On Dating, Desire, and Sex In Your 40s

I am a 40-year-old Black woman and I am as single as a dollar bill.

Don’t feel bad for me, because I’m not at all lamenting being single. I’ve been married, divorced, and I’ve had a couple of long-term relationships. Now, I choose to be single and am actively navigating the dating scene as an older, wiser, more focused woman. Admittedly, in the past, I’ve been discouraged by the idea that a woman’s value relies on her relationship status. And like many others, I’ve been especially overwhelmed by all of the research and data suggesting nearly half of Black women will struggle way into their older ages to find equal partners to settle down with unless they date outside of their race. I’m happy to say that I’ve finally reached a point when I don’t feel any pressure to compromise or sacrifice what’s important to me in order to be in a relationship. It’s been an eye-opening experience and, dare I say, empowering.

For many women in their forties, having an intimate connection with someone we can share ourselves with, have great fun, and have amazing sex would be cool, but it doesn’t seem to be a top priority. The biggest difference I’ve noticed in dating now versus dating in our twenties is in how we approach dating and how we go about actually doing it. For many of us older women, there is a combination of learning from past experiences, feeling confident about creating different standards, valuing the independence, and being unwilling to settle for anything less than we feel we deserve.

So how can a woman in her forties successfully venture out into the modern dating scene without feeling weighed down and burdened by the obstacles and downsides? It takes an effort to unlearn “tradition,” honest introspection, an open mind, and a willingness to think and act outside of the box. We can’t expect to apply old rules to a new game, so it’s time to get hip to what it’s like out there for women of a certain age.

First, we have to acknowledge that ageism against older women is prevalent in the dating scene.  Women being with older men has long been the accepted “norm” in our society, so ageism is an obstacle for many women in their forties who are seeking men in their age group. In same-sex relationships, the age issue doesn’t seem to be as prominent, but aging queer women may struggle with finding someone compatible in their age group, too. Interestingly enough, lesbians have higher divorce rates than gay men, so the tide may be turning as more older women-seeking-women become available and reenter the dating world.

Open your mind about the age range you’re willing to date and explore your options. Have you considered dating younger? Younger beaux are often more “enlightened” about social issues like racism and gender equality, having been exposed to more progressive community and social media conversations around these matters. They tend to have the sexual drive and capacity to meet the needs of women our age as we reach our sexual peak. And men, especially, are less likely to feel threatened by our intelligence, careers, and accomplishments, or feel like they’re in competition with us, mainly because they expect us to be more advanced than they are, and they generally respect it.

Update your preferred age range on Tinder and Hinge, and chat up someone younger. A number of women I’ve spoken to say dating younger was the best decision they made and they couldn’t be happier. Keep in mind that there are some younger people out there looking to take advantage of older women because they assume we’re desperate. Play things close to the chest until you’re comfortable opening up and sharing more of yourself and your material possessions.

Older women are more interested in exploring fantasies and enjoying sex, even more casual sex, once they age past the increased risk of pregnancy.

When it comes to sex, there’s no better time to take charge of your sexual pleasure than when you reach your forties. We often joke about older women’s libidos being in overdrive, but unless you’re asexual, or have had experiences with trauma, illness, or medications that impact your sex drive, you can probably relate! Older women who have moved beyond the “typical” age for childbearing, but are not-quite-menopausal, desire to and have more sex, whether married or single.

One explanation is that women are more comfortable with their sexuality and their bodies at older ages, so they let their guard down and go for theirs. Another reason is that older women are more interested in exploring fantasies and enjoying sex, even more casual sex, once they age past the increased risk of pregnancy. We’re also less likely to accept being sexually shamed or mistreated for wanting to have sex and taking the lead on having it. If you find yourself in any situation where you encounter sexist or archaic ideas about women and sex, run! The more in control you feel, the more likely you are to be active and enjoy the sex you have.

There’s nothing wrong with having sex for pleasure’s sake; I strongly encourage it! Keeping it light with someone you primarily want to have sex with isn’t wrong. It’s important, though, to be honest with yourself and your partners about your true intentions. These days, it seems more people are looking for casual connections and maybe that’s all you need right now, especially if you’re still moving past a divorce or end of a serious relationship.

Just make sure you’re not settling for terrible sex, that you’re honest with your partners about your wants and needs, and you’re assertive and enthusiastic about consent. Use protection, insist upon it. Beware of any person who hesitates or puts up a fight when you proactively introduce barrier protections or suggest getting tested for STDs/STIs. Challenge yourself to explore beyond your comfort zone to try things you were too afraid of or nervous about when you were younger.

Finally, change up the ways you go about meeting potential partners. If you’ve never tried online dating, there are several options for you. Gather up your best selfies, inject your humor, and show the fullness of your personality. People often assume women over 40 aren’t as energetic or interested in having fun, but that simply isn’t true. Put on that sexy new outfit, go out dancing, buy someone a drink at the bar, and live your best life.

See someone attractive on an app? Send the first message. Join your local 40-plus Meetup group and try some new activities. Don’t sit around waiting for the perfect person to find you on your couch watching Netflix; you may be older, but you’re not dead yet! Just make sure you let at least one friend know where you’re going and who you’re meeting up with; there are still some sketchy people out there and you don’t want to jeopardize your safety.

Turning 40 opened my eyes and changed my perspective on a lot of things. I’m taking the lessons I’ve learned from past relationships and prioritizing my wants and needs over those of others. You probably won’t meet the perfect person your first time out, but keep trying. It takes practice, so you might as well enjoy it while you’re figuring out what’s best for you in this new phase in your life.


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Overwhelmed by the prospect of dating in your 40s? Here’s how and why to take a step back from the stress

The thing about online dating is that it can easily slide from something fun into an all-pervasive grind.

One minute you’ve got a few relaxed drinks lined up, the next you’re spending 10 hours a week trawling Tinder (the average for millennials “looking for love”).

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? How about you put your feet up on your desk and took it easy instead?

That’s the approach of one singleton New Yorker, who is determined not to be drawn into the web of dating in your 40s.

Author Glynnis MacNicol has written a book about what it’s like to hit the big 4-0 without a husband or kids. Her aim is to provide a role model that sits apart from these markers that are – still now – taken as shorthand for adult happiness.

Dating in your 40s: say no to the pressure

Now MacNicol has revealed another important element to her lifestyle as a 40-something singleton: and it’s all to do with taking her foot off the pedal of dating after 40.

“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, the way I carve time out for my friends,” the writer tells Bon Appetit’s Healthyish column, in a new profile about dating.

“That’s a completely valid thing to do if that’s your decision. For me it’s like, 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: 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 the right person or you might not, but you’re not wasting your precious resource on that one, elusive goal.

Recognise the myth of the end game

Part of this mindset comes from a growing recognition for MacNicol and others like her that finding love is not the be-all of a good life.

Contrary to the message of nearly every childhood story and Hollywood rom com, there is no 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”.

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 bullshit 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.”

Decide why, and how much, to invest

But even when a long-term relationship DOES work out, that vision of happy couples won’t fix everything.

“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.”

Life is an ongoing project that ebbs and flows according to a multitude of forces, both within and outside 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 (Marriage is good! Long-term relationships are everything! Find your Happy Ever After!), 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 MacNicol, to file dating under “nice to have” in a box full of other – and greater – priorities.

17 Reasons Dating in Your 40s Is So Challenging, According to Experts

Couple holding hands at night

When you’re dating in your 40s, you might be looking for a first-time forever match, or maybe you’re reentering the scene after a divorce or other hiatus. Maybe you already have your own kids—solo, or with a co-parent—or maybe you still want them… or maybe you don’t. But whatever the specs of your dating life are, you’ll likely find that there are particular challenges involved with dating over 40. From hangups and baggage to sex and technology, here, therapists, relationship coaches, couples counselors, and more explain why dating is so much harder in your 40s.

1It’s harder to deal with change.

When you’re in your 40s, you know what you like and what you don’t like. And it can be harder than it was when you were younger to adapt and welcome a new relationship into your life, with all of the inherent compromise that comes with it.

“Dating is more difficult in your 40s because your life is usually more settled, and doing new things doesn’t come as easily as it did in your earlier years,” says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina

2The divorce factor complicates things.

Older couple talking sitting on the floor

Maybe you’re dating in your 40s after a divorce—or even if not, you’ll likely encounter other divorcees in the dating pool at this stage of life. And that can be a complicating factor.

“The experience of divorce and where you are in the process of getting over one can impact how jaded or emotionally unprepared you feel about the process of getting back out into the dating world,” says Dana McNeil, LMFT, founder of group practice The Relationship Place. “Some people start dating right away after divorce or separation. When this happens, it is likely they haven’t taken adequate time to process how the divorce impacted them emotionally. … Finding out how long a potential partner has been single is an important consideration before commitment.”

3And so does the kid factor.

Blended family having dinner

There are many ways kids can complicate dating in your 40s. “Children can play into the equation heavily at this age,” says career and relationship coach Julieanne O’Connor. “Often people already have children, or don’t yet have children and sometimes feel rushed to do so. And there’s the consideration of raising someone else’s children.”

For divorced parents dating in their 40s, kids are still very much a part of their daily lives. Family and relationship psychotherapist Fran Walfish, PsyD, notes that “dating in your 40s is so much harder because most divorced people in their 40s still have growing children living at home.”

4 There are disparate age-related expectations.

Older man on a date with a younger woman

Dating in your 40s can bring to light an uncomfortable disparity: No matter their own ages, men and women may be looking for partners of different ages. Sometimes that’s merely a matter of vanity (i.e. “I want to date someone younger and have a trophy on my arm”).

Other times, that uncomfortable reality comes about as a result of the kid factor, too. “[Some] women over the age of 40 are not interested in having more kids. However, there are a lot of men in their 40s who are very interested in having children. As a result, there tends to be a lot of men in their 40s who are looking for women in their 30s,” says professional dating profile writer Eric Resnick. “This can leave the women in their 40s with the feeling that the men in their age group are superficial and have unrealistic expectations.”

5 You feel out of practice.

Holding hands across the table on a date

In your 20s and 30s, you may have regularly gone out on dates—perhaps several in a month or even in a week. But if you find yourself newly single in your 40s, the very notion of dating can feel entirely unfamiliar. “Some people who are newly single in their 40s might not have dated since they were teens. A lot has changed,” notes life and relationship coach Jonathan Bennett. “It can be difficult jumping right back in when you’ve been out of practice for many years.”

6 It’s harder to meet through friends.

Middle aged couple on date

If you often met people to date through friends when you were younger, you might find that doesn’t come as naturally at 40-plus, when your social life may be less bustling, as a large quantity of friendships turns to a quality few.

“Meeting through friends is the most common way to find a partner; yet, as people get older, they usually have fewer friends,” Bennett says. “You can see how this makes dating more difficult as men and women in their 40s have to rely on anxiety-inducing methods like online dating, approaching strangers in social settings, or even trying singles events.”

7 New technology leaves room for misunderstanding.

Man confused by text

To that end, finding a relationship over 40 often involves technology—from swiping through potential matches on dating apps to communicating with possible partners via text or DM. And over-40 daters may not love that newer aspect of the game.

“People today have become habitually dependent upon texting that breeds misunderstanding, uncertainty, and distance in the message receiver,” Walfish says. “From what I hear patients moan about, there are some things about the archaic ways of dating that I think would be best brought back.”

8 You judge yourself more harshly now.

Woman looking at herself in the mirror

“Dating at 40-plus often becomes more challenging because of the insecurities and judgments that people have about aging,” says relationship expert and couples counselor Katherine Bihlmeier. “‘I’m too old,’ ‘My body is not beautiful anymore, ‘I don’t have anything to offer because I’m not as young as I used to be,’ ‘Nobody would find this saggy skin sexy’… The list of judgments running through our heads just grows longer.”

9 And you might judge others more harshly, too.

older asian man looking upset at phone

At this stage of life, you can be especially critical of potential mates, which can result from your own past experiences. “If you are divorced or are coming from a relationship that lasted many years only to fail, you tend to be more cautious about who you date. At times, this caution can turn into being overly critical or extremely picky of people you are dating, finding flaws that are not necessarily detrimental to a relationship,” says Stephania Cruz, relationship expert and writer for DatingPilot.net. “Being overly critical or picky can hurt the chances of meeting a great person to form a serious relationship with.”

10 You have more responsibility than ever.

Women Typing Life Easier

When you’re in your 20s, dating may be the only responsibility you care to prioritize. But when you’re in your 40s, it’s likely one of many aspects of your life that you’re trying to keep afloat.

“Your 40s may very well be the peak of your life in terms of juggling responsibility. You may have a successful career, family, financial responsibility, and a whole myriad of other endeavors that make searching for a partner and dating that much more complicated,” says health and wellness coach Lynell Ross. “It’s not just about the dating itself, but the host of other things you have to juggle in the background.”

11 And your priorities have changed, too.

Busy mom on the phone, doing work, and with baby

In addition to having more responsibility in your 40s, you likely have an entirely different set of priorities—and a timeline that may look different than it did in the past, too.

“When people are in their teens, 20s, and early 30s, meeting new people, partying with friends, and socializing is something they desire and look forward to,” says dating expert and author Kevin Darné. But sometimes, he says, “people in their 40s and beyond have already had the fairytale wedding and subsequent divorce. Therefore they don’t have the same urgency or enthusiasm when it comes to finding a mate as they did in the past. Their top priorities are more likely taking care of their children or elderly parent [or] focusing on their career.”

12 More people are taken.

middle aged friends eating a meal outside during the day

When you’re in your 20s and go to a party, everyone is single and ready to mingle. But it’s not so much the case as we age. “When you’re younger, you’re around peers who are largely single. Very few people have settled down into formal commitments like marriage. Yet, in your 40s, many of your co-workers and natural peers are married and unavailable to date,” Bennett says. “The dating pool is smaller and it can lead to frustration.”

13 You take dating too seriously.

Older couple on a date

If you’re looking for a serious relationship in your 40s, you could be approaching dating with a bit too much intensity, making dates feels more like an interview than a chat with a potential match.

“If you’re heading into a date with a checklist of questions and criteria, you’re running the risk of making the person feel interrogated and unseen for who they are. Keep it as casual and relaxed as you possibly can—and don’t beat yourself up too much if you are feeling anxious,” suggests Carissa Coulston, PhD, a clinical psychologist and relationship writer for The Eternity Rose. “Just try and let the conversation flow. Chemistry will either form or it won’t.

14 You have high expectations.

Man looking at woman intensely

To be clear, standards are important—but setting the bar unrealistically high can be a factor when dating in your 40s. “What made for an ideal mate at ages 16, 18, or 25 generally will not cut it for us when we’re in our 40s,” Darné says. “Once you start acquiring homes, have children, and have a decent amount in your 401(k), you become much more selective. … The higher your standards are, the more competition there is for finding such a person, and [there] is also more frustration with each person you meet who doesn’t measure up.”

15 You’re stuck on a “type.”

Middle aged male gay couple eating dinner in a restaurant

In your 40s, you might find yourself hopelessly stuck to a “type”—or avoiding a “type”—based on your own past experiences. “Both men and women are guilty of this,” Coulston says. “Perhaps they had one bad experience in the past with a particular person, and are now trying to avoid anyone remotely similar at all costs. However, a ‘type’ is not always an accurate way of summing up another person. If you categorize a person based on some similarities with someone in your past, you could easily miss out on a partner who is compatible with you.”

16 Sex is different now.

Man stressed in bed

Daters over 40 are likely seeking a satisfying sexual relationship as much as they were at earlier stages of life. But sex itself is different in your 40s, which can add awkwardness or pressure to a budding relationship. “Middle-aged sex requires a different focus and some new techniques to be satisfying,” Tessina says. “It’s no surprise that sex is different for mid-lifers than for youngsters.”

Bihlmeier adds that, when dating in your 40s, “all the judgments we as society have of aging and sex come up.” “It makes them insecure, and it is hard for them to enjoy themselves,” she says.

17 You might feel old, even though you’re not.

Couple cuddling on couch

If you’re dating in your 40s, that might represent a different path from the one you had planned for yourself—and that can breed insecurity and a sense of not measuring up as a potential mate. “Whether you are still single, married, or split up, you could be worried about what other people think of you,” Ross says. “You could be caught in that awkward time of not feeling old, but not feeling as young as those in the dating scene, and find it easier to avoid dating.”

But of course, you shouldn’t let your fears stop you from putting yourself out there. Remind yourself of everything you have going for you and how worthy you are of finding love. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s worthwhile.