I was startled by how many younger men got in touch so I did a bit of research. It’s a thing. Some younger men are looking for connections with women who aren’t looking for a husband. So, for a woman who has emerged from a marriage and perhaps needs to take time to explore her sexual side after years of being a career for parents, partner and kids, the opportunities are there.
Seeing a 62-year-old Emma Thompson explore her sexuality in Good Luck To You, Leo Grande shows that old rules no longer apply and we can redefine what we want and need. Whereas once a partner had to fulfil many roles — sexual, emotional, co-parent, putter outer of bins — women can choose to spread their needs across several people and possibilities; sexual from one, emotional from friends, connection from adult children and grandchildren. They can choose someone to compliment their life, not complete it.
This is the most unique time in history to be a woman in midlife, a chance to redefine so many aspects of herself. More financially independent than ever before, women are thrusting out into a new midlife landscape, empowered to pursue their own pleasure and needs, redefining every aspect of their lives in an unprecedented way, from careers, ambitions, sex, creativity, fitness, and hobbies to relationships.