17 Reasons Dating in Your 40s Is So Challenging, According to Experts
The love game only gets more complicated as you age. These are the challenges of dating in your 40s.
When you're dating in your 40s, you might be looking for a first-time forever match, or maybe you're reentering the scene after a divorce or other hiatus. Maybe you already have your own kids—solo, or with a co-parent—or maybe you still want them… or maybe you don't. But whatever the specs of your dating life are, you'll likely find that there are particular challenges involved with dating over 40. From hangups and baggage to sex and technology, here, therapists, relationship coaches, couples counselors, and more explain why dating is so much harder in your 40s.
It's harder to deal with change.
When you're in your 40s, you know what you like and what you don't like. And it can be harder than it was when you were younger to adapt and welcome a new relationship into your life, with all of the inherent compromise that comes with it.
"Dating is more difficult in your 40s because your life is usually more settled, and doing new things doesn't come as easily as it did in your earlier years," says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, LMFT, author of The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty.
The divorce factor complicates things.
Maybe you're dating in your 40s after a divorce—or even if not, you'll likely encounter other divorcees in the dating pool at this stage of life. And that can be a complicating factor.
"The experience of divorce and where you are in the process of getting over one can impact how jaded or emotionally unprepared you feel about the process of getting back out into the dating world," says Dana McNeil, LMFT, founder of group practice The Relationship Place. "Some people start dating right away after divorce or separation. When this happens, it is likely they haven't taken adequate time to process how the divorce impacted them emotionally. … Finding out how long a potential partner has been single is an important consideration before commitment."
And so does the kid factor.
There are many ways kids can complicate dating in your 40s. "Children can play into the equation heavily at this age," says career and relationship coach Julieanne O'Connor. "Often people already have children, or don't yet have children and sometimes feel rushed to do so. And there's the consideration of raising someone else's children."
For divorced parents dating in their 40s, kids are still very much a part of their daily lives. Family and relationship psychotherapist Fran Walfish, PsyD, notes that "dating in your 40s is so much harder because most divorced people in their 40s still have growing children living at home."
There are disparate age-related expectations.
Dating in your 40s can bring to light an uncomfortable disparity: No matter their own ages, men and women may be looking for partners of different ages. Sometimes that's merely a matter of vanity (i.e. "I want to date someone younger and have a trophy on my arm").
Other times, that uncomfortable reality comes about as a result of the kid factor, too. "[Some] women over the age of 40 are not interested in having more kids. However, there are a lot of men in their 40s who are very interested in having children. As a result, there tends to be a lot of men in their 40s who are looking for women in their 30s," says professional dating profile writer Eric Resnick. "This can leave the women in their 40s with the feeling that the men in their age group are superficial and have unrealistic expectations."
You feel out of practice.
In your 20s and 30s, you may have regularly gone out on dates—perhaps several in a month or even in a week. But if you find yourself newly single in your 40s, the very notion of dating can feel entirely unfamiliar. "Some people who are newly single in their 40s might not have dated since they were teens. A lot has changed," notes life and relationship coach Jonathan Bennett. "It can be difficult jumping right back in when you've been out of practice for many years."
It's harder to meet through friends.
If you often met people to date through friends when you were younger, you might find that doesn't come as naturally at 40-plus, when your social life may be less bustling, as a large quantity of friendships turns to a quality few.
"Meeting through friends is the most common way to find a partner; yet, as people get older, they usually have fewer friends," Bennett says. "You can see how this makes dating more difficult as men and women in their 40s have to rely on anxiety-inducing methods like online dating, approaching strangers in social settings, or even trying singles events."
New technology leaves room for misunderstanding.
To that end, finding a relationship over 40 often involves technology—from swiping through potential matches on dating apps to communicating with possible partners via text or DM. And over-40 daters may not love that newer aspect of the game.
"People today have become habitually dependent upon texting that breeds misunderstanding, uncertainty, and distance in the message receiver," Walfish says. "From what I hear patients moan about, there are some things about the archaic ways of dating that I think would be best brought back."
You judge yourself more harshly now.
"Dating at 40-plus often becomes more challenging because of the insecurities and judgments that people have about aging," says relationship expert and couples counselor Katherine Bihlmeier. "'I'm too old,' 'My body is not beautiful anymore, 'I don't have anything to offer because I'm not as young as I used to be,' 'Nobody would find this saggy skin sexy'… The list of judgments running through our heads just grows longer."
And you might judge others more harshly, too.
At this stage of life, you can be especially critical of potential mates, which can result from your own past experiences. "If you are divorced or are coming from a relationship that lasted many years only to fail, you tend to be more cautious about who you date. At times, this caution can turn into being overly critical or extremely picky of people you are dating, finding flaws that are not necessarily detrimental to a relationship," says Stephania Cruz, relationship expert and writer for DatingPilot.net. "Being overly critical or picky can hurt the chances of meeting a great person to form a serious relationship with."
You have more responsibility than ever.
When you're in your 20s, dating may be the only responsibility you care to prioritize. But when you're in your 40s, it's likely one of many aspects of your life that you're trying to keep afloat.
"Your 40s may very well be the peak of your life in terms of juggling responsibility. You may have a successful career, family, financial responsibility, and a whole myriad of other endeavors that make searching for a partner and dating that much more complicated," says health and wellness coach Lynell Ross. "It's not just about the dating itself, but the host of other things you have to juggle in the background."
And your priorities have changed, too.
In addition to having more responsibility in your 40s, you likely have an entirely different set of priorities—and a timeline that may look different than it did in the past, too.
"When people are in their teens, 20s, and early 30s, meeting new people, partying with friends, and socializing is something they desire and look forward to," says dating expert and author Kevin Darné. But sometimes, he says, "people in their 40s and beyond have already had the fairytale wedding and subsequent divorce. Therefore they don't have the same urgency or enthusiasm when it comes to finding a mate as they did in the past. Their top priorities are more likely taking care of their children or elderly parent [or] focusing on their career."
More people are taken.
When you're in your 20s and go to a party, everyone is single and ready to mingle. But it's not so much the case as we age. "When you're younger, you're around peers who are largely single. Very few people have settled down into formal commitments like marriage. Yet, in your 40s, many of your co-workers and natural peers are married and unavailable to date," Bennett says. "The dating pool is smaller and it can lead to frustration."
You take dating too seriously.
If you're looking for a serious relationship in your 40s, you could be approaching dating with a bit too much intensity, making dates feels more like an interview than a chat with a potential match.
"If you're heading into a date with a checklist of questions and criteria, you're running the risk of making the person feel interrogated and unseen for who they are. Keep it as casual and relaxed as you possibly can—and don't beat yourself up too much if you are feeling anxious," suggests Carissa Coulston, PhD, a clinical psychologist and relationship writer for The Eternity Rose. "Just try and let the conversation flow. Chemistry will either form or it won't.
You have high expectations.
To be clear, standards are important—but setting the bar unrealistically high can be a factor when dating in your 40s. "What made for an ideal mate at ages 16, 18, or 25 generally will not cut it for us when we're in our 40s," Darné says. "Once you start acquiring homes, have children, and have a decent amount in your 401(k), you become much more selective. … The higher your standards are, the more competition there is for finding such a person, and [there] is also more frustration with each person you meet who doesn't measure up."
You're stuck on a "type."
In your 40s, you might find yourself hopelessly stuck to a "type"—or avoiding a "type"—based on your own past experiences. "Both men and women are guilty of this," Coulston says. "Perhaps they had one bad experience in the past with a particular person, and are now trying to avoid anyone remotely similar at all costs. However, a 'type' is not always an accurate way of summing up another person. If you categorize a person based on some similarities with someone in your past, you could easily miss out on a partner who is compatible with you."
Sex is different now.
Daters over 40 are likely seeking a satisfying sexual relationship as much as they were at earlier stages of life. But sex itself is different in your 40s, which can add awkwardness or pressure to a budding relationship. "Middle-aged sex requires a different focus and some new techniques to be satisfying," Tessina says. "It's no surprise that sex is different for mid-lifers than for youngsters."
Bihlmeier adds that, when dating in your 40s, "all the judgments we as society have of aging and sex come up." "It makes them insecure, and it is hard for them to enjoy themselves," she says.
You might feel old, even though you're not.
If you're dating in your 40s, that might represent a different path from the one you had planned for yourself—and that can breed insecurity and a sense of not measuring up as a potential mate. "Whether you are still single, married, or split up, you could be worried about what other people think of you," Ross says. "You could be caught in that awkward time of not feeling old, but not feeling as young as those in the dating scene, and find it easier to avoid dating."
But of course, you shouldn't let your fears stop you from putting yourself out there. Remind yourself of everything you have going for you and how worthy you are of finding love. It's definitely not easy, but it's worthwhile.