By 35, we’re certainly not old, but we’re older. Wiser. More experienced. We’ve got a story or two under our belts. We’ve learned from, and can laugh at, (some of) our mistakes. And while that doesn’t mean we’re total pros at relationships, we’re a little more discerning. We’re pickier in some ways, less so in others. We know what we want, and what we don’t want. Read on to find out what it’s really like to be a woman dating in your mid-30s and beyond.
1. Meet & Greet
You are modern in the ways you meet men, even if you’re traditional in your values. Of course you’re Internet savvy, and you’re on more than one dating site at a time. You’re chatty when shopping or in an elevator. (You never know where or when love will strike.) You’ve learned to play safely: You always meet strangers in a public place, and you never enter a new man’s car or apartment without telling a trusted someone where you are. You urge your friends to set you up. Suppose it’s a horrible date—so what? You’ve survived worse.
2. Forget Fairy Tales
It’s not about lowering your standards. It’s about choosing better standards by which to judge. No longer “OMG, he’s gorgeous!” Rather, “I feel so happy and relaxed when I’m with him.” So what if he drives a beat-up 2003 Saturn and wears tasseled loafers with plaid socks—he makes you laugh (with him, not at him) and leaves generous tips. By 35, most women have let go of impossible notions of Prince Charming and have embraced instead a more realistic depiction of Mr. Right.
3. Friend Alert
You no longer desire a clinging-vine kind of romance. That might have been fun when you were younger (“You hang up first,” “No, you hang up first”), but now it’s more than OK that he plays baseball weekly with the guys, and you have your book group. He doesn’t have to love Downton Abbey just because you do, and he’s on his own if he wants to hit a NASCAR race. Being apart makes being together even more special.
4. Me Time
Because you’ve learned how to date a man without submerging yourself in him, you’ve also come to enjoy your alone time. After all, it may have taken you 25+ years to understand yourself but, now that you do (or at least you’re on the way), you won’t give that up.
5. For What It’s Worth
You want a man who’s financially stable. Not necessarily a gazillionaire … just a grown-up. He understands hard work; he knows paychecks don’t grow on trees; he can handle delayed gratification. Conversely, you can earn more than he does. Traditional expectations—that having a breadwinner wife is emasculating, or that if/when you have babies, he has to be provider and protector—have changed.
6. Gut Feelings
You recognize red flags earlier, and you trust your gut instinct. You no longer put up with macho posturing or the least bit of misogyny. If he ever seriously calls you “the little woman” or “the old ball-and-chain,” you’re out the door. Yes, you’re in love, but you’re not stupid.
7. Listening Skills
You believe what a man says about himself. If he growls, “Baby, I’m trouble!” you run. If he says he isn’t looking for anything serious, you run. If he tells you he doesn’t want kids, you don’t stick around trying to change his mind. He’s not wrong; he’s just not right for you.
8. Baggage Check
You have baggage; he has baggage. You have learned to accept that he has loved women before you. He may have even been married. He may have kids. While still daunting, these things no longer terrify you in quite the same way, just as you would expect for a guy not to be scared off by our own relationship history.
9. The End…
If you want kids or think you might, then by 35, you can’t ignore your biological clock. The loud, reverberating tick-tock is a constant reminder that the stakes are higher. That doesn’t necessarily mean you want babies RIGHT THIS SECOND. Or that you even want to get married. You’ve realized that your definition of happily ever after is an evolving one, and although you may not know exactly what you want, you are most definitely thinking along different lines than you did in your 20s and early 30s.