Need a paradigm for falling in love!
January 13, 2008 8:50 AM   Subscribe

How does one fall in love in one's late 30's, when one's head is full of mortgage payments, favorite restaurants, and past ex's? What does it mean to fall in love? (A bit complicated)

Ok, so life hasn't worked out the way I'd hoped, being still single at 38. (Female, in the U.S.) My problem is that I need to readjust my paradigm for what it means to fall in love.

I always thought that falling in love meant something that happened in your early 20s. You're just out of college. You're a blank slate, full of hopes, dreams, ready to discover the world. And your theoretical partner is the one whom you'll share that with; he'll grow with you, learn with you. You don't know yet what your favorite restaurant is, or your favorite New Years' Eve TV show or sexual position, but you and your partner discover these things together and develop something special, something that you do together.

You're also not yet jaded by the human condition, beaten down by office politics or suffering in the world; you're still convinced that you can make the world a better place. (That sounds more negative than I mean it to be. You're by no means a hopeless pessimist; you've just seen more of the world simply by being a little bit older.)

At 38, I know exactly what I like and want, and I'm not sure how one falls in love when one is not a blank slate anymore, when one has already figured out one's identity on one's own. I go out on a date from what's your favorite restaurant? Oh, I hate that place. Am I going to give up my favorite restaurant for this perfect stranger? No. My best (female) friend and I, who share many interests and in-jokes, are always going to be more "intimate" than any stranger I meet at 38, simply because we've known each other since our early 20s and have "grown up" a little together. Unless I change my paradigm (or whatever else is going on in my head!) for love.

Being older also limits your choices as well. For example: I tried living in the country, didn't like it after 4 years, and moved back to the city. Soon after, I met a potential date who briefly mentioned that he loved going to work on his country house on weekends and wanted to retire there. Since I now know what I want, and I'm not going to compromise on something that took me precious years to figure out, I didn't pursue that potential. But, had I been in my early 20s and didn't yet know what I want, I might have liked him, married him, lived happily ever after, and so in love that I didn't notice the country surroundings...

People have said to me, "well, that early 20s thing is a `starter marriage', which often don't work out as the people grow apart. So, you're lucky to not have gone through that." Probably true, but that's not helpful for the purposes of this question. I may be lucky, but I'm also lonely, so that doesn't help.

COMPLICATION #1: the most recent ex, whom I'm still in love with. How does one fall in love when thinking about all these things AND still in love with someone else? This is probably hindering my ability to meet new people much more than I realize. (It doesn't help that I see him about 3 times a month in a community setting, and that he still drops hints that he would still like to be with me, but that he doesn't want to break up his family. No, I can't leave this community setting, trust me, and besides, I did try leaving it for three months and it didn't really make a difference. May post this issue in a separate question later, as it's a big one.)

COMPLICATION #2: The biological clock is yelling in my ear. Ideally, I'd like to take a few years (5 or so?) to figure out what my new paradigm is and also get over Complication #1, but I don't know if I have that much time.

So here I am, trying to go out on these impersonal computer dates, waiting for that special spark that eventually leads to falling in love. Two strangers sitting across from each other. We talk in a rush, comparing interests, family situations, professional ambitions, and restaurants, and then when all has been discovered after an hour or so, we just stare at each other, waiting to feel that spark which doesn't happen, at least on my part, because I'm thinking about which of my bills are due next, or the fact that this guy didn't get the joke that my best friend would have gotten in a minute, or the ex in Complication #1. None of these things would have been in my head when I was 21, and so there might, just might, have been more room for a spark to actually enter.

(Yes, I'm overthinking this. Most people do on Meta, right?! :) )

In other words, I would like to know what it means to fall in love at this age, so that I can begin the process of trying to fall in love. (Being in love, I must say from experience, is really, really, really, really, really neat.) I know that it won't happen instantly. But I need to start somewhere. I'm guessing that computer dates are not my best medium, since I'm a shy nerdy woman who only opens up after a few dates; I'd welcome any other ideas. Ideas are also welcome for activities to join (Boston) to meet available nerdy men, but know that I already belong to quite a few where the few men that are there are already married, and I won't join an activity that I'm not interested in just to meet men.

(This is harder than you might think in Boston; to the people who say "with all the activities in Boston, you should have no trouble meeting people!", I say, there are actually too many things to do, in my opinion. Everyone is so, so busy all the time, they're always rushing to the next activity and never take the time to notice the people around them.)

Along those same lines, please don't just dismiss my problem with "a shy nerdy woman?! My gosh, there are a zillion shy nerdy men who'd kill to meet you!" That's likely, but it's not the issue, or my question.

Thanks in advance for any insights you may have. I just discovered Meta recently, and love it.
posted by Melismata to Human Relations (25 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
er, first of all, that word you use there in your title? *shudder* Don't take this the wrong way but anyone who uses marketing-speak in a post about romance? Ew. Just... ew.

So, here's the big problem with the whole nerds-falling-in-love deal. Y'all think it's something you can QUANTIFY. like, "oh man, if I do x, then y will invariably happen... IT IS THE ANSWER!!!"


This will sound like a huge cliche, and indeed, it is a huge cliche, but here it is:

You gotta give love, to get love. Beyond that, there are no guarantees.

By this I mean: If you sit there and enumerate all the shit that's supposedly "wrong" with you (like you just did up there in your OP, well kinda) - then by default you're giving off a bunch of negative 'I'm busted' kinda vibe.

Stop that. Here, this is long, but it's my answer to a similar, if different AskMe about how to connect with people.

Full disclosure: two years ago, I was a 38 year old woman in EXACTLY the same boat as you are in right now. What did I do? Simple: I gave up.

Today, I am happily married. No, strike that: I am ECSTATICALLY (plus ten other synonyms for stupid-in-love) married.

Your mileage may vary.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:10 AM on January 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

You are overthinking this, and you are also only thinking in binary. Love exists in the grey areas on one's life. Love isn't 'finding someone who will slot into the gaps I have left in my life'. That's 'sex toy' with mortgage help'.

The fact that you already know what you want, like and need is actually an advantage. It means that you already understand what sort of person will annoy you over time. What sort of person will bore you. It means you will have less failed relationships. But it may also mean you have less relationships in total.

Loving someone is one thing. Finding someone you love that you want to be with relies on their needs either not clashing with your own, or at least not in a way that you can't cope with. It doesn't mean you have to become one symbiotic being joined at the hip. You still have your life, just with them.

I go out on a date from what's your favorite restaurant? Oh, I hate that place. Am I going to give up my favorite restaurant for this perfect stranger? No.

Perfect example of the wrong headed thinking. You don't need to give up your favourite restaurant at all. That's crazy. It just means that you don't agree on restaurants. End of. Being in love doesn't mean giving up ever going to that restaurant that used to be your favourite, just means maybe (if you care enough) going to the one you don't like every once in a while because someone you care about wants to go there.

Your age, life experience, wants and needs do not stop you from falling in love. They just clarify what you need to be able to live with someone. That's it. Love is nothing to do with every day semantics and logistics. Separate the two in your head.

the most recent ex, whom I'm still in love with. How does one fall in love when thinking about all these things AND still in love with someone else?

You can't and won't until you get over that person. If it is truly finished, then accept it and move on. This is something that only you can do. This is actually the problem, none of the rest of it. You can't leave your ex behind, so you'll never find someone else as no matter how nice they are, they won't BE THEM.

Get over the Ex first. Fully. Get peace with the idea of not having them. Tell them you don't want them anymore. Tell them to stop with the bullshit head games - if you wanted me enough, you'd leave your family. If you don't, then grow up and leave me alone. If you won't leave them, you are essentially saying that you want them, not me. So you don't want me. End of. (they are playing the nasty 'oh if only I COULD!' card that millions of women fall for anyway).

That's the key. The ex. Deal with that first. The rest will fall into place once you realise what you do want in a partner. Not focussing on ways you don't want them to hinder living your life.
posted by Brockles at 9:22 AM on January 13, 2008 [10 favorites]

I also think the key is the ex. Getting into a relationship when you still have hopes for the ex is a recipe for heartbreak.
posted by melissam at 9:25 AM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am older than you, also female. I don't share most of your posted fantasies about favorite restaurants and growing old together, however. What I sense from your post is a little bit of desperation which is probably palpable to potential love interests. Can't you just enjoy that guy with a house in the country without automatically ruling him out because you "know" you don't want to live in the country? You have already married the guy in your mind before you even went out on one date! Relationships are hard, attractions are hard. It always feels like 7th grade in some ways no matter how old you get. I think you should explore that big unsaid "what if" in your mind and play it through to the end. What if you don't get married? What if you never find "the one"? Can you find ways to entertain yourself and be whole without that fantasy of being joined at the hip with somebody? I think you'd be happier just enjoying the men who cross your path in whatever capacity they have to offer at the moment without playing out the growing old together scenario in your mind. You can't predict what will happen, try to live a little more in the moment and fill your own needs. Yes, a man might be nice, but it is icing on the cake, not your whole existence. You have to rid yourself of that self imposed prison you created in your mind about what a relationship should be and must be. Good luck!
posted by 45moore45 at 9:28 AM on January 13, 2008 [9 favorites]

You have to rid yourself of that self imposed prison you created in your mind about what a relationship should be and must be.

Bingo, well put. Seriously, lose the checklist. I hate to generalise / stereotype, but imo the biggest thing that's wrong with dating culture in this our fair country (and particularly back East, oy!) it's this huge List O' Expectations that society foists upon us via the media, our friends, blahblahblah.

I mean, what happens if you DO check off all those little checkboxes and you wind up miserable anyway? Don't laugh, it happens.

I meant to add something about this and got distracted.

And yea, the single biggest catalyst for me to end my miserable lonely existence and get on with my life was to quit carrying the torch for an x of mine. Amazing thing, that - once I made myself busy enough with coaching that I forgot about pining for him, it started to dawn on me what a manipulative crazy tool the guy really was. Not to say that this is the case in your situation, but... well.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:40 AM on January 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

So here I am, trying to go out on these impersonal computer dates, waiting for that special spark that eventually leads to falling in love. Two strangers sitting across from each other. We talk in a rush, comparing interests, family situations, professional ambitions, and restaurants, and then when all has been discovered after an hour or so, we just stare at each other, waiting to feel that spark which doesn't happen, at least on my part, because I'm thinking about which of my bills are due next, or the fact that this guy didn't get the joke that my best friend would have gotten in a minute, or the ex in Complication #1. None of these things would have been in my head when I was 21, and so there might, just might, have been more room for a spark to actually enter.

A few thoughts:
- wrt the internet dating: go do fun stuff that brings out the fun person in you and in him. Try out your interaction first before using the checklists. Once you find a good interaction with somebody you may find that some bulletpoints on your checklist have faded.
- wrt the joke that your best friend would have gotten instantly. When you don't have that with a recent love interest either the dynamics aren't working and it's time to move on or you just will build a new set of injokes, shared sense of humour and common history with the new guy. That's for you to decide. Don't let comparison with your best friend prevent you from investing in new people and closing off opportunity for change in your life.
- although being 38 is different from being 21 it's still possible to have that beginners mindframe, that curiosity and excitement about new things. You'd just have to let go of some strong thought patterns using meditation f.i. (That might be hard with the wanting children and being in haste thing though.)
- yes, living alone you can have everything the way you want it. And being with someone means you sometimes do stuff because it's what they wanted. In my experience in a good relationship you find out that the latter isn't so bad: yes, the restaurant is not your favourite but it's something you do together and he likes it and the reverse happens also. So it's possible to find out that maximalisation of gratification is not so important as to override the joy of togetherness.
posted by jouke at 10:18 AM on January 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

You don't necessarily need to feel the proverbial spark. You can start out being friends, then progress to really good friends, then realize one day that you like each other so much you might as well call it love.

I know everybody will jump all over me about "the friend zone", but I'm a living example of someone who started out squarely in the friend zone and ended up married, so it does happen.

You may not end up with a soulmate and fireworks this way but on the whole, being married to a good, decent, trustworthy friend is a good thing.
posted by Quietgal at 10:20 AM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

For years I told my Mom that if I ever met a man as good as my Dad I'd marry him. One day my Mom got frustrated with me walking out one decent man after another and she set me straight. She said, "Girl, you think I got your dad that way? I put 30 years into making him a good husband." She recognizes that she wasn't a superstar wife in those first years either.

This was a huge revelation for me. (And probably a DUH for most people.) I don't think I'd have started dating Mr. 26.2 without having accepted the idea that he wasn't going to be exactly what I expected.

People come into our lives imperfect for us and we are imperfect for them. Over time you learn and change and compromise. If you're looking for someone to fit precisely into the niche you've left available then you're going to look a long, long time.
posted by 26.2 at 10:21 AM on January 13, 2008 [8 favorites]

I was in my early 30s by the time I got married. And I think age and experience helped me to find my "soul mate" (if you'll excuse an overused expression). I wasn't going to compromise my likes/beliefs for the sake of finding a man (for example, pretending to enjoy sports just because I had a crush on a hockey nut), but that doesn't mean I didn't leave myself open to change. When I first started dating Mr. Adams, I hated long road trips. If I had to be anywhere that would take more than two hours in a car, I flew instead. Mr. Adams' loved to drive, and his family lived 800-some miles away. The first time I drove with him, I was so cranky and antsy I thought I'd crawl right out of my skin, but a few trips later and I found that I loved being in the car with him, listening to tunes, checking out small towns and antique malls along the way (antiquing was something else he introduced me to that I now love). He changed, too; he rarely watched TV before he met me, and had no idea what I meant when I referred to the "Password" episode of the Odd Couple. Today he can quote The Golden Girls better than I can. So who knows; you might've learned to love spending weekends in that country house - being with the right person sometimes makes all the difference.

As for where to meet people, have you considered taking the test for Mensa? Mr. Adams and I just recently joined, and their newsletter is filled with weekly and monthly get-togethers for singles and groups of members who live near one another to go to lunch and a movie, or to play board games at a member's home, things like that. We've been to a few of their regional gatherings, and it's like the Brown Derby of shy, nerdy geeks.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:25 AM on January 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

-- date lots of people. Email more before you meet in person. Trust your intuition.
-- Reveal yourself on your online profile(s) - take it as a creative writing project.
-- there will be tons of people who don't fit. And dating is generally absurd. Accept this.
-- a good way to run out the clock on a bad coffee date is to trade dating disaster stories
-- when you do find someone who is right, you'll just know.

I divorced at 43, emailed and coffee-dated hundreds over years, got discouraged (of course), stuck with it and found someone really amazing. We could have been friends since college, we just didn't know each other and developed on parallel tracks. That's the positive side of the "well-developed tastes" coin.
posted by msalt at 10:30 AM on January 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

snark is fully intended here to illustrate a point:

Soon after, I met a potential date who briefly mentioned that he loved going to work on his country house on weekends and wanted to retire there. Since I now know what I want, and I'm not going to compromise on something that took me precious years to figure out, I didn't pursue that potential.

Well good for you, instead of having to "sacrifice yourself" and be forced to spend weekends with someone you might love in an environment that he loves, doing something he loves, you're asking random internet strangers why you're alone. Thank god, you saved yourself from that horrible situation!

Simply put, you might have gained a whole new perspective and experience from living in the country with someone who loves being there, who longs to be there. Instead you shut that entire potential down and consider doing so a "win".

I understand where you're coming, you don't want to give up doing X or Y, because you've found yourself, right? A good relationship will be one that recognizes those differences and welcomes them. Believe there were many things I thought I'd never do or wouldn't try, but not that I'm cheerfully married, I realize that I shouldn't shut those situations down, especially with someone who enjoys doing them, it can add a radically different perspective and enrichment to your life.

I go out on a date from what's your favorite restaurant? Oh, I hate that place. Am I going to give up my favorite restaurant for this perfect stranger? No.

This is short sighted. You don't have to give up ANYTHING in a good relationship. You gain whole new experiences and perspectives and fun. Hell, I used to dislike Mexican food, thinking it's all the same, just meat, cheese, rice and bread. However, since the wife likes it and wants to go sometimes, I learned it's also a different style of cooking and enjoy fajitas and steaks and seafood, just with Mexican twist. Hell, last week I wanted to eat so much Mexican, my wife got tired of it! Had I stuck my guns, my wife would be missing out on sharing something she enjoys with me, I would not be as enlightened as I am now, we wouldn't haven't been laughing with the waiter we know at Mexican place etc, etc.

So, you can stick to your guns if you want, but you're shutting down potential fun and happiness.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:32 AM on January 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

Seriously, lose the checklist.

Exactly. Stop looking for the male version of yourself. It's romantic to think, oh, I will find my ooooone truuuuuue love, and because he'll be my one and only soulmate, we'll have all the same interests. Do you know how boring it would be to date yourself? (You should... that's basically what being single is!) Open your mind to meeting new people who are different from you. With two open minded people, your relationship becomes a place where you can experience new things and learn. Much more fun than preaching to the choir.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:38 AM on January 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm piping up in regards to your comment about meeting people in Boston. From my own experience, here's what I found... when I lived in LA, my friends and I used to say we could never meet people. I was ALWAYS so busy and used to joke that the only way a guy could get my attention would be if our cars accidentally collided at an intersection.

Soooo, then I moved away and now live in a more secluded area, working mostly out of my home... and I joke that the only way the man of my dreams is gonna meet me is if he knocks on my door. Which he ain't gonna do so I know it's totally my own damn fault if I don't get out of the house to meet other humans.

With this contrast, when I think back it's now crystal clear to me that I was actually SURROUNDED by interesting people when I lived in LA. All the time. But what kept me from meeting them was ME. It's a good excuse to blame other stuff, but maybe it's fear holding you back. Putting yourself out there is scary. But if you start from within and open up to people, you'll be amazed what you'll find. If you want to be loved, be lovable.

And regarding the other stuff... I used to be super super picky. If a guy liked stuff I didn't or didn't like stuff I did, I instantly knew "This isn't gonna work." But you know what? The most interesting and growth-filled relationship in my life was with a man that I literally had nothing in common with. You are really doing yourself a disservice by looking for a male version of yourself. Men and women are different and if you find a man who likes and wants everything you like and want, well, he's probably lying. Relationships are give and take and that's part of the fun. You will never learn or grow half as much from only being around people who agree with you. If you let your guard down a bit and put that clock in a drawer for a while, you might be surprised what kind of relationship you find.

Don't plan out your whole relationship and where you'll live and all of that from the first date. One thing I've learned is that when people say things, a lot of times they'll change their minds down the road. They may say, "I'd like to retire in the country." but does that mean they're going to end up retiring in the country? And does that automatically mean that if you fall in love with this person you will be forced into a future of milking their cows in abject misery? Nope. Relationships are between two people, not just one. If someone loves you, they're probably not going to force you into a life that is only about them. You don't need to live like a martyr. You'll build a relationship TOGETHER, not just about him. Unless you allow the relationship to be only about him, that is.

I haven't read it, but a friend of mine who sounds an awful like you has gotten a lot out of this book. Basically, she learned how to enjoy dating and have fun being around men again instead of projecting everything onto them. It's really helped her. Basically, even if she met the perfect man before, she was turning him off by all of the overthinking she was immediately throwing into the relationship. That can really scare the hell out of a guy, one that might have more potential than you realize.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:02 AM on January 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Also, I think a big key to relationships is understanding that men are men. And that's what's great and fun about them! We're totally different creatures and they think and express themselves differently. The more you understand and respect that, the more they will be open to understanding and giving back to you.

If you are only open to a relationship with someone who is a mirror of yourself for company, you may end up growing old with exactly that... sitting around looking in the mirror at yourself for company. Sorry to make it sound so lonely, but it's the truth. You need to turn off the inner monologue and give men more of a chance to know you. Find out what kind of men like YOU. And go from there.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:14 AM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can't compare a friendship with a romatic relationship. They operate completely differently and don't threaten or compete with each other.
posted by MiffyCLB at 1:04 PM on January 13, 2008

You don't know yet what your favorite restaurant is, or your favorite New Years' Eve TV show or sexual position, but you and your partner discover these things together and develop something special, something that you do together.

First off, these things change with time, even if you were with someone since your 20's--I've always had different favorite positions depending on who my partner is. Assume that you are going to find someone who is going to show you things you knew nothing about. That's the way to go about it.

Now, in terms of goals, I'd set them a lot lower. Something along the lines of one real kiss with a man a month. Let the rest of the things take care of themselves.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:05 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

You're looking for reasons to not have a relationship. Stop it.

As others have said, writing someone off after a first date - or first reading of their profile - because of a relatively unimportant reason isn't culling the herd: it's setting a pattern to always look for a reason to say no. You should be looking for reasons to say yes.

I fell in love a lot in my 20s. At every opportunity. All of the relationships were wonderful, valuable, in their ways, and taught me things about myself I wouldn't have otherwise learned. I met a girl at a conference, once, and instead of thinking "Well, that point she made at the panel discussion was something I disagree with," I thought, "I like her smile," and went to talk to her. Our resulting year-long, long-distance relationship could be classified as a spectacular failure, but it brought a lot of joy to my life, and I learned what my limits are for certain kinds of behavior.

Some of the things you say about how we tend to be in our 20s is true - all that exciting undiscovered everything! - but you're overromanticizing it. I won't speak for others, but when I was in my 20s, I sucked at communicating. I was a gold medalist in shitty communication. Now, at 41, I'm just ordinarily bad at it. I've quit playing games. I don't second-guess myself too much. I'm only mildly and occasionally passive-aggressive. I hardly ever get shouty, and I can't remember the last time I slammed a door in anger, or said something in the heat of the moment that I regret afterwards. I'm pretty sure there isn't enough money in the galaxy to make me want to be anywhere from 19-30.

The next time you read someone's profile, or have a first date, try to think of at least three positive things for every negative thing you pick out about a person. I mean, obviously, if someone seems like a serial killer, "no" is a perfectly appropriate response. Big flags like that aside, practice saying yes more.
posted by rtha at 3:10 PM on January 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm about to turn 36, and I've had two failed marriages. Here's what I've learned.

Love is about two different people, and one relationship. You have grown between ages 21 and 38. You would have grown as your own person, whether you were with someone or not. If you were with someone, maybe you would have shared interests because you would have done some things together. But by age 38, the two of you would likely also have discovered interests that were individual. At least, I hope you did not expect to be joined to the hip of your partner your whole lives. I think the relationships that last are the ones in which people can most be themselves, and receive support from their partner just for being themselves.

Which brings me to the second thing I learned. Love isn't a fantasy world. Your checklist to me seems like you did not learn that in reality, love is messy. I think we are taught as children that we'll meet our Prince Charming, and then the story ends; nothing changes from that point forward, the couple is happy and the world stands still. But it doesn't happen that way. People do need to live by rules, at least I find that there are rules I have trouble living without. But love cannot be designed and put into code. It is more like a living thing than a program. You have your favorite restaurant, and your baggage of past lovers, and your partner has whatever he has, good and bad. Love when you're 38 is knowing who you are and what you've been through, and also knowing that the person you meet is their own person, someone you want to love and support just for being themselves.

Love is recognizing that the other person is not you, will never be you, won't always like what you like or do what you want to do. Love is compromise, and at 38 you have some maturity to understand how to do that.

But others have said, you need to get over the ex. You can't bring someone new into your life while you are thinking of the old person. It's not fair to the new person. Don't use a new person to get over the old person, either. Take time, therapy, whatever is needed, to move on.
posted by veronitron at 4:13 PM on January 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

I had dinner a few years ago with an old high school buddy of mine who likes sushi more than anyone that I know. He was visiting Gotham for business from DC, where he works and lives with his wife and kids. So naturally, we went out for sushi, and he said something about being very excited about it, 'cuz he doesn't get the opportunity to eat sushi so much - his wife isn't a big fan. Shocked, I said - "You mean to tell me that you, of all people, married someone who doesn't like sushi?!?" To which he replied, "Sure - I'd happily NOT get to eat sushi as much as I want in order to spend the rest of my life with the woman of my dreams."

Right on, I say. Priorities.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 5:16 PM on January 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

My Mother and (step)father Make for the perfect example of why finding love "later" in life might be the best way. the met in their late about 25 years ago, when Mom was almost 40, and dad was almost 50. They couldn't be more different, both in personality, preferences and goals. But when they met, it's like even though they didn't want the same things, they knew what they wanted. And their separate wants didn't conflict with each other. And over time they rubbed off on each other a little. Not TOO much, but just enough. They bicker over everything, take separate vacations...I don't think they're even the same religion anymore. But they love each other. And that love isn't an emotion, or a state of being. It's an action. Let me repeat. They love each other.

When Mom at the age of 45 decided to up and change careers, Dad thought it was ridiculous and complained about it the whole time, but gave her everything she needed, and when mom was really successful at the new gig and was never home he filled in in every way he could despite being an old-school blue collar guy who caims that a woman's place is in the home, and dinner should be on the table when the man gets home. If you mention the fact that he cooked dinner every night for years, he just shrugs. "Other women should stay home and cook. Your mom's a special lady, that's why I married her." The thing is, despite his claims to the contrary, he's not that closed-minded guy anymore. He's enlightened in so many ways and knows that his life is richer for it. And mom got someone to stay home and take care of things while she was off doing her thing. For all the things they wanted in life, they married the exact opposite person you would have come up with if you made a checklist on paper.

Once when going through some relationship troubles of my own, I asked Mom how she knew Dad was the one. Her reply was that she didn't know. "We gave it a shot, and it's worked so far. "He is not my best friend, he's not my soul-mate. He's my husband, and a damn good one, but I could still leave his ass if I wanted to." Dad says "Don't listen to your mom, she's crazy."

Together they've taught me one thing. Love is about choice. The "spark" that everyone seems to claim is the thing to look for in choosing a mate? How many times have you felt that spark? I've felt it quite a few times, I'm not married to any of those people. I'm GLAD I'm not married to any of those people. None of them were right for me. That spark doesn't get you through the things that you need to get through be with someone. I like the spark, but I'm not sure it's the best guide to finding a mate.

Thanks to my parents being together the way they are, I'm in my late 30's, single, and could care less about what's "supposed" to happen. If takes me until later in life to find what they have, i'm ok with that.

I also think our society's over emphasis on youth compels us to believe that you can't find and enjoy love at every stage of life, and that's just a load of crap.
posted by billyfleetwood at 7:53 PM on January 13, 2008 [11 favorites]

I tried living in the country, didn't like it after 4 years, and moved back to the city. Soon after, I met a potential date who briefly mentioned that he loved going to work on his country house on weekends and wanted to retire there.

Date the person. Don't worry about the details, at least not until things are MUCH more serious! If you meet the right person, your home will be where he is and vice versa. It won't tied to a place it will be tied to a person. Don't eliminate someone based on circumstancial details. My wife's sister fell head over heals with a guy in a band (a Grammy-nominated one), but broke up with him. To her, the band was a show-stopper: "It's either me or them" (for several solid reasons I won't go into). So she left. To her good fortune, he considered his options and picked her over the band. They have two kids together. He still plays live gigs to supplement his income as a school band teacher, but he isn't tied to the band and doesn't travel for the gigs. The point is that they both loved each other and so they compromised- he prioritized her over his musical career and she accepts that while there are no other women in his life, he does have a love for music. It sounds like it would be tough to work out, but they are one of the bestest couples I've ever seen.

My point is this- don't worry about circumstances; for the right person they sort themselves out. Your guy that had the country house may have had that as his dream only because he couldn't come up with a better dream. You could have been that dream. Or your dislike of the country might have stemmed from not having the right companionship.

The things that are important in a relationship, in my opinion, are values and communication. If you find someone with similar values you can talk to, the two of you can work out any number of sticky situations. Trust me, I know (married 23 years, still crazy about my wife despite many bumps along the way).

I think you need to talk to lonefrontranger a little more too....
posted by Doohickie at 7:55 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I married young, and it lasted for 20 years. It probably sounds like a solid enough marriage but we were miserable together. Obviously we tried to work it out, but it couldn't be worked out and after 20 years of yelling and screaming about it all, I finally came to the conclusion that we were better off separated. I'm now with someone I've totally fallen for, and I'm 40! I wasted all those years trying to make something work that wouldn't, no matter how hard I tried, when I could've had so much better.

That said, you can't just "begin the process of trying to fall in love." It just doesn't work that way. If it did, we wouldn't have a divorce rate. It's not an 'in your head' thing, like it sounds like you're hoping it will be. It just happens... like shit tends to do. Happily though this isn't as bad as that, though some feel like it is in the beginning. ;)

I did manage it, with all the bills, work and raising kids/teens. How? I just did. We met by pure accident, and became friends, then lovers and now this.

It just seems to happen when you least expect it. The idea here is to keep your options open. Don't let moments pass you by. If I had just let him introduce himself and move along, then I wouldn't be here today. Instead I batted my eye lashes and flirted a bit in a silly way, which he naturally liked, and then we began talking. It all went forward from there. Come to think of it, that's how I landed husband #1 too, by openly flirting.

Now about the whole love in the late 30's thing. Love is definitely different in this age, or at least it was for me. I too am set in my ways, I know what I want and what I don't want. However when I met my present husband, I didn't know a thing about him. I knew one thing, he lived all the way in California and I lived in Georgia. I had a good job, he had a good job. He was happy where he was living, and I was happy where I was living. It didn't seem remotely possible that we'd somehow find a way to be together, but we did.

As many here have said, the details really do work themselves out. The problem though is patience. It's not instant and in my case, it took 3-4 years to get us into the same household. Yet that was not the original goal. The original goal, if you can even call it a goal, was just to spend a little bit of time together, through travel or what have you. Yet as months passed, our feelings grew.

Compatibility isn't really an issue, in my opinion, either. I had plenty in common with my ex, but obviously that wasn't any help. The truth is that I could likely find enough compatibility in just about any man, but that's not what makes me love them. It's in how he treats me, and how I wish to treat him. Love is generally sacrificial in a lot ways, but I don't mean this in a negative manner either. Suddenly some things just aren't as important as I once thought they were. For example one day my ex-husband abruptly took up cooking and I was thrilled to be relieved of that gawd awful chore. I didn't think I'd ever want nor have to cook again, but this husband doesn't want to even touch a pot or pan. Now though, I happily do the cooking because both he loves my cooking and I enjoy making him happy.

As for this person that you're still in love with... There is nothing wrong with dating while you're healing. In fact, I think dating is the best way to heal. Dating is fairly good on the ego, as long as it's enjoyable on both sides. The fact that someone is attracted to you enough to go out with you is the first healing moment, then that someone enjoys your company and so forth. Just be sure to not compare the two people. Never compare. It doesn't work well when you do. Comparisons lead us to focus on shortcomings, rather than strong points.

I've droned on long enough and I now feel that I'm talking in circles. Just get out there, and see where things go. Date those you normally wouldn't have dated and see where things go. You might surprise yourself.
posted by magnoliasouth at 10:55 PM on January 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Try Single Volunteers of Boston. I met and dated several great women via the DC version of the group a few years back. I love the setup--equal numbers of single men and women sign up for a volunteer event. You spend a few hours doing something good. The group is already pretty self-selected--you're going to get only the type of person who likes to volunteer, and they're guaranteed to be single. You get to watch the various prospects for a couple of hours, maybe get to work next to them shoveling wood chips or serving meals or something. Then at the end, everyone goes out to eat. There's a lot of card and number exchanging, so it's easy to ask for someone's contact info, or you can wait until after the event and get an email address from the organizer. Worst-case scenario is that you've spent several hours doing something good.

The key--if you don't meet someone this weekend, turn around and sign up for something next weekend.

I was married for pretty much all my 20s, getting divorced in my early 30s, so I'd never dated as an adult. Single Volunteers was a perfect venue for me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:59 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I happen to share your theory about people fresh out of school being more-or-less blank slates, who can develop their tastes & preferences together, as opposed to older people who have become more set in what they like & dislike, and might therefore be more choosy about finding partners who share their lifestyle preferences.

However, I think it's important not to place too much importance on such things, as long as any that are strictly not-negotiable haven't been violated (eg you absolutely want children & he absolutely doesn't). Anything beyond those not-negotiable preferences can be an opportunity for each of you to experience something new & different, rather than being seen as indicators of incompatible personalities.

Since you mentioned restaurants, maybe I could use that as an example. My eating preferences are either for home-cooked meals, or else ethnic food, so long as it's from cheap & authentic restaurants that cater mostly to people of that ethnicity, and I'll go out of my way to explore Vietnamese or Lebanese or Turkish or whatever suburbs to find such places. Fancy five-star gourmet dining has never had that much appeal for me. However, if I met somebody who was really into degustation menus & expensive vintage wines from top restaurants, instead of seeing that as a limitation, the better option would be to see if I could introduce them to the stuff I enjoy, and in return I could get to experience the fancy schmancy stuff. Maybe it would work, maybe not, but I'd at least give it a try. As somebody said upthread, who wants to date a carbon copy of themselves?

Try to bear in mind also that tastes are just tastes, and you might find that those kinds of issues fade away into relative insignificance if you meet somebody with awesome personal qualities. Then you might just compromise a bit, and visit your favourite restaurants when they're out of town or something. It's not like you should - or even can - do absolutely *everything* together.

Other than that, what everybody else said.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:25 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

You seem to have the idea that you can only fall in love when you're naive, that superficial incompatibilities will doom a relationship (the real incompatibilities tend to be more amorphous - how much you argue, how willing you are to try new things or move in new directions etc), and that 'true love' should strike in an instant - a thunderbolt.
While I have my own problems with love, I don't think any of these are even mostly true, or positive viewpoints to hold.

In short, be willing and open to falling in like, before you fall in love.

And maybe read Pride & Prejudice?
posted by Elysum at 9:43 PM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

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