Is it too late to start a relationship at 30, having never dated?
January 28, 2017 11:21 PM   Subscribe

Hello, I'm a 30-year old guy with a question that's been plaguing my mind recently. I can't help but wonder if it's too late at my age to date or have a relationship if I've never done either before.

I've never been in a relationship or even been on a date (unless having gone to a high school dance with someone counts) due to a number of factors. It's mostly anxiety and depression, but also the fact that relationships weren't really a priority for me in high school and college for whatever reason and the fact that I was busy with getting my degrees followed by getting a job that would be sufficient to let me live independently (which I now am).

I'm not entirely sure if I actually want a relationship at this time (and working on my mental health is my main priority at the moment, along with finding new things to do or become interested in). However, I have a persistent fear that, should I decide that I would like a relationship, I'm going to be considered too old to have never had a relationship or even a date and that my lack of prior experience would make women apprehensive or scare them off. That is, I worry that I'm past the period where certain mistakes would be understandable (and I won't pretend that I wouldn't make any mistakes: I've never done this, after all), and that my inexperience would be apparent and lead to others getting weirded out or wondering if something's wrong with me. Alternatively, I worry that I would be outright asked about my history and that no reasoning for my answer would be sufficient given my age.

So, enlighten me: is there a point where it is too late for someone to have a relationship due to never having had one in the past? It may just be my anxiety speaking, but I thought I'd just get some input from others about this. Thanks everyone.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Of course it's not too late, and you wouldn't be the first. I think it's something most people would want to know, but that shouldn't be a big deal to the right person. Just be honest, and try not to be idealistic about what a relationship should be. Everyone is different and try not to expect people to be perfect. It's late, I'll try to come back with something more specific tomorrow.
posted by catatethebird at 11:34 PM on January 28, 2017

I could have asked this question at 30, or at 35. But not today at 40, with my wonderful girlfriend cuddled up next to me on the couch. So I hope 30's not too late, or we're in trouble!

Here's a secret: if you regularly read AskMe, you're mainlining top notch relationship advice. Reading about relationships is no substitute for the real thing, but there's so many times something on here has been helpful. You likely have more perspective from that than you realize.

If you're honest about yourself, and what you want, and dedicate yourself to open communication, nobody worth dating will be bothered by inexperience. It's not making mistakes that's the problem, it's how you deal with it. And you sound pretty thoughtful, humble and reasonable to me.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:50 PM on January 28, 2017 [35 favorites]

One of my ex-lovers who I am still fond of (met him in his mid-50s) was a virgin until his late 20s. A combination of famiky circumstances, education (math phd) and his natural reticence postponed his decision to date. Since then he has had a number of relationships that have been very important to him and that he treasures the memory of, and now he is 3 years into an exclusive relationship with someone who he is comfortable with, who shares the need for companionship, whike they maintain their separate residences.

You're right, it's not typical, but it's not too late. Some people will be surprised, some will be judgemental and some will be very touched that when you ventured out into this exciting, scary world, you trusted them enough to choose them.

You could also not go into much detail until/unless you are ready to. When they ask, you might say "there's been a few people I've felt strongly about, but I wouldn't say I was very experienced." If they press you for numbers, or when you lost your virginity, you might say "that's in the past, what I want to concentrate on now is you. Of course, I think it's important that we both get tested before becoming intimate."

Also, a CBT psychologist can help you run through a few possible scenarios to help give you confidence, and skills in dealing with this. I highly recommend this because sometimes the impact of anxiety and a failed date (which happens to sexually experienced people too) can be compounding, and might make it harder for you to try again.

But no, not too late, and there are lots of people who value partners with no exes to be compared to.
posted by b33j at 12:00 AM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's never too late to look for love. You could have said you were 90 and I'd tell you the same thing.
posted by blackzinfandel at 12:01 AM on January 29, 2017 [16 favorites]

No, it's not too late.

Yes, going to a dance with someone "counts," though I expect after one's late teens, most people can stop worrying about whether something counts (or whether strangers think it does).

If you've had friendships with other people (of any gender), then you already know many (though of course, not all) of the building blocks of a good romantic relationship. If you don't have a lot of practice with friendships, that's a great place to start. If your concern is about asking someone on a date, think of it as much like asking a friend to go hang out and eat/see a movie/go hiking, with the possibility of some nice, cozy feelings that might lead to another such outing. You don't have to be ready for a whole relationship if you're going to start dating, as long as you don't lead someone to believe you're ready for something serious. Be honest, and be kind.

As a woman with 3 1/2 decades of dating experience, I can tell you that the "mistakes" made by men I've known, whether at 15 or 30 or significantly after 50, tend to be the same: taking someone for granted and assuming the partner's availability and/or acquiescence to one's own preferences, not respecting boundaries, maintaining poor communication, generally being a jerk, and telling the server we don't want dessert when in almost all circumstances, I want to at least see the dessert menu. (That last one may just be a mistake in dating me. YMMV.)

If your concern is less about the social niceties and more about physical intimacy, there are far more people out there with limited experience than you may realize. And while the actions are generally the same, they are customized to each set of partners, so you will find there's less of a "mistake" to be made, and more of a physical conversation, with ebbs and flows. You might choose to tell your eventual partner, "You are the first" beforehand, or you might choose to say, "You were the first" afterward, or you might choose to say nothing. Your past is your own; again, there are very few rules one must/should abide by beyond being kind. And if you are kind, you will be head and shoulders above at least some of the people your dating partners will have known by the age of 30.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 12:22 AM on January 29, 2017 [19 favorites]

My first relationship wasn't until a few months before my 30th birthday for similar reasons. So, no! Not at all. Just be honest about your lack of experience. Some people will be put off, but those aren't the people you want to be dating. I understand that's all easier said than done, and I had very similar fears and anxieties at the time. I'd recommend unpacking a lot of this stuff with a therapist, if you can.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:22 AM on January 29, 2017

I have two good friends who had their first relationships late in life. One met his wife in his forties after years of depression and fixating on unavailable women. The other met his girlfriend in his fifties after dedicating himself to a life that precluded relationships. So the simple answer is there's no cut-off date.

Also, not all relationships are equal in terms of the value of the experience they confer. Some are even negative; I had to work hard to unlearn the lessons of one unhealthy relationship. I also spent a decade repeating the same pattern with a string of girlfriends and until one woman inspired me to break it, that experience was of very little value in making me a better partner. You might learn those lessons in your first year of dating; plenty of guys with a lifetime of relationships behind them are nevertheless still at the beginner level of romance.

There will be ways in which your inexperience will be a disadvantage, but also plenty of ways in which it will help you. You won't be tempted to assume that what worked with a previous girlfriend will also be appropriate for the woman you're seeing. You'll probably listen to her concerns more carefully.

One last thing - be prepared for rejection and failure, which are integral parts of finding the right person. They aren't nice, but almost everyone faces them and given your (lack of) history, you will be vulnerable to making them into a bigger deal than they are. Good luck!
posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:44 AM on January 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

It's definitely not too late. However, as someone who has dated multiple people with anxiety and depression and who has both herself: it's really great that you're making your mental health a top priority. It's easy to let those issues "leak" into an intimate relationship, and that can be very destructive for everyone involved.

It's not too late, but that doesn't mean you're ready.

Take care and best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 2:54 AM on January 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

Also: I've been dating for 20 years. My boyfriends have cheated, hit me, called me a bitch, have been so needy I was never alone for a moment, have made life plans without including me after we dated for 7 years, have sent me to the hospital after neglecting the consequences their actions would have on my health, have minimized my feelings and needs to a shocking degree... These examples are each from different men, by the way. Dating someone who had decided not to date until they were ready would be vastly preferable to any of this stuff, and as you can see, the bar for bad behavior is (unfortunately) really damn low. Every woman I know has a litany of stories like mine. Every single woman I know in her mid-30s and 40s would be thrilled to be with someone who had waited to figure out his shit before he dated. This will not be a problem at all for the right woman. I promise.
posted by sockermom at 3:07 AM on January 29, 2017 [30 favorites]

My God no, it's not too late at all.
posted by xammerboy at 3:21 AM on January 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I know a couple guys who never dated before 30. One is my brother, who now has a very nice girlfriend. The other is the dude currently snoring away in our bed upstairs. ;) I didn't really date until my late twenties, certainly did not have a meaningful relationship until I was 30+.

Since I have a 29 year old girlfriend going through the same anxiety as you, I know a lot of it is anxiety about sex. Do not worry about sex and physical intimacy. Sex with a new partner is daunting and there is a learning curve whether it is your first partner or your tenth. I do not think a full recounting of sexual history is required before sleeping with someone, so you could keep the extent of your inexperience under wraps. It won't be as obvious as you think.

The non-sexual aspects of a romantic relationship function the same as a friendship, at least in the beginning. Basic courtesy, don't stand people up, occassional thoughtful gestures, having fun. Again, your inexperience at dating is not going to be a flashing red sign. You can reveal more and more as you get more comfortable with a person.

I think that working on yourself is great--absolutely continue it until you feel ready to date--but you are just going to have jump in to dating both feet first. The nice thing about dating is that it progresses at a pace you can control and the dynamics are unique to every relationship, so past experience does not necessarily prove useful.
posted by tippy at 4:39 AM on January 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have a friend who has never dated until the last few months. I've always been perpetually in a relationship, with some boy or another, since I was 19. We're both in our mid-30s. My friend is amazingly level-headed and adult in how she deals with dating - she knows exactly what she wants, knows she is fine single, and meets conflict and issues head-on. Meanwhile, I'm still not sure what I want, I'm still trying to believe I'd be okay single, and I am horribly conflict-averse. She amazes me every day with how much more mature she is with relationships, despite never being in one, yet. So it is absolutely not too late, at all. Instead of her leaning on me for advice, I lean on her. You'll be fine out there. You've had a lifetime of watching relationships and studying them without getting tangled in the emotional mess - and I know I would much rather date someone who is new to the dating scene than someone with emotional hang-ups about all of their exes.
posted by umwhat at 5:54 AM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

When you're dead, it's too late (probably. Citation needed). Until then, you're allowed to try for what you want. You don't need anybody's permission, and it doesn't have to seem like a good idea to anybody except you and your prospective partner.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:58 AM on January 29, 2017 [10 favorites]

Just chiming in here. I went on my first date at thirty-five. It was fine. I'm now fifty-one, and in the twelfth year of a wonderful marriage. You'l be fine.
posted by notbuddha at 7:15 AM on January 29, 2017 [13 favorites]

I think it's worth remembering; you can't learn how to be a different person with different attributes...but you can learn how to please your partner sexually and try different ways of living with each other until you find a natural groove.

Your future partner would date you pressumably because she thinks you're compatible/great so the rest of the stuff is just details. Women are pretty awesome, most of us aren't using things of this nature as a reason not to date a lovely person we are attracted to.

Also; if you're not bothered about dating yet and you're only doing it because you're scared about running out of time....I'd honestly suggest you just wait until you really do want it, if that happens. I have a friend who is asexual and just isn't interested in dating at all, she is mid 30's. It's not something you have to do because you feel you should.

Good luck for if you decide to take the plunge. :)
posted by TheGarden at 7:37 AM on January 29, 2017

If you have Netflix you should check out the Black Mirror Season 3 episode "San Junipero." It is relevant to your question.
posted by ejs at 8:12 AM on January 29, 2017

Dating, and dating experience, relative to one's age is mostly immaterial if you are presenting an open mind and an open heart to the individuals you are spending time with.

Sure, it is nice for a person of your age to have made some basic mistakes and learned from them already, but it's by no means a deal-breaker, at least for a good portion of reasonable people. I can't speak for everyone.

Work on yourself and your mental health and self-care first, as you have already mentioned. When you're in a good place, approach dating with earnestness and you should be fine. There will be bumps in the road and disappointments, but everyone experiences them in dating. Don't let a few bumps deter you because in no way will you have hit some kind of dating "expiration date".

Open heart, open mind, healthy standards, you'll be fine!
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 9:47 AM on January 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also: avoid rush into something prematurely or when you're not really ready or in a good place just because you're worried about your age! That's one way to pave the way for lots of bad dating scenarios. You will be a lot better off going into dating when you're ready and excited for the prospect, whether it's at 30 or any age after that.

It's also worth mentioning I seriously dated someone in a similar situation as yourself, at least when it comes to age and relative dating experience. He had many wonderful qualities I appreciated, and that was what I found attractive. I had no issue with his lack of dating experience.

One of the main downsides of that particular relationship as it pertains to your question, is that he hadn't yet discovered who he was and what he wanted for himself in a relationship before dating me. As that solidified for him, he discovered he wanted something different than he thought. But, neither of us could have known that ahead of time. So, the lack of dating experience itself was not any kind of red flag.

Are you able to maintain good relationships otherwise, for example with family, friends, professors, or peers? Dating shares the same fundamentals as any intimate relationship. If you know how to be a good person to others, you can learn how to successfully translate that to a dating relationship when you find a good person that suits you, and vice versa.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 10:01 AM on January 29, 2017

Be open with anyone you're considering getting intimate with! It's totally ok to say "this is new to me and I'm nervous!"- and in fact that's far preferable to hiding the truth, or lying or bluffing about previous experiences. If you feel too nervous to be open, or don't trust them to hear your feelings with kindness, they are the wrong person, and you should keep looking. A good partner- whether short-term or long-term- will be honoured and happy to be a part of your journey.

I had a lovely relationship with a man who at 26 had never been on a date or kissed another person. He was a caring and fascinating person and we shared some really special experiences and dated for years. His lack of experience was not a problem at all- in fact it made things more special.

Of course you don't want to make the whole experience about YOUR newness and feelings- make sure to listen to the other person and be interested in their place in their journey as well.

I find it's helpful and fun to go meta about the experiences and talk about them. Conversations like, "Wow this is my first time doing __ , I'm a little nervous, how should we do it?" Or "I have never done this before, how do you like it?" or "I was nervous but that was really nice for me, I loved ___ about it, how was it for you?" etc.

Talking about experiences actually enriches them for many people, so don't be shy to process your feelings out loud, if that feels comfortable. And again, I strongly suggest that if it doesn't feel comfortable or safe to open up to someone, you might not be doing it with the right partner.
posted by spraypaint at 10:06 AM on January 29, 2017

I know a guy who is 37 and just started his first relationship.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:12 AM on January 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I sure hope not, because I'm in a very similar boat - 29 next month, female, no dates (not even to school dances!), only kiss was a stage kiss when I was 16 with a slightly creepy 36 year old...

I was shy growing up, anxious (though I didn't realize it was anxiety until later), slightly awkward, very self-conscious with negative amounts of confidence, was never pursued or asked out by anyone, didn't notice or know how to respond if someone flirted, and never met anyone who I was interested enough in to do the pursuing.

Now I find the older I get without a single date, let along a kiss, let alone sex, it starts to be a vicious cycle where I feel more awkward about the possibility of any of it, and more anxious that it will never happen, and there's a seemingly exponential amount of pressure the longer I go as a dateless wonder. And the social anxiety doesn't help!

I know all the advice says just be yourself, you'll meet someone eventually, put yourself out there, don't be afraid of rejection, there's someone out there for you - but that gets hard to hear. And although they mean well, when even my boss is asking if there's any news in my love life, it's hard to deal with. Honestly I find it very embarrassing to admit that I have absolute zero experience in anything romantic or sexual.

It helps to know I'm not alone, so I thank you for your post, and I wish you lots of luck. If you ever want someone to talk to who's at a similar place, feel free to memail me.

And thank you to everyone who is responding - it's all very helpful and heartening. <3
posted by firei at 11:16 AM on January 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

I'm thirty and I started dating a year ago after getting my shit together. I had built it up in my head as this huge thing that I'd never be able to do, but when I finally went on my first date it was easy and fun.
posted by Chenko at 12:15 PM on January 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

One of my very best, and most respected friends just started her first relationship about 6 months ago and she's in her 30s. She's doing great (and the guy is awesome). Anecdata but there you go.
posted by Chrysalis at 12:23 PM on January 29, 2017

I didn't have any type of relationship or dating or anything until I was 30. It was all very embarrassing and lonely to me at the time to have zero relationship experience. I hated that feeling.

I'm 40 now and have been with the same guy for 8 years now. :-)

So don't give up!
posted by ilovewinter at 1:17 PM on January 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

A dear friend of mine started his first relationship at 46. They've been together for 12 years now and they look very happy to me. No, you're not too late at all.

He was open with her about not having had any previous relationships. That openness was probably a good idea and caused zero problems. It may have prevented some.
As far as I know, my friend's partner found his lack of experience not offputting at all, and in fact kinda sweet.

They had been friends for several years before they got together in a romantic sense. I'm not saying that this is the only way this could work, but it worked for them.

If you're worried about a lack of sexual experience, keep in mind that people are very different. A new partner always means that a lot of things are new, and experience will only get you so far: even if you were experienced, you would certainly need to learn plenty about your new partner and their sexual wishes and habits. So there is always a lot to learn.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:36 PM on January 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is both a totally normal worry and much less of a big deal than it feels like it is. You’ll be fine, because there aren’t actually that many universal relationship rules—there are just individual relationships between individual people. I can’t promise that no one will be weirded out by a late bloomer, but people who feel that way just aren’t right for you, and that’s fine. Lots of people aren’t right for each other for all kinds of reasons.

Two pieces of advice, from someone who has been in a similar place: 1. Don’t let fear of looking like you don’t know what you’re doing prevent you from communicating. Communication is essential in any relationship, no matter how experienced you are, so resist the impulse to treat your partner’s needs like guessing game in which you should already know the answers. And 2., if you tend toward introversion and you’re pretty comfortable in your single-person life, be prepared for a little bit of an adjustment period if/when you do decide to start dating. I had my first serious relationship in my late 20s, and there was definitely a period early on when I felt a little overwhelmed by the amount of contact a romantic relationship entails, even though I really liked the person I was dating and didn’t objectively think we were spending too much time together. You can communicate that, of course, but you may also find it worthwhile to wait it out, to some extent. For me, it took a few months before I could relax and have downtime with my partner almost as easily as I could alone, and it was really nice when the relationship reached that point.
posted by Radish at 7:34 PM on January 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you're worried about a lack of sexual experience, keep in mind that people are very different. A new partner always means that a lot of things are new, and experience will only get you so far: even if you were experienced, you would certainly need to learn plenty about your new partner and their sexual wishes and habits. So there is always a lot to learn.

This, so much this. I was in a relationship from age 17-28 and honestly had the most basic, repetitive, unadventurours sex. I felt horrendously naive/inferior/lacking when I met my next partner. Unsurprisingly it ended up being fun learning each other and the anxiety of not knowing quickly drifted away. If the relationship is supportive; it's pretty overwhelmingly intimate sharing so many firsts with someone you care about.
posted by TheGarden at 8:08 PM on January 29, 2017

Definitely not too late. I met my now-husband when he was 35. He'd never been on a date. I had more experience (had been married) but his lack of experience wasn't any issue at all. We've been married 25 years this year.
posted by mmw at 9:56 AM on January 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, but what does one have to do with the other? Do you really feel as though your world is that small, that life is so over for you that no more experiences can be yours? If everyone felt this way, how would anything ever get done?

I've never tried durian for a number of reasons including it not being that important to me, it being scarce in my part of the world, and some anxiety over the smell and taste. Should I not try it when given the chance? Should I be ashamed that I've never had it when offered?
posted by dozo at 4:01 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

You're never too old to go for what you want. You're acting like your life has already been decided just because you're thirty... what about people much older than you who have had the same experiences? They would kill to be your age!
posted by xplosiv at 7:25 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older How to stop a poop smearer at work?   |   Where to find well-balanced rationals behind Trump... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.