Being single at forty is often portrayed in the wider media with humor or pity, and rarely reflects the reality that single women at goop in their forties have found: Dating is still (or even more) fun, there are more options in terms of partners than there were in the world without dating apps, and, well—there’s nothing more humorous or pitiable about dating in your forties than dating in your twenties. Life advisor and relationship expert Suzannah Galland works with many single women in their forties (and above); her work centers around reframing clients’ perceptions to help them realize their actual desires, allow themselves to enjoy the pleasure of dating, and attract people who bring them more joy. Below, her refreshing perspective and advice for all ages on figuring out what it is you’re really looking for when you’re dating.
In Your 40’s, Follow Your True Desire
by Suzannah Galland
Dating should be fun: The thrill of waking up next to a new lover—feeling their soft breath against your body—is fantastic at any age. But dating at forty-plus is too often cast in a sad light by the media, so for some, the thought of being single and forty (or older) brings to mind what one doesn’t have, or is losing, as opposed to what you do have—or are even gaining.
But what I’ve found with my clients is that being single “later in life” can be really glamorous in some ways: For many, there’s a freedom that hits at some point in your forties. Whereas more women in their twenties and thirties are looking for a partner to have children with, this becomes less the case as we get older. What many of my clients are looking for in their forties and beyond is love and/or simply fun, often less-freighted by needs surrounding building a family, financial stability, etc. Another benefit of dating at forty is that you have the confidence that comes with experience. I see a difference in how women in their forties walk into a room, the way they can make heads turn and pulses race. It’s a radiance, a power from within. Call it a sexual glow, or just plain sex appeal. Whatever it is, it’s alluring.
“Being single ‘later in life’ can be really glamorous.”
Still, you might think, the on-again, off-again dating game is overwhelming—which is true, it can be, at any age. For many of my single clients, examining and re-setting their fears and intentions around dating helps them to find enjoyment in it that they might not have felt before. What we project and how we attract others has everything to with what’s buried beneath, whether curiosity or fear. Dating can be both perplexing and hair-raising. But it can be wildly exciting, too.
I sometimes use word association techniques with clients to bring awareness to the role that perception plays in their dating life—it illuminates how vital it is to check in with yourself.
Coral, forty-two, explained that dating had left her feeling abandoned. She felt manipulated to please her (male) partners, and felt overly needy herself. The first word that came to mind for her when I asked her to think of the word man was power. When I asked her to think of the word, woman? Soft. For Coral, this revealed how polarized she was going into dating and relationships.
Another client, Jennifer, age forty-six, described the people she was dating as shallow—players who valued looks over connection. Like Coral, Jennifer associated men with strong words (albeit negative ones like a$$hole). In contrast to Coral, though, Jennifer herself also identified with the word power. What Jennifer came to realize was that she liked to have control when dating and in relationships, and so, too, it seemed did the men whom she’d been involved with in the past. It was no wonder she demonized her exes—she didn’t perceive any harmony or balance when it came to dating.
A Word Association Trick
Imagine you’re flipping through a deck of cards—shuffling, shuffling, and then pulling out a card. On the front of the card is the subject you want to examine: self, dating, a particular someone’s name, etc. When you flip it over, there will be one word on the back. Close your eyes. Flip over the card. Open your eyes. What’s the word you see now? Say out loud the first thing that comes to mind.
For clients like Coral and Jennifer (and other clients like them), reflecting on how they view themselves helps balance their approach to dating. What you think, you project and, in turn, attract.
“We are pre-programmed to feel desire, to connect with others, to fall in love (and I don’t just mean one time, with one person).”
While this self-work can take many forms (from therapy to meditation, etc.), and can be difficult, it’s actually surprising how relatively straightforward it is for many to tap into the power of their own desires—and to harness that energy toward their dating experiences. We are pre-programmed to feel desire, to connect with others, to fall in love (and I don’t just mean one time, with one person). This doesn’t disappear with age.
When it comes to romance, we’re often enticed to follow fads or fit into social norms—to think of dating later in life as unnatural (there’s something wrong with me). Our drive for perfection can override our sense of self-worth, and obscure our desires, even to ourselves. Our desires can drive us at every age if we let them. The benefit of being guided by desire at forty, as opposed to twenty, is that you have more freedom, plus the wisdom of twenty more years of life to accompany you.SHARE:
Mastering Our Triggers
Psychotherapist Barry Michels has a tool for everything, including: how to overcome the worst parts of ourselves, how to regulate our thoughts, how to prepare for getting triggered, and how to make sense of and process our emotional wounds. On this video call with GP, Michels breaks down the three-point plan that his clients have been using during the COVID-19 crisis to cope with a sense of powerlessness, feelings of negativity, and the realities of being cooped up with family. (“You know I’m a specialist in denial,” says GP.) But the plan is about more than coping. It’s a guide to harnessing your potential, to finding unexpected opportunities for inspiration, to feeling grateful, and to being of service. Before they wrap the conversation, Michels works with GP’s shadow and shows you how to connect with the meaningful, necessary parts of yourself that you might be afraid to present to the world.
Watch it when you can and let us know how the tools work for you. Some of the highlights and things we are practicing:
Moving from anger and sadness to action.
“As soon as I turned the corner and realized that people needed me, I began to give more,” says Michels. “And I think that’s a key to recovering and dealing with the crisis. Which is: Human beings are at their best when there is an outflow of positive energy rather than looking for some kind of comfort or reassurance from the outside world. Because we experience ourselves as having something to give when we’re giving.”
Harnessing our potential and not losing our minds.
There are three things you can do to harness your potential. And conveniently, says Michels, regulating these three things—your thoughts, how you spend your time, and your media consumption—will help you not lose your mind. This involves various forms of self-mastery and overcoming the worst parts of yourself, says Michels. “How do you master your worst tendencies?” asks GP. Practice.
Regulating how we spend our time.
“Believe it or not, at some point, this crisis is going to be over,” Michels says. “And the people who are going to own the world at that point are the people who used their time productively now, during the crisis. Whatever it is you’ve ever wanted to do with your life, do it now. You’re never going to have this much time on your hands. Whether it’s writing a screenplay or working on a business plan or connecting with people you haven’t connected with in a long time. If you can’t think of anything you want to do, then just be of service. Check up on your neighbors. Give love and reassurance to the people around you.”
Regulating our thoughts.
“You have to regulate what you allow and disallow during this time,” Michels says. “For most people, they are allowing their minds to become just a cesspool of negativity.” This creates a compulsive, self-sabotaging, negative loop. Which we want to avoid. But…
It’s not that easy.
If you’ve ever tried to just substitute a positive thought for a negative thought, Michels says that you probably discovered a nasty little secret. “Negative thoughts have much more power than positive thoughts. That voice of doom in your head has tremendous power.”
Instead, Michels suggests creating an experience for yourself—of a universe that is constantly giving you things and supporting you in ways that you take for granted. The weird thing, Michels says, is that you don’t have to believe that there is something greater than you giving you things: “I learned this tool when I was an atheist. And I have taught it to many, many skeptics. It’s effective because it actually goes beyond what you believe into the realm of experience. If you can actually experience something greater than you, giving you things, then you can relax. And your mind can stop spinning without all the negativity.”
A tool for gratitude.
In advance of using the tool, think of some things you’re grateful for. Michels says he’s grateful for the way the human brain works (“it’s a miracle”), for the beauty in the world (seeing the Pacific Ocean, the stars at night, a rainbow), and music (what other force gets so inside of you and makes you want to move?).
When you are in a negative loop, close your eyes and follow these steps to be embraced by something greater than you. So even if shit is going down, you don’t have to get trapped in a negative headspace.
- Start by recounting specific things you are grateful for, internally. Don’t worry if it’s a slight struggle to come up with new things, says Michels. That’s part of the tool—your mind is working in new ways. Keep coming up with ideas and see if you can gradually get the feeling that there is much more to appreciate than you’re usually aware of.
- Feel your heart soften and open up, like a flower in the sun. Let the specific things you are grateful for gradually fade away. Sense the presence of a mysterious source giving you all those things. You don’t have to have a name for this source. You just have to feel it and receive what it’s giving to you.
- Feel that unknowable source of goodness draw near to you, like soft breath on your cheek. Feel your heart melting with thankfulness.
- Mark this moment in the back of your mind: This source of goodness is always with me, even if I’m no longer aware of it. It’s giving to me, boundlessly.
Regulating our media consumption (talk about ambition).
It’s of course good to stay informed, Michels says: “But staying informed takes five minutes.” You don’t need to spend all of your day checking the news.
Expect to get triggered by things we would normally drop.
“I don’t wake up and say, ‘I hope this is a great day, and I’m not going to get triggered,’” says Michels. “I say, ‘I’m going to get triggered. There’s no question.’” When you’re prepared, you’re in a better position to deal with what’s triggering you before you create more damage.
“We constantly want the outside world to be easier than it actually is, more validating, softer, reassuring than it is,” says Michels. Because it’s not: Try a tool called “dust” to nullify the outside world momentarily.
- When you get triggered, cover everything and everyone in the outside world with a thick layer of dust. This renders the outside world non-emanating, says Michels. Light is a symbol of what we want from the outside world. And dust says: I’m not receiving that. Nullifying the outside world cuts down on hurt and anger.
- Inside of you, imagine there is a fountain of infinite light. And all you want to do is light up the world with that light. This might be an image that you carry around with you.
Human beings are at their best when they are in a giving, outflow posture, rather than reacting, says Michels. This tool downgrades the importance of the outside world as a source for you. And it allows you to put out more. The moment you become the source, you don’t have to get triggered.
But we still get triggered—how do we process what upsets us?
At the end of the day, after you’ve gotten annoyed (however many times), go somewhere quiet and talk to your shadow. The shadow is a little bit like your alter ego—it’s almost another personality living inside of you. It’s an essential part of you, but you might be afraid to show it to the world. Whenever you have an extreme reaction to someone else, Michels believes that your shadow is having a reaction to you. So if it bothers you that someone is acting like a know-it-all, perhaps your shadow feels like you act like a know-it-all to it.