Later daters: Dating doesn’t look the same in 30s, 40s, 50sMOORHEAD - Melissa Smith-Swenson wants her kids to know mom doesn’t need a boyfriend or a husband. The 37-year-old divorced mother of two teaches her 5-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son that “the Three Musketeers” are just fine on their own.
By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM
MOORHEAD - Melissa Smith-Swenson wants her kids to know mom doesn’t need a boyfriend or a husband.
The 37-year-old divorced mother of two teaches her 5-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son that “the Three Musketeers” are just fine on their own.
“It took me 37 years to realize that I don’t need anybody else to make me happy,” says Smith-Swenson, of Moorhead.
Is it nice to have someone to come home to? Absolutely, she says, but it can also bring added stressors.
“Dating shouldn’t be that difficult, but it is, whether you’re young or you’re old,” she says.
Like other single moms and dads, Smith-Swenson is cautious about introducing a new love interest to her kids.
Alice Christianson, counselor with Fargo’s Sanford Behavioral Health, says timing is important.
“Personally, I advise people not to introduce children to a dating partner until you really have some sense that this is an important person and that you may want to go forward with this relationship,” she says.
When Smith-Swenson goes through a breakup, she explains it to her children in a way they’ll understand.
“I encourage them to talk about it, but this is exactly why I don’t introduce somebody right away,” she adds.
Christianson says the older the children, the more complicated it gets.
“Kids who are babies, toddlers, little kids – they tend to accept somebody new easier, but teenagers don’t very well,” she says.
Young or older children’s understanding and acceptance of a new relationship is just one of the challenges of dating later in life, which often follows a breakup, separation, divorce or even death.
“Essentially, a new dating relationship at that time means that it’s going to be born out of the end or the loss of a previous relationship,” Christianson says.
She says it’s important to take the time that’s needed to heal.
“In my experience in working with people of this age group, many are lonely and maybe somewhat dependent, because they’ve been with somebody, and that loneliness often drives people to start dating too soon,” she says.
Beginning Experience, an international Christian non-denominational support group, helps people make the transition “from heartache to hope.”
Meeting facilitators teach participants to once again love themselves, others and God.
“They want people to take time to really look at improving the way they see themselves, building their strengths again, and learning what a healthy relationship is,” Christianson says.
The program, run by men and women who’ve been through it themselves, encourages open discussion so participants can move on and, hopefully, start dating again.
“They seem to get the most out of it if they’re willing to explore their feelings,” says Joan Koep, president of Eastern North Dakota Beginning Experience.
Once they’re ready to give it a go, the question then becomes, “Well, where do I start meeting people?”
Christianson brain-storms with patients about how to expand their social networks. For Koep, it was getting involved in activities she enjoys. Smith-Swenson turned to online dating.
Some try to reconnect with people from their past, through high school reunions, friends of friends, or Facebook.
“It might feel safer than meeting a total stranger,” Christianson says.
Men and women in their 30s and 40s are more likely to know what they want in a partner and less likely to be willing to compromise on what’s important to them.
“People don’t want to waste each other’s time, and I totally get it. I’m pretty upfront, going, ‘I have two small children, I’ve been divorced for two and a half years, and here’s what I won’t put up with,’ ” Smith-Swenson says.
Now she seeks someone who shares her core values rather than holding on to the belief that he can change.
“When you’re 20, you think you can change the world, but when you’re close to 40, you realize you can’t. You can contribute, but you have to do it for you and not for somebody else,” she says.
Christianson says stability – with a career, with finances – is another benefit of dating later in life.
“Hopefully, by the 40s, life is better. I think that would be a wonderful thing to bring into a relationship,” she says.
Hormonal changes in both men and women in their 40s and 50s can also change the dynamics of dating and relationships.
Christianson says women who have gone through menopause have much lower levels of estrogen and oxytocin, the so-called “bonding hormone.”
Women become less interested in being caretakers and more interested in focusing on their own well-being and developing their own interests. That may come into conflict with a man in his 50s who’s used to being taken care of by a spouse, she says.
Older men, meanwhile, have a little more estrogen in relationship to their testosterone.
“They’re probably going to be more family oriented, they’re probably less driven sexually and more sensually focused, and probably going to be more affectionate and sentimental, and some of this is because of the hormone changes with them as well,” Christianson says.
Of course, that’s not the case for everyone.
“There are a lot of guys here that go to the bar each night after work and don’t view having a loving relationship as a top priority,” Smith-Swenson says.
She says men in the age group she’s interested in (in their 40s, up to about 48), are at one extreme or the other.
“Either they don’t want serious, or they want serious like, right now,” she says with a laugh.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590