dating/life in your 30s for nontraditional 30 somethings
May 22, 2012 11:57 AM   Subscribe

How important is age vs life-stage when looking for a partner? I'm 30 but might as well be 25, and I don't know where I should be looking for my next partner.

Ok, so I recently was dumped by my girlfriend of 2 years, and oh man does it sting. For starters, she was amazing, easily the best girlfriend I've ever had, by miles and miles. She was a year younger than me, but had her life put together and was a lot more mature when it came to being in a relationship. Unfortunately, I was extremely immature when it came to my concept of what a committed relationship is or how they work. I had some mental hangups that made me fail to appreciate just how awesome she was and to really commit to her while we were dating, and she eventually left me.

I turned 30 last October, but I've had a somewhat crazy life to date, and in many respects am more like someone in their early to mid 20s than your "traditional" 30 year old. I moved to Japan soon after university, and spent most of my 20s bouncing around the country, teaching English and having a good time, but I've now realized, failing to go through some fairly key developmental steps necessary to become a full on adult. This last relationship was in Japan, until the very end, when I moved back to the states for a grad program to try to make a move towards growing up(thought I was going back to Japan when I finished, but now who knows).

I'm in grad school! There are no prospects (or time) for dating here. but I'll be done soon and starting over from scratch... totally from scratch. I left what few possessions I had with my ex in Japan, and I won't be getting them back. I'll be starting a new job, likely in a new city.

Also, at least at the moment, I don't look like I'm 30, I look a fair bit younger, mid to late 20s, and I'm a reasonably good looking guy, if that matters.

The good news: This breakup has kicked me in the ass, pushed me down the stairs, torn my heart out and stomped on it, and in the aftermath I've had to do some very serious self reflection. I think I've finally realized where a lot of my hangups in committed relationships lie, and I think I'll be able to be a much better partner the next time around.

The bad news: I didn't expect to be dating in my 30s. I'm not quite ready to be in a relationship yet, but eventually I'd like to try again and I worry that women my age will expect me to have my life more put together than it is. And, actually younger women might too, or just think I'm a creepy old guy.

Life in general, I still have no idea how to approach either. This wasn't something I worried about until recently, I just kind of went with the flow and while it was fun, I don't have much to show for it. I have to admit, I feel a bit ridiculous being this age and not having a career or long term relationship in my life.

So, ok this is all fairly convoluted, but basically what I'm asking is, given my circumstances, where should I be looking for potential people to date? I am finished with wanting to date around, and would very much like to find a partner for the long run, but I'm not at a place where I'm ready to have kids right away. Life-stagewise, I might as well be in my mid 20s. Is it weird to look for woman to date in that age range? If so, how do I meet them? Ideally, I'd like to pair up with someone at a similar life-stage, so someone who's getting their career started, and wants to settle down eventually but isn't in a rush to have kids right away. But will I be a creepy old man? Will younger women expect me to have my life put together more than I currently do? Should I be looking for women closer to my age? But if I do, where do I find them? It seems like women in their 30s are usually farther along in life and looking to settle down soon, which is something I'm working towards but not quite ready for yet.

It seems like dating is going to be a lot more complicated in my 30s, but I don't know. Am I making this more difficult than it really is? (I do that sometimes) Anyone out there been in a similar situation? How did it work out for you? How did you look for a partner?
posted by farce majeure to Human Relations (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You are overthinking this. Holy moly, calm down. It's okay. 30 isn't old. Lots of women don't have it together, either. Women are not some monolithic thing; we don't all turn 30 and say, welp, time to be having babies. Plus...these people who you think have their lives together? Most of them are faking it. I know I am.

I'm 27. Before my current SO (who, hey! just turned 30 last week,) I dated men who were five to ten years older than me. It was great. I dated them because they were awesome guys who I enjoyed spending time with, not because I thought that they had their lives together or something.

You'll meet women at the places you tend to be. You sound like you have a broad range of interests. I wouldn't worry about that.

This breakup has kicked me in the ass, pushed me down the stairs, torn my heart out and stomped on it, and in the aftermath I've had to do some very serious self reflection. I think I've finally realized where a lot of my hangups in committed relationships lie, and I think I'll be able to be a much better partner the next time around.

I would worry about this. You might want to take some time off before dating seriously again.
posted by punchtothehead at 12:07 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Am I making this more difficult than it really is?

Yes. You're 30 - it's no big deal to date women in their mid-20s. But I agree with MoonOrb, you should evaluate potential partners as individuals.
posted by barnoley at 12:07 PM on May 22, 2012

OkCupid! Plenty of the match questions deal with life stage topics and you'll be able to get compatible matches if you're honest and forthright about your history, interests and desires.

I believe you are overthinking things. Please remember that there's not that much of a difference between 25 and 30. Avoid casting generalizations about childbearing or interest in wealth upon your pool of available partners, because while they're easy assumptions, they're rarely accurate and put off all women, reasonable and otherwise. You're a fun, self-aware, attractive guy who, as it happens, doesn't have it all figured out. Few of us actually do!
posted by theraflu at 12:08 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about what it "should be." Worry about where they are. Worry about where you are. Make sure those are compatible. Ages don't necessarily matter, but you both have to be on the same page. If that means you're 30 and she's 22, that's what it is. Don't pigeonhole yourself to young 20s, though. Date whoever matches your preferences and your place in life.
posted by skittlekicks at 12:09 PM on May 22, 2012

Response by poster: thanks moonorb... that is most certainly true. It would seem that I'm likely guilty of exactly what I'm worried about happening to me, i.e. playing an expectations game about who people "should" be based on their age. Duly noted.
posted by farce majeure at 12:09 PM on May 22, 2012

>But will I be a creepy old man?

This is contingent on your beliefs. If you persuade yourself that you're a creepy old man, and that dating younger women is somehow wrong, then you'll indeed come off that way.

If not-- and in particular, if you believe that you're genuinely adding to someone's life-- then not.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:21 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't say I'm a fan of the idea that you will be seeking out younger women specifically because they don't have the life experience to call you out on being immature.

As well, I don't know that you are immature for your age. As a 30 year old woman I can assure you, from listening to people my age discuss their love lives, "having it together" is not a description I would often use.

There's no guarantee that a 25 year old doesn't want to get married and start cranking them out asap, just like there isn't that a 30 year old does. Date women your age (or younger, or older) who have common interests and life goals who are at the same life stage you are. Don't automatically discount a woman who's over 25 based on some strange stereotype you've cobbled together from bad sitcoms.
posted by Dynex at 12:31 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok, after a bit of reflection, and some good answers here, this is a fairly ridiculous question. I am overthinking things here. Thanks for the perspective.

punchtothehead: I'm not going to date for at least the next several months, at least. I get a lot of advice from my friends telling me to get back on the horse and get out there, but I think it's best to stay away from dating until I've reached a little more of an equilibrium. As this question illustrates, I'm living inside my own head a bit too much these days and worrying about things that are probably not worth worrying about. Thanks for the advice.

I think this might be exacerbated by being in a grad program full of highly motivated super young people, who, when they find out that I'm several years older than them, often give me a strange look and ask me what I've been doing with my life up to this point.
posted by farce majeure at 12:32 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. I'm 30 but might as well be 25

Yeah, so that's pretty much everyone. I remember being around 19 and hearing some 23 year olds (who I thought were way old and sophisticated) saying they still felt 17 internally. And that pretty much stays the same, at least up to a point.

2. With any individual you'd date or consider dating, obviously you have to discuss whether your goals match up. If one partner wants kids now!! and the other maybe in 10 years, that's probably not going to work. But it should be the individual you're considering, not her age, as has been mentioned above. And I think clarifying your assumptions to yourself might help. E.g. you said "It seems like women in their 30s are usually farther along in life and looking to settle down soon." What is farther along? Do you think life is like a line on a graph that goes up, and shouldn't move around and change? Do you think there are certain steps you have to check off in order? (If so, make sure she thinks the same way.) And what is settling down? Getting into a monogamous relationship? Buying a house? Living in the same city till you die? Having kids? Having the same job/career for the rest of your life? Making lots of money at it? You can want (and do) some of those things without wanting/doing all of them.

3. I have to admit, I feel a bit ridiculous being this age and not having a career or long term relationship in my life.

Would you consider a woman your age who is in the same position to be ridiculous? If so, that could be a problem.

4. I realized recently that the difference between people is less their age than whether they're looking forward or backward. Maybe I realized that in my mid-30s, b/c that's when the split becomes more obvious. You're at the point where you're thinking about the future, making plans. You want someone who's the same way, regardless of age. You don't want a 30 year old (or a 20 year old) who thinks all the fun/interesting/new stuff is already behind them. That's not to say chronological age doesn't matter, but mostly it matters in ways, like fertility, etc, that don't affect you. (Lucky you!)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:35 PM on May 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

You've been doing cool things - things that at least some of your classmates will be jealous of.

You need to stop thinking about what you're 'supposed' to want, and realize that you've followed a non-traditional path that you wanted to follow. I did the same, and now that I've finally got around to settling a bit, I find the most common reaction I get from people is that I'm really cool/brave/adventurous. No, I don't own my own house and I haven't procreated, but I've had some amazing experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything.

Wear your adventures as a badge of pride, not something to be ashamed of just because it means you're starting grad school later than your classmates.

'failing to go through some fairly key developmental steps necessary to become a full on adult'

As for missing stages of development, unless you actually mean physical development, there's no set course for some settlement process that adults are supposed to go through - society's expectations are exactly that - societal expectations, not some set path of biological or emotional development that we all must pass through.
posted by scrute at 12:43 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Slllloooooowwwwwww down, man.

1. You're 30. You're not in "creepy old man" territory yet. Unless maybe your solution is to date high school girls. In which case, ew.

2. There's a huge difference between having an unsettled life in your 30's and being "immature". I'm 31. I rent and have roommates. I have a relatively un-accomplished dead-end job. I'm still living under the delusion that I'm going to be a big-time screenwriter someday. But I pay my bills on time, behave appropriately in public, send my niece birthday presents, don't have any photos of myself doing illicit drugs on Facebook, know how to cook a meal, and I like to think I'm good relationship material. You need to figure out which of these issues is your real problem before you can really move forward on this.

3. If the former: who cares? Any woman who can't handle the fact that you spent your 20's traveling and living abroad, don't own a home, are in grad school, or whatever you think constitutes not having your shit together is probably not a good match for you, anyway.

4. If the latter: this is something you need to work on for yourself, so you can be a fully functioning human. It has nothing to do with relationships, really, unless there's something you're not telling us about what this "immaturity" thing means and how it manifested in your last relationship. Just... get your shit together. Don't blow your paycheck on weed and videogames. Take care of your own shit rather than calling your mom. Bathe. Don't wear board shorts to your cousin's bar mitzvah. Be a fucking man, is I guess what I'm saying here.

5. Date women of whatever age. Again, as long as they're not teenagers. "It's just a number" &c.

6. Dubbing yourself immature is not license to only date women who are younger than you. I know, this is probably not what you were asking, but just in case it is what you were asking, deep down.
posted by Sara C. at 12:44 PM on May 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oh - and in answer to your question - you should be looking for people that share your values and your approach to life, not someone who fits into a chronological box.
posted by scrute at 12:44 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

FYI, I was 39 when I got married, and my husband was 36. We're coming up on 10 years and I don't think that if we met even 5 minutes sooner than we did, that we would have been in the right space for a relationship.

I know you're not ready to date yet. So don't. But do socialize and get to know people. Join a fun church (Unitarian Universalist is a hoot, if you don't mind socks with Birkinstocks.) Or get a study group, what you don't want to do is be all out of practice when you do decide to plunge back in.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:01 PM on May 22, 2012

So when you graduate and move on, I'd really suggest you move to a major metropolitan area. It's completely normal among my friends in New York and San Francisco to be 30 and renting, not in a relationship, not in a permanent career yet, etc. You'd meet plenty of women in their late twenties and early thirties who will be at a similar life stage to you, and who would probably see your life progress as a positive.
posted by psycheslamp at 1:16 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I personally think that people should choose partners regardless of an age difference, not because of an age difference.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:17 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

And in my own experience of dating in my 20s, the older guys who were all "Oh, I'm more like you and your friends than I am like other people your age!" were mistaken about that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:19 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a twenty-five year old woman, I would date a 30 year old without thinking for a moment about the age difference. I would not worry about the guy having an unsettled or nontraditional life if it was by choice. I would worry about signs of emotional immaturity or failure to settle down successfully despite attempts to do so. Get those hang-ups, whatever they are, sorted out, make sure you're living the life you want purposefully, and you'll be fine. Seconding the recommendation to move to a big city!
posted by ootandaboot at 1:21 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, fertility issues definitely affect men, too. The risk of birth defects goes up fairly dramatically with advanced paternal age, and sperm motility declines. Yes, yes, movie stars have kids in their seventies, but movie stars' partners can afford the fanciest obstetricians.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:22 PM on May 22, 2012

Whatever you do, ignore the age difference. If it is right, it will work, no matter...
posted by Postroad at 2:09 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I started an OKCupid profile in my early 20's and when I would search for matches I usually put 20-30 in the age range sort of as an arbitrary number. I thought maybe people over 30 would be too mature for me in terms of "life stage" as well.

Well, I met my fiance when I was 24 and she was 34. Her profile wouldn't have even come up on my matches! And I seriously never think about our age difference at all except when we're joking about it.

You will only be a "creepy old man" if you're looking exclusively at 18-year old coeds. It sounds like your primary criteria for partner is not just "young and firm", so I don't think you will give off that vibe.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:26 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

So I mean this far less harshly than it sounds, but it is incredibly immature move to date younger women because you essentially think they are more likely to put up with your immaturity. As in doing this would be a step backwards not forwards. You seem to think this might serve to compensate, but really it perpetuates your immaturity. Date age appropriate people who are in the same place in life as you. You're 30. That still leaves you with a very broad age range and really while you may have acted immaturely in your relationship, I don't think you are anywhere behind the curve as you may think. A 30 year old is not at all out of place in grad school. You've been to college. You've had jobs. You've been in serious relationships even if you weren't perfect in them. You're doing fine really.
posted by whoaali at 3:37 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

You are...overintellectualizing this, and thinking about things in really black and white (and inaccurate) terms:

I've now realized, failing to go through some fairly key developmental steps necessary to become a full on adult [...] I moved back to the states for a grad program to try to make a move towards growing up.

Seriously, what are these "developmental steps" you speak of? Is there a list? Where did it come from? Who got the final say on what it includes?

I'm in grad school! There are no prospects (or time) for dating here.

Say what? I met my partner while in grad school. We live together...while I'm still in grad school. I know people who have gotten married while in grad school. What is this "no prospects or time" for dating? Why is this an impossibility? Is it possible you are setting up some stringent and unrealistic expectations for yourself here?

where should I be looking for potential people to date?

The only thing I can suggest here is: don't date in your department. don't shit where you eat. doing so easily leads to dramarama.

Aside from that - Where do I find them? Dude, women are everywhere. What you might want to consider is not approaching dating as though you were walking into a store and buying the most eye-catching/cost-effective/stain-resistant ladyfriend from one of the shelves. It's good and all that you have an idea of some of the mistakes you've made in the past, and know some things you want in your life now (like not having kids for a while), but I don't think you should go out in the world seeking the best spot to find that one person who meets all the criteria of some checklist you've got conjured up in your head.

Cause, uh, I question whether that checklist is arbitrary, and I doubt the "life stage" foundation it's built upon.

Feel free to go out, live your life, try new things, hang out with people, take up hobbies, work on your research, and see if there's anyone you click with or get all crushed-out on. If so, consider dating them.
posted by vivid postcard at 3:54 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dude, thirties are fantastic. So much better than twenties. Once you get over the number shock, you realize you have leveled up for the better and who gives a damn if some lollipop licker thinks you're ready to pick up an AARP application. Take a deep breath. Let it out. Enjoy the sweet sweet freedom that comes with being "too old" for certain juvenile bullshittery. Cackle at those kids who are flush with the heady stupidity of being able to drink legally. You've earned it.

One of the best things about being in my thirties is being able to own a certain ballsy arrogance I could never pull off in my twenties because I was too preoccupied with imaginary failures and meaningless peer comparisons. Oh younger me, you were so dumb.

You're focusing way too much on age as a number, both yours and your potential partners. The quality of the person's character and the experiences they've sought is what really makes them worthwhile.

I'd stop worrying so much about how/why you might potentially be rejected ("creepy old man" "no career" "no time in grad school" - all that). That'll seriously hang you up. Think about all the reasons why you're worth dating, instead. Cultivate those positives. Then walk up to a woman with the attitude that you know you can be something good in her life, if she's open to it.
posted by griselda at 4:32 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

1. Be more self-centered. Decide where you want to go in life, make a rough plan and schedule yourself accordingly. Then, relax and pursue your goals, trying to have fun along the way. That centers you, defines you, and makes you someone a potential partner can get a good assessment of. If you're an aimless individual, that's too much of a crapshoot for a serious partner - they have no idea where you may end up from in the future, and this discourages any investment of time and emotion in the relationship.

2. Be less self-centered. The other person, your prospective partner is interesting. And if they are not, then why are you dating them...?...go find an interesting one. And since the other person is so interesting, try to focus on THEM. You already know where you are going (see point 1 above), now it's time to determine who the other person is - that's where your focus should be, quite naturally. And one day, you find that person that just fits your life and whose life in turn you can enrich, and really - it becomes ONE life, you + her.

Good luck!
posted by VikingSword at 9:13 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I'm 34 and feel like 22 at the oldest and I am super immature and missed tons of stages of adult development. I have to trump you on this one :P

Most people in their 20's and 30's don't tend to get their shit together in the stable-job, house-buying sort of way until they find a partner to do it with. (Usually because you don't have the money for that on one income.) At age 30, you probably aren't gonna get judged too hard on not having that stuff yet. When you're 40, you could theoretically have the money to do those things alone and it might be a judging issue, but not so much now.

I define "creepy old man" as "old enough to be my dad." There are a lot of people who like big age differences, but when I was 19 and being chased by 50-year-olds, good god. You're not there. Though for sake of "same stage of life," I'd not date anyone still in undergrad/23 and under-ish. Everyone in between there and your age is probably good fair game.

The baby conversation: I'd uh...recommend having it really soon, like date 1 or 2. This is the Ultimate Dealbreaker if you don't want any kids ("I want some later" is usually perfectly acceptable, unless the other person wants them within a year), and once you're out of college, you are going to have to have That Conversation with every date in order to rule out a difference of opinion. I didn't have that conversation and unpleasantly surprised later on.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:42 PM on May 22, 2012

Well, when I was 26 or so and divorced and stooopid about dating, I finally turned to the internet after several mortifying experiences of not being able to tell when guys were actually into me.

Definitely wait until your self-esteem bounces back a little, because there's a ton of rejection that goes along with internet dating -- but it's casual, expected rejection of two people whose chemistry doesn't click rather than rejection after five or so years together for an old prom date.

In the mean time, nothing wrong with getting the lay of the land by taking a peak at OKC or match . . . Have fun!
posted by mibo at 5:47 AM on May 23, 2012

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