Dating in my 40s versus dating in my 20s
When I dated in my twenties things seemed fairly straightforward. You would either date someone after expressions of mutual interest until you got engaged to be married or you broke up, whatever came first. In my forties, I feel less inclined to follow that same set path.
When I first set out to write this article, I really just wanted to do a list. Things I wish I’d known about dating in my twenties as opposed to dating now, in my forties. But life, like the dating scene, can’t be compartmentalised so neatly into little boxes. Also, it’s been a few years since I actively dated anyone. My last serious relationship was a long-distance relationship that ended in 2016, and I’ve sort of been in hibernation ever since.
So. Dating. First of all, the most significant thing that is different now (as opposed to 20 years ago) is that life seems to be ruled by a series of apps. The dating scene is not very different. Now you can find a number of men in your immediate vicinity or x miles or kilometres from you and you can swipe left or right, depending on how attractive you think they are. The mere thought of putting myself out there on an app like this, where people make snap judgements, gave me palpitations. I’d rather not, I decided, subject myself to this, although I ended up trying one for this article and it merely reaffirmed why I didn’t want to go down the app route.
What’s left, you ask? There are always websites. I signed up for one that seems to be for eco-conscious vegans and vegetarians, and I figured that’s something I feel passionate about. I’ve had a few expressions of interest, but the website charges you actual money to send messages to people. I didn’t feel like getting my cheque book out, so my communications to people are based on the canned ‘I think you sound cool’ variety. They clearly aren’t willing to spend money on actual messages either, because I get the canned response in return. Well, I tell myself, what a lot of nothing.
I end up visiting a more popular website where a number of people are signed up from my immediate vicinity; they are touted to me as desirable matches, everyone scrolling past in a carousel of smiling images. I tentatively sign up, nervous about whether or not I’d get a wink or a nudge. It is a few days later; I’ve been winked at a couple of times, but I don’t feel the need or the desire to wink back.
When I dated in my twenties things seemed fairly straightforward. You would either date someone after expressions of mutual interest until you got engaged to be married or you broke up, whatever came first. I’ve been engaged a few times, but I’ve never gone down the marriage route. In my forties, I feel less inclined to follow that same set path. I’m looking for a life partner, not a boyfriend/fiancé/husband. I’m also less inclined to assign labels to anything. I’m not sure why this is; maybe I just got sick of labelling everything, or maybe I recognise that some things can’t be labelled. Hey, there’s that compartmentalisation thing again.
In my twenties communicating with the man took on fraught meaning. Everything depended on how quickly he texted or called following a date, and girlfriends would be roped into trying to decipher meanings of gestures or words where I am now pretty sure no meaning existed. I tortured myself waiting by the phone for him to call when he was probably vegging in front of the television eating potato crisps and watching football, with calling me the furthest thing from his mind. Nevertheless, one didn’t call first because that was against the rules. Now I don’t care what the rules are. I’ll call him when I want to. If I want to talk to him or text him, I’ll do it. I don’t care whether I’m supposed to or not. Those archaic rules are all out the window, and he can deal with it.
With apologies to my feminist self, I think I waited on him to pay for dinner when I was in my twenties. I wanted to be wooed, damn it, and I wanted the whole thing. I wanted him to make plans. I wanted flowers. I wanted to be escorted into the restaurant. I wanted him to hold the door open for me. I wanted him to pay for dinner. I wanted him to drop me home after dinner. To be honest, I still want most of those things. I’d like to be courted; it’s very romantic. But I insist on paying half the bill.
In my twenties, I dated men based on a checklist of things. Was he nice? Did he have a good career? Was he ambitious? Did he have a nice car? Was he attractive? Did he have a good sense of humour? Often I’d date men who met all the qualities I thought were most desirable and continue to date them even though things felt a bit off between us. I no longer do that. I don’t have a huge checklist anymore. I just have two things. Does he make me feel safe? Do we connect with one another? If the answer to both those questions is yes, I’d consider myself lucky.
In my twenties, I made excuses for men based on the fact that I felt that I could change them. I considered that I was special enough that men would stop being jerks and suddenly treat me like I was a princess, even if that man had a history of being a jerk to many women who came before me. I would ignore what men were showing me through their words and actions; I would ignore their history because I thought I was different. News flash: I wasn’t different and things ended up ending the same way it had for the women who had come before me, and, no doubt, for the women who followed me. I no longer do this. If there are red flags I no longer ignore them and make excuses. I treat them as the warning signs that they are and walk away.
Basically, I want a man I can be vulnerable and open and honest with; I want a man who, as I mentioned before, makes me feel safe. I want someone I can talk to and just be myself with. I want a relationship based on honesty and real and sincere affection. I want a relationship with an equal. In my twenties I bought into that whole dream that women are sold, that dream of landing the guy, getting my white picket fence, and having babies. In my forties, I know what I want, and I’m not willing to settle for anything less.