To this day, I’m still not interested in wedding vows. But at 43, sex is a lot more formal. In fact, it’s usually scheduled. Relationships are a lot less plural and just the thought of breaking up inspires anxiety and perspiration.
I’m not even sure it’s a universal experience. Maybe it’s just me who feels the intense post-40 pressure to make a relationship work. But I know I personally never tried this hard to keep it together in my 20s.
In those days, even two months in, something as trivial as the wrong color shirt could make me throw in the towel. I mean, the dating pool was huge! There were plenty more where that guy came from, and I had higher standards than forest green. Besides, I was more like a sports fisherman than a hunter. It was about how many I could catch, not keep.
But that was a simpler time.
Sometime after age 35, I started to notice the proverbial sea had been over-fished. Consequently, I began to second guess my laid-back, sport-dating ways and think about long-term commitment and conservation.
At age 40, the noticeable changes in my romantic life increased. I found myself repulsed by the thought of reeling in a bad boy—the sharks of the legendary sea that had once mesmerized me. Instead, I was suddenly finding beauty and strength in the shy little puffer fish—the guy who’s got nothing to prove, who just quietly lives his life, but still knows how to keep the world from eating him alive.
I was better at spotting red flags and less likely to overlook them, yet more willing to compromise on trivial things. I had my standards and deal breakers, but forest green was no longer one of them. In fact, I generally became more open-minded with regard to my superficial must-haves in dating.
I wanted someone with more substance and less hours clocked at the gym. As such, considerably older men were no longer out of the picture, and consequently, neither was grey hair or golf. A six-pack became an item on my shopping list rather than a box on the checklist. Kids—as long as they weren’t mine—and ex-wives became the norm, not the exception.
I put down my catch-and-release mentality. I wanted something more meaningful than just sex or entertainment. Marriage was still unappealing, but I did want something deep and seemingly endless.
But achieving depth and longevity takes patience, compromise, teamwork, communication and wisdom—basically, exceptional life skills.
I had to learn to carefully confront issues and resolve conflicts, rather than run away. Expressing my needs and setting boundaries while respecting the needs and boundaries of my partner was new to me. My younger self was always so self-centered and bratty when it came to romantic relationships.
Age 40 had me working on me. It was a game-changer and an eye-opener. I realized the famed hard work reported by many as a requirement in a relationship was actually about personal growth. Analogically speaking, it was Zen training for becoming a better fisherman.
Currently at age 43, I find myself in a committed relationship with a considerably older man. He golfs and handsomely sports grey hair, has two grown kids and an ex-wife. He’s no longer a marathon runner or a college baseball player, and he doesn’t spend hours at the gym trying to make up for that fact.
He’s a quiet man—an introvert—and that’s likely why he’s perfect for me. Age 43 has me opting to stay in and read or catch a good movie, rather than hitting the bar scene.
Truth be told, my 20-year-old self is probably in some parallel universe pointing and laughing at me. But that’s the other game-changing aspect about 40; I really don’t care what people think, especially those 20 years younger.
I’m more confident than ever before, and I feel as though my spirit, mind and body are finally all in sync. True, I’m not attending the packed concerts or frequenting the hottest nightclubs with the latest flavor of the week. But I am feeling a greater sense of peace, as I wisely steer past the skinny jeans and accept the lack of need to buy a selfie stick for my nonexistent, late-night group outings.
Maybe that’s what it’s all about—acceptance, wisdom and achieving a sense of peace.
Yes. 40 is a game-changer, but change is good. And unlike the guys of my 20s, the same can be said for the man accompanying me, at age 43, who coincidentally also detests forest green.
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