How To Enjoy Dating In Your 30s

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If you're reading this, it's probably safe to say you're interested in dating (and in your 30s). But you might have doubts about how this whole dating thing will turn out. Maybe you've been looking but can't find anyone, or you've been dating for a while and seriously want to know when the excitement will kick in. You may have read all sorts of articles that give helpful tips on how to find the perfect partner, but if you're still not finding one, then perhaps you haven't figured out how to make those tips work for you. 

Of course, no amount of advice can guarantee you'll find "the one" or even some interesting prospects, but there are ways to increase the chances you'll find a person that's right for you. Here's something to know: dating in your 30s is different from dating in your teens or early 20s. Adolescents are busy solidifying their identity; and tend to be more egocentric, and not to mention less experienced, than adults, per a study published in Developmental Psychology. So, thanks to your 30-something-year-old wisdom, you're probably better than you were "back in the day" at knowing which qualities are important in a partner. But, of course, knowing what you want in a partner and getting it are two entirely different things.

Assessing your dating situation

According to Pew Research Center, most people aren't enjoying their dating life and have a hard time finding dates. Some of the reasons include incompatible relationship goals, being too busy to meet people, or meeting people who just aren't into them. While some credit changing societal standards and online dating/social media (with increased accessibility to almost anyone) for making their dating lives easier, many think it's harder for the same reasons. They feel dating is more impersonal and confusing given the changing societal "rules" around dating. 

Does any of this sound like you? However you feel, you probably want your dating experience to work for you, and bring some joy into your life. Maybe you're finding it difficult to enjoy dating right now, especially if you aren't super thrilled about the idea of getting to know someone new, or are feeling the pull to settle down "by this age" (ugh). But if dating is where you're at, why not find a way to make it enjoyable? 

Be okay with not dating

This seems counterintuitive, but if "wanting" a date has turned into "needing" a date, there may be some anxiety or distress that occurs when something is not happening that we think should be (via Neural Plasticity). Dating in your 30s carries with it a unique brand of anxiety. Typically, you don't have as much accessibility to others as you did when you were in school. You meet people with more history and a diverse range of experiences (e.g., divorce, failed significant relationships, kids) that can complicate relationships. And you may feel external or internal pressure to achieve a certain relationship status (ahem, marriage) and other major milestones (via Vox). Unfulfilled expectations triggered by not being further along "by this age" (ugh) are exhausting. 

The failure to meet personal goals can cause people to ruminate or focus on their failures, creating anxiety or depression (via a study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology). Maybe you're anxious to be in a serious relationship, anxious about being pressured into one, or maybe you have a complex range of feelings about it. If you experience anxiety around the idea of not dating or finding someone, think about what you would say to your 30-something-year-old friend who feels anxious about not having a partner or being married yet. You'd probably try to comfort them, and find ways to help them feel better. 

Try doing the same for yourself. Research shows that self-esteem influences relationship satisfaction rather than the other way around. This suggests that when we feel good about ourselves, we take those feel-good vibes into our relationship, fortunately improving the relationship dynamics.

Enjoy you

One way to avoid having to "need" a partner is to enjoy yourself without one. For many, being okay alone is not easy, and (let's be honest) not even desirable. But it may be necessary, particularly if you have few options at the moment. Being alone gives you an opportunity to learn how to treat yourself better if that's been a struggle. Of course, enjoying alone time doesn't mean you don't want a partner. It just means you have learned how to be satisfied with yourself, partner or not. 

One way to do this is to evaluate your self-worth. Marci G. Fox and Leslie Sokol, authors of "Think Confident, Be Confident," say your self-worth is connected to what you value. And if romantic relationships give you your value, then it makes sense that the absence of these relationships would diminish your value. What qualities do you have that you think are important? In order to answer this question well, the authors say it's important to see yourself in "positive," "accurate," and "realistic" ways. This is what gives you strong self-worth and self-confidence. And a partner will add to the joy you already have rather than be a substitute for it.

Let go of the past, sort of

Some people prefer to forget failed relationships and carry on like they never happened. Others can't stop thinking about them and are consumed with embarrassment, shame, and any other negative emotion you can think of. Neither extreme is helpful. Forgetting can lead to avoidance and a tendency to be distant in future relationships (via European Psychologist), and remembering too much can lead to rumination and dejection, also not good for any future relationship, per a studying in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology

So, instead of forgetting completely or remembering too much, how about learning from your failed dating experiences and letting the rest go? In other words, forget about the stuff that does not benefit you and keep those hard-won lessons you can use to make you better. You may need therapeutic help to do this as sometimes an objective voice can help us see things clearly. Either way, lessons learned will help you avoid making the same mistakes again.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Get good with accountability

Of course, a willingness to take note of lessons learned in failed relationships may include holding yourself accountable in some areas, especially if you've had a pattern of failed relationships. This can be hard to admit, particularly without support. Research from the Nigerian Journal of Psychological Research suggests that unhealthy romantic relationships can lead to continued relationship dysfunction simply because people continue to use the same coping skills to manage relationships. 

So, in order to reduce the chances of moving into the next relationship with the same faulty patterns, you can recognize them, change them, and replace them with better relational skills. This way you are freer to date without hang-ups and grudges. With age, people are inclined to be better at supporting their partners, typically because they've acquired the skills to do so from past relationships (via Developmental Psychology). These are likely the people who have learned to let go of the pain and keep the lessons learned.

Stop trying to find a partner

So, here's another counterintuitive tip. The act of searching for something sometimes makes it seem harder to find. Have you ever tried searching for an object only to get more anxious when it doesn't show up, yet when you let it go and stop looking for it, it magically appears? Research from the Journal of Experimental Psychology shows that when we search for a lost item, our brain puts in the work to help us focus and search more efficiently. But what happens when we're too flustered to search efficiently? It usually feels counterproductive. This is typically when we decide to stop looking, calm down, and voila, the object appears (or at least it seems like that). 

Does this hold true for dating? If we stop searching anxiously for partners, will they just magically appear? Well, maybe not quite that way. But if we alter the stories we tell ourselves, it could be close. Research shows that the narratives we tell ourselves have a powerful impact on us because they hold meaning that helps us make sense of our world. In fact, narratives can be so powerful that we hold onto them even in the face of contrary evidence, and the only way to weaken them is to create a new narrative with equally compelling meaning. 

So, if we run with the narrative that we can't find a partner, we will be more attuned to the information that supports it (also known as confirmation bias), reinforcing anxiety and inadvertently restricting possibilities. But if you let go of the "I can't find anyone" narrative, you are freer — freer to be engaged with your interests and possibly increase the chances of meeting up with others doing the same.

Get into your discomfort zone

In order to be freer, it may be necessary to leave your comfort zone and enter the dreaded "discomfort zone." This is where anxiety meets destiny, fear meets potential, routine meets ... you get the point. You may not find the discomfort zone enticing, but you may meet your next date there. So, how do we get to this discomfort zone? Research from Psychological Science shows that the act of engaging in activities that cause discomfort or anxiety but contribute to personal growth, increasing your motivation to engage in the behavior. This is because the discomfort is used as an indicator of growth, and who doesn't want to grow and perceive themselves as better? It's a self-esteem booster for sure. 

What activities are you avoiding out of fear even though you know they would lead to personal growth? The only way to get over the things you fear is to do them (via Coping with Anxiety). Doing these positive yet dreaded activities can strengthen you emotionally, making you better prepared for any partner who comes your way. Oh, and it doesn't hurt to know you could meet your next date there.

Trust your gut, not your biases

How do you know if a partner is right for you? Is it the chemistry, their looks, the way they make you laugh, and/or the way they treat their mother? Perhaps you're having a good time but something seems off. Or there is something that bugs you but you're willing to tolerate it for reasons you can't quite articulate. These complex issues can make dating less than enjoyable, but they provide valuable information. 

Research from the Journal of Experimental Psychology shows that our brains subconsciously interpret information around us and may partly explain why we can feel something isn't right without being able to explain why. In other words, your gut is trying to get your attention. This is actually a big deal because it serves a protective function and puts the "data" in dating. When we collect data, we gather information about someone. According to the Pew Research Center, many are open to dating people different from them, but for some, it's a hard "no" when it comes to certain qualities such as age difference, children, and debt. While we try to gather as much accurate information as possible, sometimes the information isn't as accurate as we think. 

There are times when we have biases that masquerade as instincts, causing us to make premature decisions about a partner. One way this can occur is when we date people who remind us of other people, also known as transference (via Advances in Experimental Social Psychology). This reflects our tendency to fall back on old patterns. Plus, as research from the Nigerian Journal of Psychological Research shows, it can happen when we have not grown developmentally and continue to use premature ways of relating. If you find yourself here, don't fret: the important thing is to pay attention to it. This way you're in a better position to change it.

Don't hate on lousy dates

Sometimes you don't have to wonder if a person isn't right for you; you know they aren't. Maybe it was the blank stare they gave when you spoke, the rude comment to the waiter, and/or their inability to realize they talked during the entire date. Or maybe they're fine, just not for you. Whatever the reason for the flop, it can feel like a waste of time and a pretty raw deal when you consider you could be doing other things (like Netflixing on the couch). 

But what can the wrong person or lousy date teach us? For one, it gives a chance to try out new ways of relating. If we're not used to being upfront and honest with our feelings; or we're usually too upfront and blunt, it gives an opportunity to learn better ways to communicate. According to research from Annales Universitatis Apulensis Series Oeconomica, the ability to be assertive, rather than aggressive or disturbing, in communication with others strengthens relationships and reduces stress. It also leaves the door open for increased social support. And who knows — that lousy date may just turn out to be a new best friend.

Be the partner you want to have

While this article can't find a date for you (although that would be great), you can work on being the partner you'd like to have. Consider what you look for in a relationship and the qualities you'd like a partner to have. Research from Developmental Psychology shows that close relationships tend to have key qualities including support, conflict, and control, and the way we manage these depends on a number of factors, including maturity or stage of development and the length of the relationship. 

As individuals grow older, their relationships tend to be longer, and they are more likely to be supportive, focusing on what is best for both themselves and their partner rather than what is best for them alone. This may make it easier to work through conflict and issues with control as we grow and become more experienced. Of course, this doesn't explain the turbulent, dysfunctional relationships we may find ourselves in. But you can use these key qualities as a gauge to determine how well you match up with the partner in your head. Are you supportive? Do you know how to manage conflict? Where are you with regard to control? Being able to answer these introspective questions can get you better prepared for the relationship you'd like to have.

Show the vulnerability you want to see

Relinquishing control is sometimes easier said than done and may reflect our level of vulnerability. Being vulnerable is scary. It means risking punishment or rejection (via Journal of Social and Personal Relationships). It requires trust in others and a level of self-love that allows us to take risks without making the consequences of our vulnerability mean something about our value. We are most likely to be vulnerable within the context of an intimate, supportive relationship. Thus, it follows that with repeated conflictual, unsupportive relationships, vulnerability suffers, and thus intimacy. 

So, if you have difficulty with vulnerability but want it in your partner, think about how you can demonstrate that. The research shows that partners are most supportive when the vulnerable disclosure does not include them. In other words, they are fine being supportive as long as they are not being blamed or offended in any way. This means that in order to demonstrate vulnerability one would have to be comfortable admitting wrong-doing or mistakes. And while it may be challenging, reflecting on the vulnerability you want to see may bring you closer to a more enjoyable relationship.

Don't forget to have a good time

Dating is supposed to be fun, exciting even — or at least the idea of it is. If you're challenged by your prospects, or the lack thereof, think about what you can do to make it enjoyable — that is, what is in your control to do. Research from Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes shows that the feeling of control over a situation can improve satisfaction. And you may be surprised by how much control you can have. Googling specific tips on how to have a fun date is a good idea, but any effective tip will be about what you can do, not what the other person can do. 

This is actually a relief because your ability to have a good time isn't solely dependent upon how your date turns out. It is dependent on the things mentioned above, especially your ability to enjoy yourself. According to research in the Journal of Sport Behavior, people with high self-esteem are more likely to interpret defeat in ways that make them feel better. In other words, they protect their esteem which makes it easier to enjoy themselves even if they haven't quite figured out the whole dating thing "by this age" (ugh).

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