By Michelle Seely
I married the guy I met when I was 21. When I was 51, the marriage came apart in a dramatic way and I found myself single again after all those years.
As a therapist, I work with people who are looking for love and ending love all the time. That was one of the funny things. At first, I was so humiliated because it was a public breakup, and juicy gossip to some. But later, I thought of all the beautiful people who had been betrayed and I decided to stand with them with my head up high and learn about love again.
Here’s what I, a therapist, learned about dating at 51, after 30 years of marriage:
If you think you grew up emotionally in the intervening years, you didn’t. You’ll realize this the first time you meet someone and feel like you’re a teenager again (not a fifty-something year old grown-ass person). You may think that you’ve earned a permanent secure attachment style since you had a long-term partner, or you may think that your tolerance for novelty is good—but you’ll be wrong.
I wasn’t very discerning in the very beginning about my own vulnerability. Part of what I learned was that I had to make each choice in a row. The stakes were about a coffee, not the rest of my life. If the stakes feel particularly high, try to remind yourself that they’re not, necessarily—you’re just getting a coffee, or having a drink. Take a pause, tell a friend, and laugh at yourself. Laughing at oneself is a good remedy. Crying helps, too.
If you think you grew up physically in the intervening years, you didn’t. Sure, you’re an entirely different person on the outside with a different body and different skin, but your nervous system is the same as it ever was.
You may think in this older body that sex won’t be as fun, but there’s the possibility that that’s entirely wrong, too! What a blessing. When I first started dating after having been betrayed, being older, all of that, I had an insecurity about my own attractiveness and I was scared of being hurt again. It turns out I had so much more energy for fun, connection, and sex than I expected!
An evening can be terribly long if you’re with someone you don’t want to be with. Coffee dates are great. You don’t have to spend as much time getting dressed; you can fit it into your day. And, once you’re on the date, remember to ask yourself “what do YOU like” versus “do they like me.”
You don’t have to do it alone. Make your profile with a friend, and don’t spend too much time on the apps alone. Do it with someone else; it’s more fun anyway. Plus, the apps can be confusing! Your hand might swipe left when you meant to swipe right, and it’s terrifying. It’s okay to take a break and ask for help. Younger people do that, too!
It’s not personal. Meeting (and kissing!) strangers is weird. It can be disconcerting and disorienting, and funny if you let it be. And sometimes it’s sad. If someone doesn’t want to see you after a date or two, it doesn’t mean they see some Big Truth about you.
Look for someone who’s susceptible to your charms, and whose charms work on you.
When I first got divorced, I thought maybe I was done with love. And that was a convenient fantasy because then I wouldn’t have to risk anything. Then, I met someone who I really liked, and I realized, “Oh my god, I have the energy of a 17-year-old.” It was exciting! It was also scary! It was much more comfortable to think “Welp! The expiry date has passed; romance is finished. Oh well, I’ll become a monk.” Instead, I gave it a chance.
Michelle Seely is a licensed therapist with more than two decades of experience, a supervisor and consultant, a published writer, and a mindfulness teacher dedicated to helping people find solace, growth, and fulfillment.
This post was written by a guest blogger, and all opinions and ideas expressed are that of the author. All ideas included are for educational and entertainment value, and do not constitute medical advice.