Whenever I catch reruns of Sex and the City, I’m always a little shocked to realize that I’m the same age as Carrie and her friends. When the show debuted in 1998, I was just 17. Now, when I watch it as a single woman in her 30s, it hits a little closer to home. I identify with the characters and their struggles so much more than I did before. Why? Because dating in your 30s is very different than dating in your 20s.
The playing field is narrower and you probably carry a little more baggage. You also likely have fewer single friends, so there's more pressure to couple up. If you recently became single or just turned 31 and are beginning to notice how dating has changed, you came to the right place.
Age is Just a Number
Does age really matter? Not so much. One of my girlfriends is 35 and she just married a 27-year-old. Their relationship works because they are madly in love and they support each other in the ways that they both need to be supported. Plus, they have a great time together, and neither of them could imagine a world without the other person in it.
Know What You Want
When I was in my mid-20s, I wanted a partner who drove a nice car and could afford to take me to a fancy restaurant. Although I still think these things are great, now that I’m in my 30s, I know that I want more in a partner. I have a nervous personality, so I need someone who can tell me to relax. I’m very social and I love entertaining, so I need someone who can hold their own and have a conversation without me around. I enjoy learning new things, so I want a partner who is willing to teach me stuff.
If you’ve never really thought about what you want in a partner, then I suggest you figure it out so you can find the right fit. Write down the names of the last few people you dated. Next to each name, list the top five things you liked about them and the top five things you didn’t like about them. You’ll probably notice that there are common descriptors on the list. The top qualities that you liked about these people are what you should look for in your next relationship.
Let Go of the Past
Nearly everyone who is single in their 30s has dealt with some form of heartbreak—be it ghosting, cheating, or death. But it’s time to leave the past in the past. The third date is not a good time to discuss how your ex cheated on you for three years and you didn’t realize it until a scandalous photo was sent to you from an anonymous email account. Let it go! We all have skeletons in our closets. This doesn’t mean you have to pull one out and wear it. Yes, your past has shaped who you are, but it’s your past—not your present or future.
Instead, focus on what is happening now and look where you are going next.
Let Your Guard Down
When you’ve been in a lot of unsuccessful relationships, a natural defense mechanism is to put your guard up. If you don’t let anyone in, then you won’t get hurt, right? However, if you don’t let anyone in, you probably won’t end up finding the one. When the time is right and you’ve met someone you’re into who is also into you, let your guard down. Be vulnerable. If this makes you feel anxious, tell yourself everything will be okay.
Don't Be Jaded or Bitter
When you’re in your 30s, it’s much easier to become jaded and bitter; so many relationships have not worked out that you may start to think it’s never going to happen. But it’s important not to let this negative thinking get the best of you. If you think it’s never going to happen, then it won’t; you have to be positive. When you meet someone new, give them a chance. You'll never find your soulmate if you're a dating cynic.
Focus on Having Fun
When you’re in your 30s, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the things you don’t have yet. You haven’t met the one, you’re not married, you don’t live in a beautiful house, and you don't have kids. Wanting all of these things is okay, but grilling every person you date to see if they have what it takes to fulfill your expectations is not. Focus on having fun and getting to know the person. What’s the point of being in a relationship at any age if you’re not having fun? It shouldn’t be a job and it shouldn’t be depressing.
A relationship should bring joy, laughter, and love—whether you’re 22 or 46.
Dump Your Divorce Bias
One of the advantages of dating a divorcee is that they've probably learned a lot from their former marriage that they can apply to a new relationship.
The divorce rate in America is somewhere between 42% and 50%, so when you’re in your 30s, you're probably going to date people who are divorced. One of the advantages of dating a divorcee is that they've probably learned a lot from their former marriage that they can apply to a new relationship. When it comes to discussing their marriage, don’t pry. If they want to talk about what happened, they will when the time is right.
Communication is Key
Good communication is crucial to any relationship. When you’re dating in your 30s, you should be able to talk to your significant other openly and honestly. Likewise, they should be able to talk to you candidly. Got into your first fight? Talk it out maturely. If you’re not communicating early on in the relationship, you probably won’t get better at it as things move forward.
Don't Waste Your Time
Don’t waste your time. If you’re not into someone, stop talking to them, stop texting them, and stop hanging out with them. Life is too short. Wouldn’t you much rather get a good night of sleep than be out drinking empty calories with a person you’re just not that into?
Trust Your Gut
If you have a gut instinct about someone, trust it. Listen to your intuition. If something is telling you that they’re not right, then they’re probably not.
You Do You
Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. The real you will always come through eventually, so be yourself from the beginning. Own who you are. Nothing is more attractive than someone who is comfortable in their own skin.
Don't Settle, but Stop Seeking Perfection
Nobody should settle for a partner who they are only sort of into. The relationship won’t be healthy, nor will it last. However, you shouldn't be waiting around for a royal on a white horse to show up either. No one's perfect, so be ready to compromise.
Next up: Should you avoid dating a serial monogamist? Two experts explain.