I've been on my own for two years, and it has been an interesting journey. What I found is that the best people to date are the folks who just got out of a marriage, and are recently divorced or separated. This is contrary to conventional wisdom, but I believe it to be true.
These folks have had enough of a bad relationship and are ready to try the next big thing, whether that is serial dating or a full-on relationship. They are looking for fun, something lite and breezy, which happens to be exactly what I'm looking for. Might be long-term or it might not be. Neither of us cares. We just move forward and see where it goes.
This is how it used to be, no? You know, back in the good old days of dating (however you define that time period).
But then what happens?
Ah, this is the critical part.
We fall into old habits. You know, those habits that contributed to ending that last relationship. We are critical and skeptical. We look at everything with a jaundiced eye. We treat our dates like they have something to prove, and the burden of proof can be unrealistic. And who can blame us? Most of our past long-term relationships would qualify us for disability pay on grounds of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
In the online dating world, perfectly good conversations end for no apparent reason. Torrid love affairs stop with the blink of an eye. Sometimes the best mates live far away from us (and those that live closer we wish lived further away). So we give up, take a break, and turn our attention to other things. Kids, work, fitness, entertainment, friends, reading, God.
Dating ceases to be a priority, and we end up in a cycle where dating fails for lack of effort. And why don't we put in more effort? Because online dating is broken. But it's broken in large part due to lack of effort. It is an endless, mind-numbing, depressing, and hopeless loop.
Once in a while we stick our toes back in the water by activating our online dating profiles. But as soon as we do, who do we see? The same old people who have the same old pictures from when we first joined the site years before . . . and their profiles say the same thing. We don't bother contacting 75% of them because we already tried reaching out, and either got no response or a one word response. You give it about two weeks, and give up again because it is just so clear that the amount of effort required to find even one decent date is daunting, and, really, who has time to find a needle in a haystack?
What to do?
First thing we all need to do is get a reality check. Science tells us that for the bulk of humanity's existence men and women were dead by the age of 40. This really is about all you need to know. There were no men or women walking around worried about a "second life" at the ages of 45, 55, or 65. You were hatched from the womb, came into your own during your teens, reproduced at our hormonal peaks, and then started a downhill descent thereafter. By the age of 40, disease, war, or predators had done you in. Our bodies still looked good. Men still had hair. Most importantly, hormones still flowed in abundance, and the "craziness" we now routinely experience on first dates was largely unknown.
Why is this important?
Because our teenage years and early twenties are but a distant memory for us at midlife. Everything is different now than it was then. We’ve been married, had kids, and even had successful careers. Why the hell would we expect dating to be the same as it was back when the liquor flowed freely, hormones ruled our bodies, and the future was ours?
We are different people than we were when we first started dating.
We aren't those people anymore, and most of us have recognized that we don't want to be those people any more.
How does this realization help?
It helps a lot.
When a member of the opposite sex reaches out to you and starts a conversation, what should you do? Respond with something other than a grunt. Fight that urge to hit delete before even opening the email. When you meet someone for coffee, dinner, or a drink, don't rule them out in the first five minutes. Hell, don't rule them out after one date, well, unless they really, truly are your worst nightmare.
Instead of asking whether you'd sleep with them as your primary criteria, ask yourself whether you'd like to sit with them on the back porch for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or some Diana Krall. Whoa! This is your groundbreaking insight. Can this person engage in meaningful, intelligent, and (god forbid) witty conversation? Is the person respectful and polite? Does he or she allow you to speak first? Can the person flirt in subtle ways your current standards don't take into account? Does this person have potential? Not to get married. Screw that. You've already been married. Does this person have potential for a second date!?
Come to think of it.
This should be everyone's criteria for every step along the way when dating at mid-life.
Does this person have potential for one more message, one more conversation, one more date?
Take it easy and take it slow.
Enough with these make-or-break decisions in the first five minutes.
Enough with deleting emails simply because they don't look right.
I get it.
You can't do it.
This is why you got divorced in the first place. Too damn boring. Too uninspiring. Not enough excitement or passion . . . like (I hate to say it) back in the old days. Sounds more like a friendship, a roommate, a companion.
This is the real reason online dating is broken.
People want their crack hit, that feeling of instant gratification and soaring emotional high, the overwhelming feeling of desire and the anticipation for even more. And they want it all like . . . yesterday. You want to feel like you “can’t get enough of the other person and vice versa.” That’s how it was when you were 21, and, dammit, it can be that way again.
Just remember that brightest candles burn out the fastest.