10 Sep 2012
Finding Love Again Over 40
If you find yourself single again and over the age of 40, finding new love may seem like a daunting task.
I remember when we were kids, looking at single people over 40 and thinking their chances for love were long gone. That they were over the hill, doomed to be spinsters or bachelors for the remainder of their years.
Not any more! Studies show that midlife is now a ripe and juicy time to fall in love. In fact, the over-40 crowd are visiting dating sites more than any other group these days.
With 37% of people in midlife unmarried and looking for love the second time around, chances are good that if you’re over 40, your next partner is looking for you just as actively as you are looking for him/her.
Yet, it’s important to note that there are differences when looking for love later in life that you would be well to familiarize yourself with if you hope to be successful in finding it.
After more than a decade of researching and teaching tens of thousands of people how to call in “The One,” I have seen 3 key areas that are critical to finding new love over 40 that I want to share with you today.
While taking on these 3 areas may take some effort on your part at first, you may find that in many ways you’ll actually have an easier time attracting happy, healthy love into your life than ever before!
The first key has to do with the very real need to complete your past.
When we were in our 20s and 30s, most of us were working pretty hard to try to clear away the baggage we carried from our childhoods so that we could find and keep love. Chances are, we may still carry some of that baggage around with us and deal with it on an ongoing basis.
Yet now, we may even have new bags that we’re carrying around alongside the old ones!
Exes who hurt our hearts, tense custody arrangements, uncomfortable blended family dynamics, financial responsibilities to former partners, grown kids who anxiously feel the need to guard their inheritance, or kids still at home who understandably need to know they come first in our lives.
You may still have a lot of unresolved feelings towards an ex, such as misplaced loyalties, hope for reconciliation, or festering resentment at being treated so poorly. And, as most of us do, you may still be carrying around the painful shards of disempowering meaning you’ve made of your past breakups (you know, those politically incorrect “men are such *$#%“ or “women are such #@%&*” thoughts that occasionally pop into your head when you think no one is looking!)
We all have history. We all have obligations and responsibilities. Yet, looking for love in midlife generally means that we will have a lot more to resolve and/or manage than we did when we were younger.
Often after the age of 40, there are all sorts of complexities and gnarly knots we have yet to untangle in order to have a clean slate on which to build new love.
And not doing what it takes to complete the past can come with some pretty heavy and dire consequences.
For when you’re incomplete with your past — meaning, you don’t yet see clearly how you co-created toxic dynamics in a way that graduates you from that old pattern and frees you up to do love differently the next time around — you may find yourself (understandably) reluctant to open up your heart again, or covertly punishing anyone who tries to get close to you.
Yet, when you do the work to complete your past, and are able to take full responsibility for yourself in a way that liberates you to love again, you discover that all those carryovers from your past relationships, such as your memories, those things you used to own together, your blended family rituals, can actually become a rich and vibrant tapestry that adds texture, dimensionality and depth to your new love, as well as to the rest of your life.
The second key to finding love over 40 is the need to prepare ourselves more rigorously for love than we may have had to do in the past. Love over 40 demands we prepare to extend ourselves to another person in a much more grown-up way, as midlife love requires much more emotional maturity of us than young love does.
It’s actually a very challenging thing, emotionally, to rise to the demands of loving someone else’s children and grandchildren, to embrace their causes, honor their financial commitments, and support an already established, potentially demanding career that you didn’t choose or help build. In midlife, you are essentially coming into an already very established, full and most likely demanding life.
So we actually need to prepare ourselves to love in a way that’s going to require more of us than when we were younger.
And that means stepping into a more sophisticated, more mature way of relating to your new love — as well as those people he or she loves and is committed to — than you may have had to do when you were younger.
When you were in a relationship in your 20s or 30s, it may have just been “the two of you against the world,” and you could afford to regress into the part of you that wanted to be the center of someone else’s attention, pulling on them to organize around your every need. Not any more. What was once food for a great love story can quickly become evidence of immaturity and neurosis that might disqualify you from being an appropriate partner in midlife.
For example, if you have an 11-year-old at home, you will need a partner who is going to be able to love that child and tolerate you putting that child’s needs before theirs.
If you are dating someone with a 15-year-old they are financially supporting with a large portion of their paycheck, you will need to have a very big heart to support them to stay on track with that obligation until that child is grown, most likely at some cost to you and the lifestyle you may have been hoping to live.
So, you need to come into someone’s life willing to enhance and support what they’re already committed to, while still honoring your own commitments with in-kind support from them. It’s not just about creating a beautiful life for the two of you, where you are free to vision your future unencumbered, but about joining two very rich and full lives together in a way that includes everything and everyone in the love you share.
The third key to finding new love after 40 is to find a partner with whom you share a sense of meaning and purpose.
When we enter midlife, we suddenly become very aware that our lives are not forever. And inside of seeing this clearly, many of us begin to care more deeply about the legacy we are leaving to future generations.
In other words, midlife is a time when, for many of us, the most important thing in our life becomes what we want to happen after our life.
And because of this awakening, the second half of life can be a time when many of us begin living a much more authentic life — one that is deeply aligned with our true values, and organized around what we care about most deeply.
When we were younger, many of us were driven to prove ourselves, to please our parents, and to find our place in a world that was not necessarily a world of our own making . . . a world that already existed that we yearned to be accepted by. Our search for a mate was impacted profoundly by these external expectations.
Yet what is most associated with midlife, the “midlife crisis,” is simply the startling recognition that unless we make some radical changes, we may very well leave this world without ever having become ourselves fully!
The time we have left suddenly becomes all the more precious. We stop wasting it by trying to please everyone, particularly at our own expense. We give up trying to do everything perfectly and, as a byproduct, we stop expecting other people to be perfect, too.
Our expectations of ourselves and others begin to be more “real” as we discover where we can both lower and raise our expectations. We find out where we can give up imposing childhood fantasies of perfect princes and princesses on ordinary people, and where we can raise our expectations on how people treat us, insisting upon mutuality, good character, reciprocity and respect where once we didn’t know how to do so.
And we start softening. We begin letting the wrinkles come. We start to have the courage required to take risks in order to fulfill our own ideas of what constitutes a happy life, even when we think our choices and actions may disappoint others. We are less afraid of making a mistake, because we understand that mistakes are actually how we learn in life, and we know from experience that we can heal from almost anything.
And from this place of depth and authenticity, we are more likely to recognize a true soul partner when we find him or her. Not nearly as saddled with the demands of our parents and societal expectations as we were in our youth, we are free to make a life with someone who meets us at the deepest level, and who cares about what is truly most important to us.
Of course there are still challenges that are particular to being a bit older, but the truth is that the second half of life is, in many ways, an even more fertile field for true love than the one we played upon in our youth.
So, if you are over 40, and single, I encourage you today to put a little less attention on your love handles and a little more attention on your mature, loving heart. I encourage you to put a little less attention on the wrinkles around your eyes, and a little more attention on the hard-won wisdom now contained within your gaze.
And I encourage you to recognize that in a life well-lived, the human capacity to love and be loved only grows deeper and more potent with the passage of time.
Katherine Woodward Thomas, MA, MFT
P.S. I would like to invite you to my free online seminar Calling in “The One”: How to Release Your Hidden Barriers to Love and Become Magnetic to Your Soulmate on Thursday, September 13 at 5pm Pacific. Click here to register.