What are the major differences between dating in your 30s vs dating in your 40s? Some might call dating in your 30s the sweet spot. After all, you’ve got a little more expendable income, a lot more independence, and your biological clock has only just started to tick. But it’s not all sunshine and roses in the 30s dating bracket. Nor is it when you’re dating in your 40s. But being single in your 40s has some surprising (and not-so-surprising) perks. Here’s how the two experiences stack up against one another.
The Heat Is On
Remember that famous 1980s (and now shudder-inducing) saying, “You’re more likely to die in a terrorist attack than get married over 40”? While it was certainly hyperbole in the 80s, it is even less statistically untrue today. The average marrying age for women is now 26, while for men it’s 28, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s up from 22 for women and 24 for men in 1980. And from a cultural perspective, it’s a lot more “normal” to be unmarried at 40 than it was a couple decades ago.
That being said, the pressure to settle down is still more intense for those in their 40s than for 30-year-olds. “The clock ticks not just for a baby, but for a second and third date,” says clinical psychologist and sex therapist Judy Kuriansky. The dating pool has narrowed, but there is also a much higher percentage of those looking for a lasting commitment.
Location, Location, Location
At 40, you’re no longer looking for love in all the wrong places. It’s not as common to find a 40-something at the bar competing with the 20- and 30-something crowd. Plus, with your maturity comes the realization: the bar scene is rarely the place to find lasting love. Though, to be fair, some smart 20-somethings have already figured this out. “Meeting through an interest is 10 times better than meeting in a bar,” says Matt Simonson, 24, in an article for the Washington Post. “In a bar, everyone is trying to be someone, everyone is trying to prove who they are, whereas if you meet through an activity, you’re actually showing who you are.”
No More Mr. Mediocre
As you head into your 40s, gone are the comfortable, yet inconclusive relationships you may have experienced in your 30s. Instead of spending three years in a relationship that isn’t going anywhere, you’re now more likely to recognize a huge waste of time. The “so where are we?” conversation should no longer be an awkward, eye roll-inducing experience. At 40 and beyond, it’s to be expected. You’re mature enough to set clear guidelines, whether that’s “we’re just seeing each other, no monogamy necessary” or “I’m really hoping for this to go somewhere.”
The Kid Issue
In your 30s, the question of having children will likely come up, but with far less urgency in the early part of the decade than in the later stages. A 38-year-old single woman who wants a family is not going to wait very long until she brings up the subject of kids with her date.
However, in your 40s, the situation is reversed. Those in their early 40s who want children are in do-or-die mode. For those in their mid- to late-40s, or those who aren’t looking for children, the pressure is relieved—somewhat. “The biggest gap is between people looking for a reproductive partner and people who are not looking for a reproductive partner,” says biological anthropologist Helen Fisher in an article for the Chicago Tribune. “From a Darwinian perspective, the brain that wants to reproduce is very different than the one that’s not going to reproduce.”
The Here and Now
One of the major benefits of dating in your 40s vs. dating in your 30s is that you are no longer trying to judge a person by his or her potential. Instead, in front of you is a fully formed person, one who has already done quite a bit of living. You are now free to judge that person for who he or she is, not for who they might become.
Whether you’re 20 years old or 60, dating in each decade has its challenges. Perhaps the pressure has intensified in your 40s, but so can the fun—and maybe even the love.