11 Things I Learned About Dating in My 40s

By Colleen Crivello

The text came through right after lunch. “I have someone I want to set you up with. He’s a little over forty, in finance, and has four kids—two boys and two girls—how perfect!” 

As someone that dated for years, these were the texts you most looked forward to–being set up with someone partially vetted is the gold standard of dating. And usually, by the time I had answered with an emphatic, “Yes!” I’d also managed to craft an entire hypothetical future with this person (the shared bottles of wine . . . the trips to Paris . . . his kids . . . my daughter . . . sigh). This was especially true in the months after my marriage ended when I was riding the learning curve from domestic life to dating life. It takes time to understand that not every date is your next life mate, and you shouldn’t want him to be. But over the years, I learned to be cool(ish) and take a date for precisely what it is . . . a no-big-deal, one-off experience that, if it goes well, turns into a second, maybe a third. An experiment. An adventure. 

Along the way, I have been through, seen, felt, done, and learned a lot: The cinematic swoon before a first date, wondering whether he could be “the one.” The oh-so-cautious scrolling so as not to accidentally like a photo of his from five years back. The flirting. The flutters. The thrills. The feeling that a watched IG story is a declaration of love. Subcontracting text messages to girlfriends . . . “How should I respond to him!?!” Being ghosted (which turns out is a gift, though, at the time, it never feels like it). And post-marriage, figuring out how to drop the D-word without letting it define me. 

But most importantly, by now, I have learned that if it’s not a “fuck YES,” then it’s a “fuck NO,” which is true of most things (but especially dating and dating later in life when there is little room for uncertainty). If it feels hot and then cold, if you make excuses for why they aren’t messaging, if they don’t make you believe that every lyric to every love song is about the two of you, or if you don’t find yourself casually dropping their name into every possible conversation. . .then, it’s as I said, a “fuck no.”

All this to say, modern dating is a minefield, but I’m still standing . . .and here’s what I have discovered. 

1. Take the meeting. Say “YES” to the date even if they don’t fit your ideal list. Try people on; try yourself on. You never know. Plus, everyone has a story, a history, a past; learn theirs. And let them learn yours.

2. Dating after divorce, it’s highly likely they have kids. How they show up for theirs is how they will show up for you. Pay attention.

3. As a straight woman dating in NYC or any other big-ish city, there are about 5 divorced guys that date everyone. Literally, everyone. I’m not kidding. Just be aware. I managed to avoid it, but only out of luck and geographic inconvenience. 

4. Judge actions, not promises or what-ifs. If you’re unsure how they feel, if they stop answering or initiating texts, if they cancel a date without rescheduling, if you have to ask friends to decipher his messages, if they go dark and then occasionally respond to your story with a heart emoji, then NOTHING is happening. Move on. Make space for someone serious. 

5. Go on a second date—barring nothing awful happening on the first. If you’re not feeling it by the second or third date, let them know respectfully and straightforwardly because those who do this are heroes that make for dating folklore. Also, if they’re a good one (just not your one), keep them in your contacts for a friend down the road.  

6. OK, texting. Reply with the first thing that comes to mind and don’t agonize over it or cross-examine it. At the end of the day, your texting style won’t determine if the relationship works. That said, a little fun and flirty banter never hurt anyone. And might I even suggest chatting on the phone (so high school, I know), before meeting someone for the first time . . . at least you can get a sense of their vibe.  

7. A bonus to dating in your late 30s, 40s, and beyond is that everyone is radically better in bed than 15 years ago! You are too. 

8. Love yourself because the way you do is the way others will too. Period. 

9. Stop worrying: “Do they like me?” Instead, focus on: “Do I like them?”

10. They don’t need to know your entire life history on the first date. Ask them questions, listen, respond, and leave them wanting more . . . of the conversation and you.

11. You are going to get ghosted. Don’t take it personally. They’re not your person. And remember, if they’re not that into you, chances are you’re not that into them either. 

And a bonus 12th lesson: Have fun. Embrace the joy that comes with the freedom to choose. You’ve been through so much to get here.