The Highs & Hassles of Mid-Life Dating

18th September 2015

Divorce rates are the highest for those in their early 40s. Once the marriage is over, where should we go to meet a partner? Alex Gray talks to those who’ve tried out some 21st century approaches…

When Lisa Edwards, 48, first began online dating five years ago, after the collapse of her marriage, she was surprised to find (in her own words) that she was no longer ‘a catch’. “I had this mistaken thought that a single woman who doesn’t want kids and is solvent would be a catch, but it’s the opposite,” she explains. Lisa found meeting men her age fairly difficult, because they were predominantly interested in younger women: “Either because they still want to have children, or because they are fuelling a mid-life crisis,” she says. Lisa also discovered what she terms the ‘sixth date syndrome’. At around that time, Lisa would mention to the men that she liked them: “Not, ‘I’d like to marry you’, or ‘I’d like to have your babies’ or ‘I’d like to share your financial gains’. Just ‘I like you’,” she writes in her blog. “Telling them I liked them made them run away!” she exclaims. Then she lowered the age range on her dating profile, and found something she really hadn’t expected: a plethora of younger men keen to date an older woman. “There’s definitely the thing about young men ticking the box of an older woman; they want me to be intimidating, whereas older men really don’t like it if I’m cleverer than them and earn more!” she laughs.

James*, 42, began dating on Tinder a year after he and his wife split up. For the uninitiated, Tinder is a dating app, where users sign up using Facebook, and then browse photos on the app. If they like the look of someone they swipe right. If they don’t, they swipe left. The person in question has no idea you’ve even looked at them, unless they have already swiped to like you. If so, you’ve got your first match. It’s not as confusing as it sounds and its simplicity is actually its attraction, as James explains: “You can be up and running within a minute and you don’t have to answer questions that you would in a dating website, like: ‘What are you looking for? Do you want a longer-term relationship? What are your family circumstances?’ With Tinder, you don’t actually have to think about what you want, you just go out and socialise with someone.” You set your own geographical area so matches are likely to live only a few streets away. Once a match is made, the chat function on the app allows you to start communicating. Research shows that there are 50 million active users on Tinder, who check their accounts up to 11 times per day and spend an average of 90 minutes per day on the app. If recent reports are to be believed, even celebrities are getting in on the act. Although it has the reputation as the home of casual hook-ups (i.e. meet-ups for sex) James says this wasn’t his experience. He had two “very nice” dates, but there was “no chemistry,” he explains, adding “I wouldn’t want to meet someone a second time just out of persistence.” One of the downsides that users mention about Tinder is that many matches are struck, but few are followed up with messaging, and sometimes users will ‘unmatch’ you.

Celia, 53, calls her dating experiences so far “a rich seam of dark humour, a world of madness”. She has tried online dating (“a minefield”), Tinder (“for all of two days – when I matched with my friend’s husband”) and speed dating, which didn’t go well either. “This guy was taking registrations on a table in full view of everyone, he may was well have said this is! At ten minutes past the time it was due to start there were six women in the room – and no men. There was no effort to make us feel at ease, or to introduce us to each other. In the end there were 12 women and only five men, and it was so badly organised and chaotic: none of the men knew where to go. I wanted the ground to swallow me up.”

Is the way you meet someone likely to affect the quality of the relationship? Not according to a 2012 study by Michael J. Rosenfeld from Stanford University and reported on in the Washington Post: “Rosenfeld found no differences in relationship quality or strength between couples who met on or offline. He also found that online dating had been a huge boon to people in ‘thin dating markets’ — think LGBT daters or older women — and hypothesised that marriage and partnership rates of Americans would actually rise as more of these people got online.”

Psychologist Chelsea Thomas works as a matchmaker for exclusive agency Seventy Thirty. “I think you can have meaningful relationships no matter how you meet, it’s about who you meet,” she says. “It’s beneficial to meet lots of different people whether or not you think it’s the right person. It’s best to hold in mind the things that are essential for a relationship (values and goals, for example) and then remain flexible with the rest (interests and looks, for example).”

Lisa has made peace with the dynamics of her dating life; “I like younger men and they like me,” she states. “I found myself looking for a replica relationship with a man my own age – to find a better version of the one I had – but what happened was a series of short term flings and a realisation that that perhaps this wasn’t on the cards for me. I’m very independent and free and I’m liking this increasingly. Perhaps I’m not meant to be in a partnership until the end of end of my days.” James quickly realised that Tinder wasn’t for him, started online dating but found that he “couldn’t see it leading to a relationship; the odds are stacked against you because it’s too random.” As I write, he is seeing someone he met through a friend, and it is going very well. Celia is largely disillusioned, frustrated especially by the difficulties of being a solitary dater. “Youngsters go out in groups and they meet people that way, but going out on your own is quite difficult.” She’s even had the idea of addressing the problem herself. “My friend and I were discussing it… we might set up something up for older people, something where you do events and you put a little bit of care into it.” Celia feels the larger agencies don’t necessarily have the interests of their users at heart. “You are just their data, you’re just a number… your hopes and dreams are tied up there, and they’re playing with your emotions. There has to be a market for something more personal.”

“It’s a journey and it’s a process,” states Chelsea. “As they date more, people’s ideas change and expand. We encourage people not to focus on their goals, but to simply think about enjoying a nice dinner with someone. The goal for a date is not to find a spouse, it’s to enjoy your date’s company for that period of time. Often I will, say, meet this person on a social basis, not as a date, and it’s those introductions that seem to end up in relationships because there is no pressure and no expectations.”

A few months ago, my 41-year-old recently separated friend joined Tinder on a Wednesday night, messaged a match on the Thursday, and arranged a date by the Friday. The relationship is still going strong: she may well have met the love of her life.

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