The thing I find about online dating is that it can easily slide from something fun into an all-pervasive grind. One minute there’s a few relaxed drinks lined up, the next you’re spending hours of the week trawling Tinder. Before you know it, you’re in pursuit of the end game – a churning quest to find ‘The One’ – with all the veracity and emotional exhaustion of a full-time job. But what if there was no end game? What if we put our feet up and took it easy instead?
That’s the approach of one New Yorker, who is determined not to be drawn into the web of dating in your 40s. Author Glynnis MacNicol‘s book details what it’s like to hit 40 without a partner or kids. Her aim was to provide a role model that sits apart from the markers that are – still now – taken as shorthand for adult happiness. Overwhelmed by the prospect of dating in your 40s? Here’s how and why you should take a step back from the stress…
A relaxed mindset evaporates the pressure of dating
Glynnis reveals an important element to her lifestyle as a 40-something single person – and it’s all to do with taking her foot off the pedal of dating. “If being in a relationship was as important to me as my job, I would carve time out for it the way I carve time out for exercise and the way I carve time out for my friends,” the writer told Bon Appetit’s Healthyish column.
“That’s a completely valid thing to do if that’s your decision. For me, I don’t love shoes enough to go out shopping for them all the time, but if I see a pair I like somewhere, of course I’ll buy them. That’s how I feel about dating, too. If it happens, great, and if it doesn’t, that’s fine too.”
It’s a refreshing attitude, and one that neatly evaporates the pressure and expectation caught up in 21st Century dating and relationships. If you’re not particularly geared to finding that spark on a date – or even have a date at all – the weight is off. You might meet a person that feels right or you might not, but you’re not wasting your precious resource on that one elusive goal.
Long-term relationships are a mixed bag
Part of this mindset comes from a growing recognition for Glynnis, and others like her, that finding love is not the be-all of a good life. There are, in fact, so many other valuable relationships out there, like friendships.
Contrary to the message of nearly every childhood story and Hollywood rom-com, there isn’t really much of a happy ending that lies within coupling up. And as we progress into our 30s and 40s, we become increasingly aware of this reality. Our own experiences, and those of our friends, teach us that long-term relationships are a mixed bag. Some are happy, others are disastrous, and most lie on the scale in between.
But in no way does love ever unlock the key to a golden future of lifetime contentment, any more than babies, a great job or a nice house will. For one, relationships can be tough, especially for women who traditionally carry the baggage of ‘making it work’.
I used to feel so alone being the single one
In response to data that shows women are happier without marriage or kids, one Flashpacker recently wrote: “When my friends tell me all about the stuff they deal with when it comes to their husbands, I do not doubt this is true. I used to feel so alone being the single one. But now I just feel thankful and blessed to be happy being single. Maybe marriage will happen one day but it’ll have to be the ‘perfect’ situation for me.”
Even when a long-term relationship does work, a vision of being a happy couple doesn’t resolve everything in life. “Thinking about marriage as a solution to a woman’s life leaves no room for all the ways in which your life still needs to be satisfied, even if you do get married,” says MacNicol.
“Because there’s nothing you can do in life that’s going to solve everything for you, including children and marriage. It’s easy to think: when does it get tied up so I can stop thinking about it? The answer is: when you’re dead. That’s when it’s all tied up.”
File dating under a “nice to have” in a box full of greater priorities
Life is an ongoing project that ebbs and flows according to a multitude of forces, both inside and outside of your control. One of these influences is dating apps; a uniquely modern behaviour coated in so much choice it can be hard to know what you want.
By the time you hit your 40s, however, you have that extra legroom to step back and question your motives. Once you separate your desires from the messages of society at large, you can better understand how much of yourself you want to put into the dating game and why.
It might be that you do indeed want to throw everything at the dating scene to meet people. Or you might decide, like Glynnis, to file dating under a “nice to have” in a box full of other – and greater – priorities. If we shift this mindset, we can allow more time for ourselves to pursue our own hobbies, careers, other fulfilling relationships or carve out extra space to travel solo, whether that’s hiking up a mountain in Peru or unwinding on a beach in Bali.
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