When my marriage ended, I looked at my 45 year old reflection in the mirror and wondered how I was ever going to summon up enough courage, confidence and concealer to date again. I googled solitary retreats before pulling the duvet back over my head. The last time I’d dated was almost last century, when a swipe left meant I’d been graciously groped.
We now have an extra 20/30 years of life expectancy, to be lived in the middle, not the end of our lives, so it’s not uncommon to have more than one ‘One’. At midlife, there is a freedom to explore who we are to ourselves, after years being many things to many people. I eventually pulled back the duvet, pulled on the Spanx, and entered the arena and I know it might feel like the Hunger Games but it’s also the Game of Life, and armed with the right mindset, lipstick and profile, you can move through the dating dance enjoying the steps.
Look in before you look out
You might be staring in the mirror thinking it’s all about how you look. It’s not. Successful dating begins with how you think.
The concept of ‘The One’ is as outdated as the idea that a woman is completed by a partner. Today we can live vibrant lives in our own right, choosing a partner that compliments our life, rather than just making us socially acceptable. However, emerging from a long relationship, we can be made to feel a failure, another outdated concept that will only damage your confidence going forward. Feeling a failure means you’ll go into the next relationship with negative baggage of feeling unloveable or not having tried enough. Instead, understand that to have loved and been loved for a time is a success. Even if you didn’t end the marriage yourself, having survived the turmoil means you can thrive again, and approach a new relationship as something you want, rather than need. Dating at midlife is a chance to reconnect with who you are, and redefine what kind of relationship you want.
Trying Tinder or bumbling along with Bumble, there may be Plenty of Fish in the sea but they may not be your catch of the day. Who we want in midlife might be very different to who we seek in youth. The possibilities for what a midlife relationship after a family-making marriage has ended can look like are endless. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially given that by midlife, there may be more money, but less time. Busy being carers for parents and children while pursuing hobbies and careers, finding time to be witty and wily on a dating app every evening can be hard.
It’s also a different experience, with possible children and baggage to consider. I’ve met men who still live with their ex-partners because they can’t afford to financially spilt, men who clearly haven’t dealt with the break up and men who want a full-time companion, but as a single parent who also needs her own time, that’s not what I can or want to offer.
Listen to your gut. You’ll see red flags, and because you really want to like this man so you can delete your Tinder account, you’ll ignore them. Do not ignore the red flags.
You also have to have a sense of humour, because you’ll end up telling some stories. See it as part of the learning curve. I met a man who confessed to having an affair during his marriage. So far, so clichéd. When he admitted the affair was with his wife’s mother, I nearly threw in the towel but now it’s a great dinner party story and I can reflect that I ignored some red flags in the initial chats.
How to go about it.
So much depends on who and how you are. For me, I’d lost so much of a sense of myself I initially joined a dating agency to get some dating experience before I ventured into the App world. This helped me realise that a ‘date’ is really just a conversation. The key is to know what you want. Some men I meet 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 trouble.
What Apps are good?
Tinder, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, Match, Hinge; there are almost more Apps than men. Like choosing a restaurant, you may have to try them out to find which one has the right ambience for you. You might be spending a lot of time here, so make sure you feel comfortable. You can also join clubs, sports, community activities if Apps aren’t for you.
Perfecting your profile.
It’s the hardest part of dating, so think it through. Use pictures that show you doing things or in places you enjoy to get across your personality. This could be a bar or walking a beach, depending on what you enjoy. Be clear what you’re looking for, be that casual, committed or ‘can we have coffee and see?’ Be you, not the you you think you should be. Filter your story (it’s not a memoir) but not your face (he’ll see you soon enough).
Mining the men.
The key is to really think about your non-negotiables. Limit yourself to three or you’ll end with a list so long, not even George Clooney would make it. (He’s not on Tinder, I’ve looked). Reflect on these top three priorities and then be flexible on everything else. So mine might be witty intelligence, financial stability and sexual chemistry. I then have to be flexible around hair colour (or presence!), sock and sandal wearing and wine preferences.
Where should you meet?
I’ve learned the hard way not to go straight from Tinder to Dinner. It’s too intense and can be hard to get away. My first meet is always a dog walk with a take-away coffee. It’s long enough to know if you want to know more, but casual enough not to feel you’re in an interview. I’d also recommend a quick FT video chat so you can get a sense of them if you’re not sure from the phone messaging alone, as photos can be misleading, unflattering or false. Again, find what works best for you. This should be fun, not torture.
I know so many women in their 40's, 50’s and beyond now facing a whole life of potential new love ahead. I’m one of them. Love is not the preserve of the young. It’s the prize of the courageous. You’ve done it once before. Maybe even twice. You’ve been burned, loved, scarred, you’ve been giddy and grief stricken, but you learn and with any luck you’ll realise that however many ‘The One’s’ you have in your long, hard, lovely life, the most important relationship you have is the one you have with yourself.