Dating as older adults: Do we risk showing up & asking the important questions?

dating for older adults, relationships, communication

Dating as older adults: Do we risk showing up & asking the important questions?

Dating as older adults isn’t easy. In some ways, as we age, I think it gets a bit harder. Having recently seen the unexpected end of a relationship that seemed to hold potential I am again wondering how we can do it better. Or smarter, in the sense of being present to our deep knowing about who we are and what we want.

If we want to be in a romantic relationship with someone we have to go through all the stages—the awkward meet and greet, the initial euphoria, and then the adjusting phase. That moment when one or both parties stop being on their best behavior and it’s time to figure out the practical aspects of building some form of a partnership with this other person. Or walking away.

In determining what went wrong in my recent relationship, I’m exploring the basic issues needed in building a strong, satisfying relationship. What kind of relationship do you want? Do they want? Are you both committed to spending time getting to know each other? What mutual likes and interests do you share? Where do you disagree and how significant is it? Do they listen to you? Are they supportive and interested in your life, or simply expecting you to be there when it suits their schedule? These basic topics can make or break a relationship.

We assume that both parties looking to meet a potential partner are eager to have conversations about what they hope for. To talk about what a future might look like together. If we don’t ask the questions because it feels ‘forward’ or too direct so early in the game we risk disappointment if he/she  isn’t what we had hoped for.

A more nuanced problem arises if we try hard to make ourselves seem desirable, trying too hard to be the ‘right’ kind of woman, not the woman we really are. It’s challenging to keep our wants and needs in mind as we new relationships. We try to be pleasing; it’s what we are taught to do as women. That’s one of my challenges. My old habit was to become more appealing, less of a strong personality. I would play small. And as a consequence I tolerated things I really didn’t enjoy or want in a relationship.

How do we fully show up? Being aware of our tendencies is a good first step—and catching ourselves when we fall back into old ways. I caught myself this time, recognizing he didn’t show the consideration as I deserved. I want to find the balance between being too quick to judge and allowing room for possibility. I think that’s part of the problem many older women experience—a sort of panic at being passed by, at feeling not pretty enough, or young enough, or thin enough. As a result women may feel pressured to grab what’s presented to them, even when that person is not who they envisioned.

Learning boundaries and setting expectations of how we expect to be treated is vital.

We need to figure out what works when it comes to character traits and emotional availability. By the time we begin dating as older adults we have probably developed fairly entrenched patterns. Compromise and conversation help us find middle ground. We have to know what we absolutely will not tolerate and where we are willing to adjust.

Do  you know what you do or don’t want? How can you determine if a potential partner falls in line with those desires?

I suggest being open and honest about what you want, right up front. Talk about the things that matter to you. Ask questions. Go beyond the meaningless chatter.

What would that look like? I’m not sure yet but I intend to be a bit more inquisitive and revealing next time around. While it feels a bit pushy to ask about their relationship goals on a first date it’s important to be clear on what you seek. Their level of comfort willingness to be open as will tell you a lot about who they are. Defensiveness, evading your questions, or being uncomfortable with an outspoken woman provide additional hints at their future behavior. And the more one knows the easier it becomes to move forward.

The best relationships are ones in which we feel heard and supported. The ones where we can be ourselves, show our vulnerabilities, our strengths and weaknesses, and know that our partner is able to care of all the parts of who we are.  This requires us to show up. Remember not everyone can handle who we are and that’s OK too. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who isn’t fully committed to supporting us in our quest to live our best lives?


Or you could just whip out this list of questions and see how it goes. Ha ha… because I’m pretty sure asking about favorite salty snacks isn’t likely to sway me.

Photo by Prescott Horn on Unsplash

  • Stella Fosse
    Posted at 11:31h, 04 September Reply

    Hello Walker, thank you for this brave reflection. Thanks especially for acknowledging the importance of bringing our full selves to the table right away. The end of a relationship is difficult at any age, but it can take on more of a charge when the time left to connect and the available choices come to seem more limited..
    For another perspective, the relationship chapter in Ashton Applewhite’s book, This Chair Rocks, includes some intriguing ideas about expanding our concept of relationship – way too early right now, but perhaps worth a look later. In the meantime, please take excellent care of yourself.
    All the best,

    • Walker Thornton
      Posted at 09:50h, 05 September Reply

      I’m a big fan of Ashton’s work, will have to go back and reread that chapter. This relationship, as you note, was definitely a reminder for me to hod onto the things I value and center myself in relationships. Fortunately it was an easy ending, in some ways, as I saw it coming and allowed myself to let go and move on. It’s always a learning experience and I’m grateful for those!

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