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Here's a fun thought experiment: Rewind your life to 10 or 15 years ago. Remember how dating seemed like it would be a nonstop cavalcade of surprise bouquets, romantic getaways, and the 24/7 bliss straight out of your favorite romcom? For some women, it is—and good for them! This article is for everyone else, though: the women in their thirties who have been dating for a while and can easily recognize the f*ckboys who try to conceal their ways with smooth lines and flowers. Nonetheless, they are wondering, "Shouldn't dating be better than this?"
Dating in your thirties poses different challenges than it did in your twenties. Your career is probably humming along, and so it may be demanding more of your time. You've got a solid group of friends, but many of them are coupled off already. The last thing you want to do on a Friday night is spend time starting small talk in a club crowded with sorority sisters who reek of vodka. And do we even need to get into the online dating nightmares? Right now, those ‘Forever Alone’ memes can hit a bit too close to home.
“But being in your thirties isn't a liability when it comes to dating,” assures Kate Swoboda, a life coach in the San Francisco Bay Area. Actually, she says, it's an asset: "You’ve got life and relationship lessons under your belt now, and you get to define your standards. You get to decide who to let into your world, and we live in a huge world.” When positioned like that, your chances look not just good, but excellent. So, here's how to take charge of your dating life in your thirties.
Give yourself a once-over
No, not to see if your outfit is cute. (It is, though.) Swoboda advises examining your past dating behavior to see which patterns show up. Maybe you keep dating the same type of person over and over, or you usually don't follow up when someone gives you their number. Then ask yourself, "What seems chronic?" Spend some time really considering that question. "The answer points to what you can do to make yourself feel more fulfilled first," Swoboda says. "Wherever there’s a pattern that isn’t working for your life, something has become habitual." Time to ditch the habits that haven't been working, she says—and start creating the habits that do.
Know that the perfect person doesn't exist—but the right one does
Maybe you're holding out for someone with the abs of Gosling, the wit of Reynolds, or the success of Seacrest. You might even have a long list (literal or figurative) with all the qualities of your ideal mate. Unfortunately, that puts a lot of pressure on each date, and who can possibly measure up to perfection? "Instead of making a long list of values that 'the one' must have," Swoboda says, "focus on the three things that you know are most important to you. Then go out with people who potentially meet those standards."
Follow your gut
Your time is too valuable to spend it with someone who doesn't excite you in some way. "There’s something to be said for using dating as an experiment with honing your intuition," Swoboda says. "If you feel, immediately upon meeting someone, that something’s off? Say no to the date. If it’s not a ‘hell yes,’ it’s a ‘hell no!’"
Shift your perspective
Sure, lots of people are coupled up in their 30s, so the dating pool is smaller than it was before. But that's no reason to give up hope. "I think that we go to the place of 'all the good ones are taken' when we’re getting stuck in fear or vulnerability around dating," Swoboda says. "There are also people who are getting out of their first marriages or long-term relationships—and learning some major life lessons from that, which they’ll take to their next relationship."
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Raise your standards (and say no to jerks)
You land on the profile of a 38-year-old guy. He seems successful, handsome, smart—the whole package. But, ugh, he's only interested in dating women who are younger than 20-something and model-gorgeous. Sound familiar? Don't let this shallow stuff get you down. Move on. "Someone from your age group who thinks that you are 'too old' to date probably isn’t going to connect with you on real, meaningful values anyway," she says. "Raise your own standards in return by not giving time or attention to people who are focused on external values such as looks or stereotypes about age."
Stress less about your eggs
Nobody wants to be the person who brings up babies on the first date, but in your thirties, fertility might be more of a priority than it once was. So how can you find a partner who's interested in becoming a parent (or not having kids)?
First, if you're dating online, use your profile to be honest about your hopes for the future. "Beyond that, I suggest taking the 'egg clock' off the table entirely," Swoboda says. "That means not pushing the issue of having kids before you’ve really tested the quality of the relationship." Does that mean dating someone for six months before finding out if you're on the same page regarding babies? No. But it does save everyone from dealing with that awkward "So, do you want to procreate?" moment on a first date.
Stop making excuses for lousy behavior
The biggest relationship time waster, Swoboda says, is making excuses for someone when they aren’t reciprocating. "If you communicate that you want to be in a committed, long-term relationship and the person you are dating says they want the same—yet they’re hesitant to open up to you emotionally and they use work as their reason for why they haven’t gotten back to your texts or calls—stop making excuses for that," she says. Plenty of people find vulnerability difficult but still put themselves out there; lots of people have stressful jobs, but they aren't too busy to return texts. Those are the people worthy of your time, energy, and love.
"Usually, we think compatibility is about having a lot in common or having shared life goals," Swoboda says. While those things are important, how two people handle conflict may say more about the health and potential of a relationship. "Having drastically different ways of handling conflict creates big problems," Swoboda says. "For example, do you both believe in fully processing through a conflict? Or, is one of you trying to talk about what’s happening while the other person avoids the conversation?" Note that you don't have to have a tiff to discover how you navigate disagreements or different points of view; it all starts with voicing what you want and need. Says Swoboda: "We only learn how each other handles conflict by being open and honest about our wants, needs, desires, and fears."
Create a positive, courageous mindset
It's easy to give into uncertainty. "Our fears tell us all sorts of things that may see true at the time—things like how we’ll always be struggling to find a great date or that there are no great people left by your thirties," Swoboda says. But that mindset won't lead you to meeting someone you genuinely vibe with. Instead, she offers this advice: "Practicing the courage to decide what you want, what your standards are for a great relationship, is the path to meeting someone great."