Truth be told, dating in your 40s can be a wonderful thing. You're braver, smarter, wiser, and more discerning than ever. Using these qualities as your secret superpowers can make dating in your 40s not only fun but also much more successful than dating in your 30s and 20s.
But there are nuances to be aware of that weren't factors in our 20s. You may not have been as dedicated to your career, or you had fewer financial responsibilities. Plus, you may not have had the experience of deeper relationships to learn from.
So, if you're looking for love, fear not: We tapped four experts—Kelly Campbell, PhD, Fran Walfish, PsyD, Ramani Durvasula, PhD, and relationship expert Carmelia Ray—for their advice on dating at 40 and beyond. We narrowed their noteworthy advice down to 13 useful tips to keep in mind during every stage of dating—from the first encounter to falling in love.
If your interest is piqued, keep reading to discover your road map to dating at this wonderful age.
Choose Your Partner Wisely
We've all heard the staggering saying: Half of all marriages end in divorce. But we're pretty excited to announce that this statistic is not true anymore. According to the Institute for Family Studies, which acquired its stats from the Census Bureau, divorce in America has been falling fast. Even better, the divorce rate fell to a record low in 2019. For every 1,000 marriages in 2019, 14.9 ended in divorce.
This good news could be due to more young adults delaying marriage to gain more life experience, financial stability, or a stronger sense of self before saying, "I do"—all things 40-somethings have had time to work on. The dating field could have more players looking to get hitched, and if that's the case, don't enter into a serious relationship hastily, warns Campbell, a professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino.
"Marrying in your 40s, especially if it's for the first time, means you have fewer years till death do you part, so this really could be The One," she says. "As such, you'll want to make the best possible choice."
Make Sure You're Both Ready to Date
Unlike dating in your 20s, you've likely had a major relationship, whether it was a spouse or a long-term partner, and the person you're dating probably has, too. Make sure that both you and your date have processed these relationships and are ready to move forward, Campbell advises.
How can you tell if you or your date is living in the past? One red flag is talking about their past partner in disparaging terms. "If they are unable to discuss it in objective terms or clearly see each person's role in what went wrong, it may be a warning sign that they aren't over the other person, are still holding a grudge, or are at risk for repeating maladaptive patterns in the new relationship," Campbell suggests.
Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based family and relationship psychotherapist, adds, "Nothing turns off a new person more than hearing you rag about somebody else." Your new partner could suspect that you may have been the problem in the relationship.
Wait Before Introducing Your Partner to Your Kids
If you're a parent, anyone you date is getting a package deal, and it's crucial to prioritize your kids' emotional needs over your desire to find romantic love. "Children need time to adjust to their parents' split, and it can take at least two years for them to get over anger, sadness, and other emotions," Walfish notes. "Introducing a new love interest too soon may delay or damage this process. You owe it to your kids to take it slow when dating."
If you've been dating someone for at least four to five months and feel confident that you're heading toward a serious commitment, the time may be right to talk to your children. Tell them what you admire about your new partner, and encourage them to share both negative and positive feelings about the idea of your being with someone new. Actively listen and validate their feelings before planning a joint outing so everyone can meet. They may be cool to your new partner at first; just let them come around on their own time and keep communicating.
If the relationship is still gelling, have fun dating when your kids are with their other parent or family members. "If you introduce your children to someone who you are dating casually, this may create uncertainty and ambivalence for them about intimacy if things don't work out," Walfish warns.
When it comes to talking to your kids about your dating life, be honest. You don't have to divulge every detail, but lying about what you're doing or who you're seeing is definitely a bad idea.
Practice Patience When It Comes to Sex
In the heat of the moment, sometimes it can take all your willpower to say "no." But it's well worth it—especially for mature adults. "It takes time to get to know someone, and talking is the glue that holds people together," Walfish says. "Rushing into sex can derail talking communication and make it just a short-lived burst of lust."
To set yourself up for the best sex with a new partner, hold off on the hanky-panky until you're confident about the direction your relationship is going unless you're just looking for fun. Set your boundaries upfront by letting your date know you find them attractive, but simply stating, "I don't sleep with someone until I'm really ready." The reward of meaningful and passionate lovemaking will pay off in the long run.
Be Independent and Interdependent
A nice perk of being 40 is that you’ve likely worked on yourself and are more comfortable with who you are now than you may have been a decade or two ago. If not, take time to think through your dating goals, values, and preferences. Know your relationship expectations and deal-breakers without being too rigid.
Doing this allows you to be both an independent and interdependent partner, so “you function well on your own and at the same time are comfortable fulfilling important needs for your partner and vice versa,” says Campbell.
Navigate Gender Stereotypes
Dating in today's landscape can present confusing expectations around gender roles. It's likely you and your partner will have different ideas and philosophies, especially when you're financially independent and used to being single. Who picks up the check, and how often? Do you want the door opened for you, or do you want to open it yourself? Not being on the same page can lead to awkwardness and resentment.
"Open, honest communication between two loving and solemnly committed partners is required to make all types of role divisions in relationships work," says Walfish. Talk to your partner about how they view gender roles and what their expectations are. If you have a different viewpoint, you can decide if it's a deal-breaker or if you both can be flexible and find a compromise.
Trust Your Instincts
"Most relationship mistakes happen because a person does not trust their instincts early on and sticks around thinking it will change," says Durvasula, a clinical psychologist. By your 40s, you've experienced many human encounters, so trust your gut, she advises.
Plus, by trusting yourself, you'll be able to look beyond type and move forward based on feelings and mutual values—true cornerstones of successful relationships. Types are for people chasing something that they think is good for them. Do you want to put those kinds of limits on love?
Develop a Clear Agenda
Having a good time may have been your main dating plan when you were younger, but in your 40s, people may be looking for anything from friendship to casual hookups to marriage. Plus, you have to balance dating goals with your established careers, financial responsibilities, families, children, and living situations.
"You are no longer a 25-year-old living with roommates and with few fiscal ties," Durvasula admits. "Because the range of reasons and expectations around dating may be wider, be clear on yours. If someone is not on the same page as you, knowing your hopes can help you make decisions that do not leave you resentful down the road."
Ray, a celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert, agrees. "Establish your deal breakers and don't compromise important values just to impress someone you like," she says. "Don't beat around the bush long-term—been there, done that."
Manage Your Social Media Expectations
Social media is a seamless part of everyday life for most 20- and 30-year-olds. But for someone from an older generation, their connection to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter could be more of a mixed bag. Your date's social habits could range from "the 45-year-old who is as plugged in as a teenager to the 48-year-old who has never been on Instagram," Durvasula notes.
Once things are established, ask your date before posting a photo of the two of you together. Durvasula advises against making a big deal out of it or trying to post too soon, as it may make the other person uncomfortable.
Accept Scheduling Conflicts
Many people over 40 have many responsibilities that require more planning. Tuesday night dates that stretch into the wee hours may not work on a regular basis as fatigue can set in. "Not to say that you need to get the blue plate special and call it a night at 7 p.m., but you are also no longer able to just skip morning classes after a first date," says Durvasula.
Plus, parents have to balance childcare responsibilities. "[It] could get tricky because it means a lot less time for dating and less alone time," adds Campbell.
Don't try to read between the lines if your date has to reschedule or call it early. It's often because of their personal responsibilities, so be understanding, and you're likely to receive the same kind of understanding from them.
Never Apologize for Being You
You may have had your fair share of trial and error, but this needn’t be considered “baggage.” If a past folly comes up on a date, focus on the growth and learning that came out of it instead of beating yourself up. “Women, in particular, apologize for what they perceive are their shortcomings or to discount themselves,” Durvasula explains. “You have lived a full life, no need for apologies. Own your mistakes and talk about them as life lessons.”
Your date will appreciate it when you listen to their mistakes without judgment or unsolicited advice. “People want to be seen, validated, and accepted—flaws and all,” says Walfish.
Avoid Making Assumptions
It's easy to see things through the lens of your past experiences—more than you ever would have in your 20s or even 30s. "If you've had negative dating experiences, you might assume the person you're dating shares similar traits or behaviors as someone in your past," Ray suggests. "It doesn't work to assume everyone you date is all the same."
Before your first date, try your best to be open and nonjudgmental (while still keeping your wits about you, of course). By doing this, you'll give your date the chance to surprise you, creating a more positive experience from the start.
Keep the First Date Light
Conversations on a first date should be all about getting to know each other, finding common ground, and determining compatibility. But if you're fed up with being single, and you feel a connection, you may be tempted to overshare about past negative dating experiences. Ray cautions not to fall into "the TMI trap."
It's natural to have moments where you wonder if you're doing something wrong, and you'd like reassurance from your date. But that's not what you're there for, she says. "If you lack self-esteem or are unhappy with yourself and your situation, it's not attractive to someone you're newly dating," Ray insists. Instead, be the person you want to attract. Smile, be the best version of yourself, and have fun getting to know your date. Draw them out and focus on them, and enjoy as things develop organically.
Institute for Family Studies. "The U.S. Divorce Rate Has Hit a 50-Year Low." Nov 10, 2020