Dating for the First Time in your 30s
Originally published on EQ Iris Dating
You may feel behind. You may feel clueless. You may feel frantic. You may feel like no good people are left because "everyone" is celebrating ten-year anniversaries and welcoming their second or third children. You may feel your concerned family members breathing down your neck when they gently (or not so gently) "check-in" on your love life. You may feel like you have to update your singleness stat, but also hopeless about anything changing.
Or maybe that's just me.
In case it's not, though, here's what I've been doing about all of this. First, I repeat to myself that I am not alone - this is not just a feel-good statement; it's also a fact. The age people marry for the first time for women is now 31, and for men, it's 33, which means it's been creeping upwards for the last several years now. If the average is early 30s, many people are older when they marry for the first time.
Of course, this doesn't mean they've never dated until their 30s. But actually, if social media is any indication—and I checked in with several friends who are therapists to confirm this—more and more people are dating for the first time in their 30s. Whether you married your high school sweetheart and didn't have to date but then went through a divorce in your 30s, or you prioritized your career, or time has just flown by, you're not alone if you're just getting into dating into your 30s. As my therapist friends have said, the good news is that people live longer, so you can still get a good 50 years with your person if that's what you want.
This brings me to another thing I remind myself of: I'm not "behind." There isn't really one now if there was ever a blueprint for life. So many things have changed: rapid technological advancement over the last two decades and the COVID-19 pandemic in the previous two years, just to name a few. This means that the dating landscape has changed and continues to change so much. But this doesn't mean you have to let the dating scene change you. In fact, that's one of the huge benefits I've found in dating for the first time in my 30s: I know myself so much more and have a solid understanding both of what I need and what I want to give in a relationship as opposed to just what I "have" to give but may not want to give.
That difference is crucial: you don't have to give something simply because you have it. Relationships work more smoothly between two people who need what the other wants to give. I didn't know that until I was in my 30s. And that's the good news. You likely know yourself much better, what you need, and what you genuinely want to give another person in a romantic relationship when you start dating "later" than you might think society is saying you should.
We've all heard that we shouldn't listen to "society" or family and that the only expectations we should follow are the ones we set for ourselves. This really common advice doesn't consider how intertwined those two sets of expectations can be, especially the younger you are. When I was in my 20s, I hadn't realized that the goals I thought I was setting for myself were little more than personalized mirrors of what culture and family had impressed upon me that I needed to do. I often heard that I shouldn't live anyone else's life but my own and shouldn't be anyone but myself (since everyone else is already taken). But I genuinely thought I was living my own life as myself. I hadn't seen that I really wasn't until a few years into my 30s. If it took me years to see that the dreams I was chasing weren't mine, and the goals I had set were false even as reaching those goals continued not to be fulfilling, it's no wonder that almost all of the relationships (including friendships) I had in my 20s didn't last.
Dating for the first time in my 30s because I met my ex when I was in college (and thanked God every day that I didn't have to ever date) does leave me clueless. I can tell myself all I want that I'm not alone and that I'm in a much better position now that I (actually do) know myself, what I want and what I want to bring into a relationship, but it doesn't give me the skills and support I need to engage in the dating process well. Twenty-something Megan would immediately rush out and find some professional to help her when she had a problem with anything. But one the most important things I've learned as a thirty-something is that trusting myself and my community is vital to my well-being, especially if you're like me and an anxious dater (or just anxious in general).
I've learned that dating anxiety, social anxiety, and anxiety, in general, have a root in a lack of self-trust. I learned this through reading and doing self-care work around boundaries. Even when I cleaned up my issues with setting and keeping boundaries and no longer overly accommodating and pleasing people, I still had anxiety. That's because anxiety does not come lack of boundaries or experience (like what happens when you don't start dating until your 30s). It comes from a lack of self-trust. Which is a long way of saying that the single most important tool I have learned how to use in my new-to-dating-in-my-30s-journey is trusting that I can and will show up for myself and prioritize my safety, my needs, and my heart as I'm out there meeting new people.
To all those thirty-something-year-olds getting out into the dating scene for the first time: solidarity. You got this, but the most important thing is for YOU to believe that you got this.