It doesn’t get any better than dating at midlife. Trust me.
If I were a drinking buddy of ‘Stella Gray,’ The Guardian newspaper’s 50-something ‘Midlife Ex-Wife’, I’d tell her to lighten up and laugh a little, because she is giving both online dating and men a bad rap. She wrote a dating journal for the paper starting in 2014, the same time I was living near London and starting out on my own midlife dating adventure after a twenty-three-year marriage. I read all seventy-one installments, followed by the memoir of her dating tribulations rehashed as The Heartfix, after which I wanted to take her to the pub and beg her to never write about dating and sex again.
Comparing Stella’s experience of midlife dating with my own is like saying the view of a brick wall is as stunning as a field of wildflowers. While Stella was repeatedly corresponding with men who already sounded like poor choices – then chronicling their predictable disappointments – I decided if a man piqued my interest, I’d enjoy at least a few hours of entertainment even if he turned out to be a nutcase. The difference between Stella and me was attitude. She was looking for someone to rescue her from another lonely night at home with her dog and a pint of ice cream, a man she could put up with who wasn’t intimidated by her braininess. I was just looking for a good time. We both got what we wanted, only I had less exacting criteria and a lot more fun.
This doesn’t mean I wasn’t seeking love. But I wasn’t heat seeking it. I used the dating site algorithms and personal statements to be sure I wasn’t meeting up with a Jesus freak or a Trump supporter. And, over the past several years, I’ve reveled in a few passionate and loving relationships, met men who became wonderful friends, and had dozens of dates that didn’t go beyond one night and yet were perfectly pleasant. Of course, I’ve also had a few wacky dates, but I can appreciate them because they make good stories. Like the man who told me within minutes of my arrival that he could have saved his deceased wife from her brain tumor had he only started her on hemp oil sooner.
Dating at midlife is as good as it gets. We’re not looking for someone to have babies with, usually don’t need to shack up with another person for the sake of saving money, and hopefully have enough friends and family to feel well loved without needing a partner to dote on us. We’ve learned to pamper ourselves. We’re less inhibited, more easygoing, and appreciate small pleasures like essential oils and eating Nutella from a spoon.
What Stella focuses on are her disappointments. There’s no ‘spark’, her dates didn’t look like their photos, they couldn’t hold a conversation, or they just wanted sex. These ‘misrepresentations’ make Stella quickly sour on most of these men. She seems to barely tolerate, with teeth clenched and asshole puckered, the chore of dating. I once even slammed The Heartfix to the floor and yelled, ‘Can’t you possibly have any fun?’
What made me more sad than mad was how often Stella criticized her own body. She posited that the size of her backside deterred men from calling for a second date. But then, isn’t that the perfect way to cut to the chase? Simply say to your date, ‘If you’re not pleased with my ass, we can get the check now.’ The last man I dated told me straight up, after two tacos and a beer, that he loved my body. I’m a solid girl, muscular and curvy, and I’m at ease with that. Another man once said to me, ‘Any woman is sexy when she’s naked and smiling.’ I can promise you, based on my painstaking practice of uninhibited strutting, as soon as you walk across a room believing you’re beautiful, that man you took to bed is going to come back for more of your lovely energy time and time again.
I understand wanting romantic love, someone who has your back and is your number one fan. That’s lovely and special and we all should feel adored and adore in kind. But I think Stella was looking for someone to love her when she was unable to love herself. That’s a problem, and likely her dates were sensing it. Dating isn’t something anyone should do in order to get fixed. It should only be undertaken when we are able to offer the same kind of wonderful we want from our companion. If you can’t get happy in your body and mind, don’t think someone else is going to do it for you.
Stella was literally deleting all her dating accounts when she stumbled upon Edward, the man she settles on at the end of the book. By then she was cynical and defeated and seemed to think that taking a chance on ‘real world’ men would be different than online ones. But she’s missing the point: we’re just as real online as we are in life – unless you’re posting fake photos or fabricate your story. Most of us are good people, honest people, normal people. Stella had been impatient, suspicious, and lacked curiosity. She repeatedly corresponded with men who were clearly disinterested instead of shrugging them off and getting on with her life. Online dating may feel time-consuming and demoralizing at times, but it’s incredibly efficient and need not interfere with taking a salsa class and meeting someone the old-fashioned way.
There are so many intersections along the road to love later in life. Consider getting off the superhighway and taking a meandering route. Had I not spent a few years dating men I wouldn’t dream of introducing to my friends and family, I might not have been tied up by a Kinbaku bondage aficionado or had sex on a train under the English Channel. I let go of exacting criteria, tempered my expectations and accepted that most dates weren’t going to lead to anything significant. Practice your sparkle, ask a lot of questions, and be interesting. Love will arrive when you’re ready to be loving. Thank goodness Stella finally found someone she could love, and I hope Edward is still rocking her world. But she might have had a lot more fun along the way with a little attitude adjustment.