Remember when you were in your mid-20s and dating? When the world was your oyster and there were so many women and men to choose from? Do you remember when you got married and thought it was going to last forever? I do too.
Then life happened. Whether you're finding yourself in your 40s and divorced or widowed, the ideal of life you had when you were in your 20s is probably different from what you imagined.
And now you may find yourself asking, "What happened"? How did I end up here? If you're re-entering the world of dating, like me, you've probably had what I call "dating re-entry culture shock." Don't worry; you're not alone.
As a widow who's back on the dating scene in my 40s, I'd like to share some lessons I've learned to help you maneuver the unfamiliar and sometimes seemingly shark-infested waters of the dating world. Never fear, though — it's not as bad as it seems!
1. Accept that there's going to be baggage.
Let's face it. By now, you (along with any prospective date) have been through some things in life. Whether you’re single again due to divorce, being widowed, or some other circumstance, this isn't your first dance. Those life experiences have changed you, and they've helped mold and shape you into the person you are today. The same is true for everyone out there in the 40-something dating pool.
2. Know that baggage doesn't mean you're doomed, just different.
Be aware of your deal breakers and red flags (lying, manipulation, drug use, addictions, cheating, etc.), but be willing to find out the WHY behind the person's perceptions or responses. That is, if you deem them worth your time. You might just find that they're being cautious, careful and a little guarded because they, just like you, are HUMAN, have been hurt, and are looking to love and be loved.
3. Believe people, because they are who they are!
Maya Angelou said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them." I couldn't agree more! Unlike the wide-eyed and malleable people you were dealing with in the early years, this person has experienced life, formed their own opinions about the world, determined what they want, who they are, and how they want to live their lives. The probability of your changing them is pretty low, even if they fall in love with you. It doesn't mean a person cannot or will not stretch, grow, and improve, but expecting that loving them will change the core of who they are is unrealistic AND unfair.
4. Get rid of the "Perfect List.”
Be realistic, but don't settle. Don't fall prey to the unrealistic and relationship-killing "perfect list," because that person doesn't exist. Don't look for perfect. Look for compatible. Don't look for crazy chemistry (again, you're not 20 anymore), look for affection, respect, love, honesty, and someone you can see being your BEST FRIEND and LOVER for the rest of your life. Crazy chemistry is a wonderful thing, but not necessarily an indicator of a lasting love. Isn't that kind of what happened when we married in our 20s?
5. Rediscover YOU.
Just like the person you're seeking, you've gone through some struggles, grown, changed, and are different from the person you were 20 years ago. You've experienced LIFE. And, although you may feel like a teenager being back out on the dating scene, you're not. Personally, I discovered things about myself in my 40s that are really important to me that weren't before. Being healthy is an important part of my life now and I want a partner where that's important to them as well.
Discover who you are NOW. Be in touch with yourself, what you want and what's really important to you BEFORE you try to join your life with someone else. It makes you a much more interesting prospect. There's nothing sexier than someone who knows who they are, is comfortable in their own skin, and has room in their life to share that with someone else.
Yes, it's different at 40. But I would challenge you to look at it differently. You have the insight of 40-plus years of getting to know yourself and the world you live in. You have an opportunity to consciously choose the type of person you want to be with, and how you want to spend the second — and BEST — part of your life!
Have fun. Choose wisely. Learn to trust (again). And most of all, enjoy the ride.