W hether you are recovering from a divorce or just haven't yet found the right person, dating over 40 certainly has its challenges, but it is very possible to find love later in life.
Where to Start?
Meeting other singles can be intimidating, particularly if you've been out of the dating pool for several years. "Most often, folks that are looking for love over the age of 40 are doing so following a significant relationship ending," says Dr. Tiffanie L. Davis Henry, author, sex therapist and owner of Intimate Details, LLC. "People in this age group aren't dating just to date. They are in the market for more stable, serious relationships. The process of dating at this age is about comfort and security and not about making the same dumb mistakes you might have made in earlier years."
Before you jump into the dating pool, have a clear idea of what you want, and even more important, a strong sense of self. "Ninety-five percent of it is getting yourself ready, preparing yourself for love and having a strong, healthy belief system," says Amber Salisbury, founder and CEO of Feel Love International. "If you can create a healthy relationship with yourself, you can invite someone else to the party."
Manage the Past
Try to examine relationships of the past and identify why they didn't work. "If you've netted the same result in relationship after relationship, at some point you'll want to look at what you're doing to bring about that consistent outcome," Dr. Henry says. "Examine what you're putting out into the world and that may be what's dictating your return."
If your past relationship(s) resulted in children, it's important to have these relationships in place as well. "Tell (your children) that mom (or dad) is going to be dating," says Dr. Joyce Morley, author, relationship coach and founder of Morley and Associates. "Don't ask for their permission. Tell them what you're going to do. Too many people let children dictate who they date. The same goes for the ex. You're not asking their permission, you're asking for respect.
Get What You Want
Knowing what you want in a partner may seem like the easy part, but according to Salisbury, it is more difficult than people might think. "That process is an extensive one because I have them write down everything that they want," she says. "We brainstorm starting with the physical, then we dig deeper and look at the values that person has and the relationship you want to create. What are your must haves? What are things that are deal-breakers? You have to get to the core of who this person would be for you." Oftentimes she'll have clients create a "partner from hell" list to help identify their non-negotiables.
Let Go of Limiting Beliefs
In the quest to find love, many people become paralyzed by what Salisbury calls "limiting beliefs." "We tell ourselves that it's too difficult, that time is running out, that we're already set in our ways, or that there won't be someone out there that will allow us to be ourselves without changing too much," she says. "But there are seven billion people on the planet, and there is someone out there who will have values that compliment your values."
Remember that finding that ideal partner may not happen right away. "People will go on four bad dates and give up," Salisbury says. "Some people take love and dating so seriously and get too caught up in it. They're not laughing enough or being playful, and playfulness is so sexy and a real testament to how confident you are in your life."
Reduce Common Mistakes
"Most of us have more education driving a car than being in a successful relationship," says Dr. Louis McLeod, a couples therapist at Relationship Counseling Atlanta. "People think it's about finding the right person instead of being the right person. The truth is you have to have a sense of yourself as a healthy individual and be available for a relationship and not necessarily need one."
Another common mistake, according to Dr. Henry, is falling in love with someone's potential rather than who they really are. "Many people have the ability to do, be, and have many things, but if they aren't actively working toward those things, they're just dreams and aspirations," she says. "Don't allow yourself to fall in love with what someone has the potential to be. Find someone who just is."
Believe It's Possible
One of the biggest obstacles Dr. Morley sees with her clients is a lack of value and self-worth. "It's believing that you are worthy of having someone, but also believing someone is worthy of having you," she says. "If you have that foundation, half the battle is already won."
If you've been unsuccessful at finding love, Salisbury says it helps to look at your own belief system. "What are the stories that you've been telling yourselves since your last breakup?" she says. "Create a story that positions you to be successful in this arena. I've found that people who are in relationships that work believe that they deserve love and that that person is available."
Make It Fun
While online dating can certainly be a fun place to start, some relationship experts agree that there is more value in getting out and meeting people. "I suggest online dating, but sparingly," Dr. Morley says. "You have to be cautious, and be prepared for disappointment because the person online might not be the person you get in real life."
Fortunately in a city like Atlanta, there is no shortage of fun things to do and organizations to join if your goal is to meet new people. "Figure out what your passion is, and go surround yourself with people who have the same passion," Dr. Morley says. "Just do things you have an interest in and a passion for, and be open for like-minded people to come into your life."
Dr. Morley’s Relationship Maxims:
1. Typically, women look for marriage, and men look to date. What is your relationship agenda?
2. Get with a professional relationship coach or a therapist if you need help identifying past relationship patterns. See why you keep making the same choices.
3. Desperation will cause people to run away. People are clingy because of low self-esteem, and people who aren’t confident will have difficulty finding someone else. Is there a needy sign written on your forehead?
4. People want to go on a trip and take luggage, not baggage. You have to work out your situation with yourself before you invite someone else in your life.
5. Don’t be too picky – you’ll pick apart a person so much they have nothing left.
6. What are you showing non-verbally? Non-verbally, people can seem angry or closed off. Are you sitting with hands folded? Do you refuse to get up and dance?
7. Don’t be afraid to go out by yourself. If you go by yourself, you might meet someone who is there by themselves too.
8. Always be aware, and accept when something is not right. Recognize that you cannot change people out there, but you can make changes within yourself.