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Flames of romance mean something different for singles at 40

If you're in the same boat as me (single, middle-aged and relatively certain that the best date you ever had took place in the '80s), you know that dating after 40 is more painful than being Trump's etiquette advisor.

Holiday parties bring awkward pairings with random singles found by attached friends

You just might get burned by the flames of romance, Jo Davies writes about looking for love when you're in your 40s. (Eloy Alonso/Reuters)

A meme making the rounds on social media reads as follows: "Dating over 40 is just like riding a bicycle. Only the bicycle is on fire. And the ground is on fire. Everything is on fire. Because you are in hell."

If that little piece of wisdom gave you a giggle, you probably also enjoy videos of people walking into walls and falling off ladders. I get it: pain is funny, as long as it's someone else's.

Dating over 40 is just like riding a bicycle. Only the bicycle is on fire. And the ground is on fire. Everything is on fire. Because you are in hell- Internet meme

But if you're in the same boat as me (single, middle-aged and relatively certain that the best date you ever had took place in the '80s), you know that dating after 40 is more painful than being Trump's etiquette advisor. 

It's odd out here in Singlesville, especially at this time of year. Most of the world is coupled up and hunkered down at endless Christmas cocktail parties and family gatherings (also known as "purgatory with a side of cranberry sauce").

Flying solo is not only more noticeable, but more awkward, as it usually means getting lumped together with random singles for the duration.

I can't depend on being set up with suitable single men by well-meaning friends: they're all happily married. I have to rely on dating websites to meet potential partners.

The upside? I don't even have to get off my couch to go on a blind date.

It's a far cry from the "old days," when my options included: a) going to the bar, hoping against hope that my soulmate would materialize before Stairway to Heaven; or b) sitting home by the phone, waiting for That Guy to call. God bless cellphones. At least now I can go out.

Kidding!

List of challenges

However, dating at this (ahem) advanced stage of life brings its own set of challenges:

  1. Convenience: Yes, online dating is convenient. The flipside is that connections formed faster than lightning tend to disappear just as quickly. Ghost, anyone?
  2. Fewer men: After 40, men become scarcer, and that's not just insecurity talking. Statistics show that men's mortality rates outstrip women's. The dating pool is getting shallower by the year. 
  3. Children: Young people do not appreciate the idea of their parent looking for love. To quote my teenage sons: "GROSS!"
  4. Time pressure: It's tough finding time to date when you both have full-time jobs, kids to ferry around and elderly parents who need assistance. D-Day was easier to co-ordinate. 
  5. Cynicism: By now, my tolerance level for baloney is somewhere around ankle-level. Where once I might have made allowances for a less-than-ideal match, now it's all I can do not to grill my date like he's the star witness in a murder trial, in order to see if we have potential as a couple.
  6. Sex: Getting intimate with a new partner is now far less like a magic show (Ta-Da!) and more like a strategic reveal of a "Before" picture. 'Nuff said.
  7. Creep factor: People whom I would never normally meet in "real life" can approach me online, including men young enough to be my children. (Say it with me: EW.) In addition, the internet is the perfect place for people to misrepresent themselves and/or their intentions.
  8. Priorities: By middle age, you've (hopefully) reached a point where having a partner is a choice rather than a necessity. Dating tends to take a backseat to a host of other things (raising your children to be decent human beings, contributing to society, furthering your career, travelling). On a bad day, it now falls somewhere below cleaning the toilet and above a root canal. Barely. 

Despite the challenges of dating after 40, there's a distinct appeal to being in love and experiencing the thrill of a new relationship.

The chance at a fresh start is an intoxicating hope, especially when you're at an age when new opportunities might seem few and far between. Ideally, you've been through enough to be able to appreciate how precious it is to find a genuine connection with someone, and will act accordingly. 

Case in point: I met a woman recently who, having overheard my latest dating horror story, confessed that she had been in my shoes at one time.

Middle-aged and divorced with three grown daughters, she despaired of ever finding someone to share her life. After a series of awkward first dates and frustrating online interactions, she had pretty much given up on dating and decided to focus on herself.

She took up a new hobby, joined a group of people who enjoyed the same things she did. She rediscovered herself.

Strangely, it was when she stopped looking for Mr. Right that he happened along. After a year of dating, they have been living together since summer and are very happy. 

Sounds positively heavenly.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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