Q: I’m in my early 40s, and I hate to admit it but I haven’t really dated a lot in my life. Any relationship I’ve tried to build hasn’t lasted more than a few months, so I’ve never known what it’s like to have a long-term relationship. I think that if I was really being honest, I’ve never been in love and don’t really know what love is. I’ve never treated women badly, and I would like to think my friends and family would describe me as a good person with good manners. I don’t think I am ugly either, but I live in a rural location where there aren’t a lot of single people, let alone single women my age. I feel very frustrated as I would love nothing more than meeting someone special and settling down. Some of my friends joke that they are jealous of my ‘bachelor lifestyle’ but I find myself jealous of their relationships as I don’t want to be a ‘bachelor’, whatever that really means now.
Dr West replies: Love can mean different things to different people, but I would describe love as a feeling of safety, peace, trust, calmness, and connection with another person. It is tinged with lust in the early days of a relationship and then transforms into a calmer, day-to-day love which looks like feeling comfortable and facing the world as a team. Love is feeling that you can be your true self with another person, and they accept you for who you are. Dating can feel exciting, and some people struggle with the transformation of lustful excitement into comfortable calmness, but long-term love is calm — the opposite of feeling like you are on a rollercoaster, not knowing what the next turn brings.
I asked sex and relationship therapist Aoife Drury (drurytherapy.com) what she defined love as, and she believes that: “The interesting part of love is that there isn’t a clear definition of the phenomenon. What is wonderful about this is that as a result, love is subjective — it’s your unique experience. Often love is a tangible, internal experience; a felt sense. But love isn’t some passive way of being, it’s an action. It needs to move from the unconscious to the deliberate.
“Researchers would say that vulnerability, self-disclosure, and authenticity are central. Maybe the person consumes your mind, or you want to be around them all the time, you may feel that you’d want to talk to them about your inner thoughts, and you could listen to them all day. You may yearn to be the best version of yourself, or for the relationship to flourish. True love ultimately gives us freedom and peace. I once heard someone say that love is ‘when your name feels safe in your mouth’. This to me, is the foundation of a loving relationship.”
Isn’t that lovely? Reflecting on that description, you might have been in love, or it might still be something that you aspire to but knowing what it is helps you identify it once you are in a relationship. If you aren’t feeling that comfort and sense of ease that Drury describes, it might be time to see if there is a future for the relationship when you’re in one.
You will have to be proactive if the opportunities for dating are limited in your area. Dating apps can help you widen your net and give you an opportunity to reflect on what you are looking for and what you bring to the table. Take some well-lit photos of yourself smiling and doing things that you like, whether that is hiking, swimming, or travelling. This gives people a greater sense of who you are. I would avoid group shots and wearing sunglasses, as plenty of people immediately swipe past those profiles — people don’t want to spend time having to work to figure out what you really look like. When it comes to your bio, find a happy medium between too short and too long.
Share what you are looking for — is it something casual, something long-term or something else? This helps you to connect with people who are looking for the same thing, and transparency is always welcomed. With regards to sending messages, being yourself will work much better than cheesy chat-up lines or just saying ‘hey’ — mention something that they have in their profile so they can see that you have actually read it. This is more genuine than firing off tons of generic messages to anyone in your target demographic.
Matchmaking and speed dating events are also making a comeback and can be a fun alternative to apps or meeting people in bars. Matchmakers will interview you and figure out what you are looking for and set you up with another person on their books for a date. Speed dating involves moving around tables to chat with a new person every 5 minutes or so, and you can see if you have matched with another person at the end of the night.
It can be fun as it’s structured and everyone is in the same boat, which helps with nerves. Matchmaking festivals like Lisdoonvarna in Clare offer a fun way to meet other singles while enjoying bands, and lots of other attendees are also living in rural areas, so you will have plenty in common.
Try not to worry too much about what your friends say — the grass isn’t always greener, as you have found out. They might be projecting their own relationship issues on to you. If it does bother you, how do you feel about opening up to them about how you really feel? They might be more understanding than you think — and might know some single women to set you up with.
Learn to enjoy your own company, as it is important to find contentment within ourselves too. It’s never too late in life to meet someone so be proactive and try to enjoy the journey it will take you on.
Dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately