Is there hope in finding love for someone like me?
June 26, 2012 4:46 PM   Subscribe

How in the hell does anybody navigate the world of dating?

You know, I've been reading AskMe for quite some time now, especially all of the posts about dating and relationships. I've seen so much good advice and really thoughtful feedback that I thought maybe I should submit a question to the green.

I am a forty-something yo woman who needs some help. I don't have any clue about how to do healthy, good, and loving relationships. I am really embarrassed to be asking this question, because I feel like should have figured this out a lot time ago. The backstory is that I have been an alcoholic since the age of 15. I drank and used drugs for 20 years and finally got sober in my mid-thirties. I never learned how to date or be in relationships during this time, and consequently I find myself a forty-something single woman with NO idea how to find a decent guy that I can hang out with, get to know, and maybe even have a relationship with. My life has become infinitely better since I started learning how to live sober, and I am very grateful to have "grown up" during the process. All my life I have had the desire to find a life partner, but I intuitively knew that I wasn't even close to being "relationship material". In fact, I didn't even try to date (or want to) for a long time because I was simply incapable of it. But now that I have been sober for several years, my feelings about men and dating have returned, and I don't know how do this dating stuff. On one hand, dating scares me to death, but at the same time, I want to enjoy my sober life as much as I can.

As I am typing, I can feel the tears welling up inside me about this. I have been told by a couple of my friends that dating and finding a partner is something that most people go through in their twenties, and that I'm just simply late to the game. I agree with that, but I can't help feeling like I just missed the boat altogether. Dating is a lot different in your twenties than it is when you're in the midlife years. I have tried the online thing on OkCupid for months on end and haven't even had one date come out of it. I have also tried asking people I know if they know any suitable men they could introduce me to, but to no avail. The thing that makes this situation so difficult is the combination of lack of dating experience, needing to be in the company of people who don't drink much if at all, older age to be putting myself out there, and being generally wary of the pool of available men my age. I can't hang out for very long where people are drinking in a social context, because it's not very safe for me. Also, I have a couple of close guy friends who are also sober, but neither of them is interested in dating me.

How can a late bloomer recovering alcoholic woman who has a lot to offer find quality available men to befriend and/or date? Is there any hope?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
You might find it helps to look in places where men who don't drink are likely to be. I feel wary about recommending that you meet men at Al-Anon, because heaven knows you don't want anyone who's likely to relapse and pull you down with them, but something like that?

I also don't know what you mean by "haven't had one date come out of" OKC. Have you contacted anyone? Have you asked friends or acquaintances with good judgment in this sort of thing to review your profile? Dates don't just appear, you have to reach out to people (maybe at 20-something there are a lot of men trying to contact women, but plenty of those contacts are creepy or unappealing anyway).
posted by Lady Li at 5:01 PM on June 26, 2012

I understand that the boilerplate metafilter answer is often therapy, but I'm going to specifically recommend Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It teaches skills! Starting with mindfulness, that is, being aware of what is happening right now, in your body, your mind and your environment. It teaches you how to notice when your brain is churning up doomsy type shit, and how you can work to shut that down. This is good for interacting with people, and DBT moves on to interpersonal skills. How to ask for what you want/need. Accepting "no" as an answer, and realizing that we can also say no to people who ask us for things.

Outside of therapy, meeting dates is just like meeting people. Go out and do many things. Meet many people. Develop and cultivate healthy respectful friendships. Volunteering is my best advice, because you will often meet folks who are interested in their community. Just, uh, try to avoid dating people who have been court ordered into volunteering. Outside of volunteering, there are social dance scenes, outdoor activities, male oriented crafts like welding and maybe glass blowing, writers workshops for non fiction or poetry, reading clubs. DBT can help you process the interactions that you encounter in this settings, whether they are potentially romantic or not.

OKCupid is a great tool, but like all tools it works in a limited range of situations. Most importantly, I find from observation that it works best if you have a medium to high level of self confidence, and a really good idea of what kind of partner you're hoping to snag, and a very high willingness to be very direct about that in your profile. No wishy washy "like to have a good time" "laid back" "funny movies" kinds of responses to questions. DBT can help you define what is important to you in a romantic relationship.

Dating is more likely to be successful when you know what your boundaries are and have confidence to practice defending them. Many people grow up learning to "be nice" and accommodate other people to the detriment of their own personal needs. DBT will help with this boundary setting.

Best of luck, and feel free to memail me with any questions about DBT or OKCupid. I've had great experiences with both.
posted by bilabial at 5:18 PM on June 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

I've gotten the impression from older folks that OKC is a lot more suited and geared toward younger more internet savvy people (20's and 30's), and that people in their 40s have a very tough time with it. I might recommend a service like or eHarmony for online dating.
posted by xtine at 5:21 PM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

You've heard this before and it has been suggested in those other dating threads on Ask Mefi, but I would suggest finding some way to get involved in the community (is there a hobby you like? volunteer work?) and expanding your social network that way as an alternative to online dating. Especially since you are "scared to death" about dating and want to best enjoy your life now. So do something you enjoy! Meeting people outside of the context of capital-D Dating will make you feel more at ease, plus since you'll be doing something you're comfortable with while meeting people, they'll see you at your best. Always attractive.

To speak to the age concern, being a 20-something I will confirm what Lady Li said above that so many of the contacts I've gotten from men on dating sites have been either gross or incompatible. Men who don't reveal that they're married and are just looking for some side fun until we've talked a while. Men who don't communicate their needs. Men who thought I would respond kindly to messages like "I am looking for a woman who is not a lesbian." (Not a joke.) Yes, there are people who have made OKCupid work for them. But there are also experiences like mine. It is really a crapshoot, and you should not hinge your desirability on it because you have so much to offer.

FWIW, after my disastrous OKC experiences I had given up on dating and just focused all of my energy on reading good books, my greatest pleasure and hobby. Then I met a guy on the website I used to catalog and review my books. People are not kidding when they say you'll find a person when/how you least expect to.

Do what you love, do it because you love it, and find some way to do it socially if you can. Best of luck to you and congratulations on your recovery.
posted by houndsoflove at 5:28 PM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Meeting people is certainly a challenge. I treat just learning to meet people as a separate goal from "finding someone relationship worthy." I think breaking it down like this might help remove some stress for you. After meeting a few different people and having some dates, you should start to feel more confident about what you want from a partner. You aren't looking for a relationship *tomorrow*, you're just testing the waters. Seeing what it's like to date.

Have you tried other dating sites besides OKC? I've had luck with it but depending on your target demographic and location it might be worthwhile to have a look at some of the others. The most luck I've had came from 1) carefully editing my profile and asking for feedback from friends and 2) Steadily contacting everyone who meets my requirements for a cup of coffee.

What kinds of things are you interested in? Taking some classes, joining clubs/church groups and volunteering might help you meet men in your demographic. Try some new things - writing, storytelling, art, ukelele, soccer ... I'm a big fan of just being around men and making friends with them, particularly if you are a little anxious about dating. Having a couple of good guy friends and seeing that they are decent human beings just trying to get through life can give you a new perspective on men in general.

Try to relax and go easy on yourself. Remember that finding love is a challenge for most of us. Everyone has some hurdles, and they're all a bit different.

As far as navigating dating - this is how I get through dates:
1. I bring on the cute - I wear something comfortable but I take a little extra care and put on lipstick and earrings and put on some cute shoes. This is for me, not for the guy.

2. I treat a first date as a friendly thing, especially with someone I haven't met before. I assume that I'm going to go on about 10 first dates for every second date, so I don't get too worked up about any one guy in particular. I assume that I'm going to have some duds (these make great stories) and some rather dull dates where we just talk about our jobs, and when this happens I'm not bothered - I just tell myself "bring on the next frog!" Even the "bad" dates are interesting and tell me something about what I'm looking for and what I need.

3. I practice safe dating - meet in public, don't go back to his place, be cautious about the identifying details I reveal until I get to know the guy. If I feel at all uncomfortable, I drop the guy.

4. I don't go on 2nd dates with people I'm not interested in. It's a waste of their time and it's just stressful for me.

5. I never agree to dinner for a first date with someone I haven't met before.

6. I'm pretty reserved with my body language. I don't touch anyone or make/respond to sexual humor until I'm sure I'm comfortable with them.

I hope some of this is helpful, and I wish you good luck.
posted by bunderful at 5:30 PM on June 26, 2012 [13 favorites]

2nding xtine that or eharmony might be better for meeting others online.

Doing community work (volunteering or otherwise) may help familiarize with not just locals, but where other locals you identify with may be. If you have a local bookstore or coffee shop or if you attend religious services there may be some activities there.

Even if you don't meet others immediately, it will ease the transition to being more comfortable with meeting "potentials" and others so when a "potential" comes along, you'll have the confidence.
posted by Angulimala at 5:35 PM on June 26, 2012

You know, online dating just doesn't work for everyone. It's never really worked for me. I tried OKCupid and had a miserable experience, and I have to say that eharmony and match weren't any better (at least I managed a couple of first dates with deeply inappropriate people on OKCupid. I went close to a year on the other two sites with exactly zero dates, and very few messages). I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I'm a woman over a certain age, and non-white. Frankly, I recommend meeting people in person, in whatever way that works for you, whether it's Meetup, or alumni groups, or the local dog park, or... whatever interests you. I think people are much less judgmental and/or picky about age/weight/race/other superficial characteristics in person, as opposed to online, where they can filter people out on the basis of those characteristics, rendering those people literally invisible.

Re: volunteer work-- that is a really good way to meet women, but I find that men (especially men over a certain age) just don't volunteer. I mean, do it if you want to, but I wouldn't really expect to meet 40-something single men by volunteering.
posted by rhymeswithcheery at 6:18 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Absolutely there is someone for you! I've been pretty slow about dating, but have always kept the attitude that "What the hell" is always the right decision. (Within your boundaries and safely, of course). I've met more than a few duds and some great folks including my SO- who is 48 and had dated a whole bunch of duds before me. We were set up by some friends of his, neighbors of mine who he'd asked to keep a look out for any single women that he might meet. At the time, I had been hanging out, gardening and walking my dog, living life and not looking for anyone in particular (at the age of 35). Keep your eyes and heart open and meet whoever you can doing what you love.
posted by bookrach at 6:32 PM on June 26, 2012

Does bird watching appeal to you at all? There are lots of sweet single and divorced over-40 guys in the hobby.

There are sober meetup groups in many cities on
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:32 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

and being generally wary of the pool of available men my age.

I'm not in your shoes, so I don't know how compelling a reason you have for this, but this sounds like there might be some unnecessary being-your-own-worst-enemy going on.
If it's possible, consider replacing being wary of people with giving people the benefit of the doubt, and decide that if/when you hit a bad one, you'll soak the damage, lick your wounds, move on, and continue to give people the benefit of the doubt.

In my anecdotal experience,
1. you're more likely to be correct when you give people the benefit of the doubt.
2. the losses you open yourself to by being less guarded are less than the losses you incur from being suspicious of people.

Also in my anecdotal experience, people fuck up their first major relationship, but (hopefully) in the process gain a lot of the skills that, if they'd had from the beginning, they wouldn't have fucked it up. So it's not implausible to me that there are divorcees for example, who are decent relationship material. But again, I'm not in your shoes. I'm extrapolating from my experiences.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:03 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bite the bullet and ask men out.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:08 PM on June 26, 2012

Also, 3: It's nicer to live in a world where people stumble about but generally try to do the right thing as they see it, than a world where people are generally just sleazy and selfish and manipulative and merely maintaining a false pretense of being better.
How you frame things can affect your enjoyment.

posted by -harlequin- at 8:10 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've heard a lot of suggestions for

Choose a group or start one. Lots of topics, from dinner with five others to active hikes, sailing, etc. to volunteer work. You would be meeting people with similar tastes...

Your experiences may be good. I hope.
posted by blob at 8:50 PM on June 26, 2012

I didn't date much at all in my 20s. I had a terrible, abusive relationship in my early 20s and then kind of swore off it for...8 years. In those 8 years, I got my personal shit (mostly) together, cultivated my own interests, made a lot of new friends, etc. I read a lot of books on psychology and interpersonal relations, did a lot of reading on websites like MeFi and Tomato Nation. (I love advice columns. You can learn a lot about how to handle conflict reasonably and not take any shit.)

I had NO luck asking friends if they knew anyone to set me up with. The guys that my dearly beloved friends set me up with were: a guy who got drunk and tried to feel me up an hour after I met him, and a guy 10 years younger than me who just broke up with "the love of his life." Yeah, no. No thanks, guys.

I didn't have any luck meeting guys at church (everyone at my church is married or 70+ years old) or going about my business, living my life. Which I did.

My mom bullied me into signing up for an eHarmony free weekend with her (yes, my mom was my internet dating buddy) and met my boyfriend who just moved in with me last weekend. I'm in my 30s, he's in his 40s. Neither of us dated in the previous decade. Sometimes you just need some time off. I don't think it's true or helpful to say that people learn to date and find a partner in their 20s. People mostly have shitty relationships in their 20s. While this is certainly not true for everyone, many of the people I knew who got married at 22, right after college graduation? Are getting divorced now.

My friends who have met their partners online have either met them on: 1. eHarmony 2. a fansite of some sort, like for comic books or something. (My friends skew pretty geeky.)

You sound like a great person whose done a lot of work to get where you are now! You deserve to find a great partner and I truly, truly don't feel like it's too late.
posted by Aquifer at 9:04 PM on June 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think there are quality single men of all ages out there. My friend who is just shy of 40, recently met someone after many years of being single and focusing on her career. I have another friend, in her 60s, who met someone last year after being widowed several years prior. She just got back from a European vacation with her boyfriend.

I have been told by a couple of my friends that dating and finding a partner is something that most people go through in their twenties, and that I'm just simply late to the game.

This is a little bizarre. I know more people who have met their spouses in their 30s and beyond than have met in their 20s. I would feel bad if my friends said something like this to me. Perhaps your friends are feeling a little down themselves in terms of their dating experiences?

Finding the right person takes a lot of work for most of us. Do you ever write to men on dating sites? There's no need to wait for the man to write to you. I actually prefer to write to men as opposed to having them write to me. That way, I can scan their profiles to see if I think they might be a good fit. Don't expect to get a reply from every guy to whom you write or even to get a response from the majority. Try not to take non-responses personally.

Lastly, one of the best parts of dating sites is that you can weed out people who might not meet your criteria. On OKC, you can easily see if someone uses drugs and how much he drinks. Simply hit the "hide" button on men that drink or use drugs to help narrow down your pool.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:26 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

You're being too hard on yourself when you say you're "late to the game," "missed the boat," or are a "late bloomer." You're not. If you've worked on yourself and gotten sober, then you are a good catch.

It might help if you focused on developing specific dating skills. Don't focus on this big, overarching sense that you are behind the curve, because that's just you being unfairly self-critical.

Focus on the specifics that you have to learn. You probably already know what they are. For me, it would be learning how to make small talk and how to take the initiative in asking people out. For other people, it might be learning how to spot red flags. Or learning what an appropriate amount of disclosure is on a first date. Or whatever -- just pick one thing at a time and work on it. Hang in there. It is stressful but you can totally do this.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:54 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Two suggestions:

1. Church. If you aren't religious, you can go to a Unitarian church. It's social and friendly, but there's no alcohol.

2. Volunteering. I volunteer a lot and I see people all the time who are good, decent people who just haven't yet found the right person. In fact, two of them got married to each other this weekend and they are both over forty:)
posted by bananafish at 10:23 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have an uncle who didn't date until his late 40s. For the 20+ years I knew him, he never had a girlfriend until recently. Now he's in a pretty serious relationship.

I think you will be fine.
posted by Jurbano at 10:32 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think there's good reason for hope. everyone in this world is looking for the same thing. you are already whole. best wishes.
posted by macinchik at 10:55 PM on June 26, 2012

Definitely hope. Don't let anyone push you around, take it slow, ask people of your choosing out from some casual social contexts, and gracefully accept that it's a numbers game, takes many false starts before something good happens.

Good luck.
posted by ead at 12:09 AM on June 27, 2012

I was married for twenty years. I had never dated, having met my husband at 19. I jumped into the online dating experience and met some terrible people there, some nice ones that weren't for me and some who found me not at all to their liking. I messaged a lot of men, would meet almost anyone for a daytime coffee in a public place, and did not waste time on second dates with anyone who did not interest me.

I don't think you can know how you will feel about any guy until you actually meet him. Don't be shy, send out lots of messages, don't judge them until you meet them and be open to the experience of just meeting people. I have made several good platonic friends through online dating, and friends are a good thing to have, too.

Just as I was tiring of the whole thing and deciding to just stay single, I met my boyfriend, who is almost perfectly matched to me, being a bit of a weird and awkward geek like myself. His online profile did not reveal any of the things I love about him, his love of history, his willingness to learn new things, his lovely voice,or his interest in my area of study. Even his profile picture did not show what he looked like. Had I not messaged him first and bugged him to meet me for coffee, it never would have happened. So, my point is, give almost everyone the chance to meet with you for fifteen minutes, you never know what will happen. (of course, not people who will be a challenge to your sobriety, and be clear that you do not drink). I wish you luck, you have to be unafraid to make the first move, though.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 2:43 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're getting a lot of great dating advice here, but I want to address the fact that you seem to think you're not experienced enough to date and that guys your age are something to be wary of. I started therapy when I was in my mid-thirties and couldn't seem to date and had dismissed a couple of nice guys because we "didn't have a connection". Therapy helped me realize all of the ways in which I was terrified and thus scuttling and remote chance I had of a relationship, and helped me get passed those fears that it was too late or I wasn't a good catch. You sound pretty awesome, and deserve a healthy relationship with yourself and others, so you might want to do a little therapy specificially around those issues.
posted by ldthomps at 8:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would like to go on record that my dating experiences prior to my meeting Husbunny, ranged from awful to hilariously awful. Dating sucks.

I'll nth going to more adult sites to meet more adult people on line. (although I met Husbunny in a Daria chat room, so I'm talking out of my ass.) We were on-line friends for a year before meeting IRL. I was 39 when we got married.

Did I bloom late? No, I was waiting for the right person for me.

So don't feel bad that you missed all the weirdness of dating for the past couple of decades. You didn't miss much.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:05 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

don't discount men who have been divorced, have kids, or aren't in perfect physical shape.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:57 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Books on Block Clubs?   |   How does Community Property affect property tax... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.