illustration of lady interested in dating and two male faces covered with hearts
Shannon Wright
Shannon Wright
We Time

The New Rules for Dating After 40

You’ve evolved. So should your single life, say sisters who’ve met great mates. Plus: Pro tips on how to find and keep good love.

If he wasn’t tall, bald, bearded and big, a 50-year-old friend I’ll call Belinda wasn’t giving him the time of day. “It wasn’t until I was around 44 that I decided to date a man who wasn’t those things,” she told me. “When I opened up my dating pool, I met interesting men with agendas in line with my own.”

Dating is a challenge for just about everyone. But shopping for a partner in midlife requires a different strategy and mindset, say relationship experts. By now, single sisters know what they want — and don’t want. But Black women in their 40s, 50s and beyond who have had great dates and met great mates say their willingness to leave their comfort zones and explore made the difference. “Sisters” talked to some of them and to dating experts. We gathered their best tips:

Look in the mirror and love who you see.
The woman smiling back at you? She’s stylish, she takes good care of herself and she radiates warmth and satisfaction. Create and maintain the lifestyle and self-care habits that make it so. “Prepare yourself for a person coming into your life,” says licensed psychologist Monica T. Campbell. “When you’re confident, you’re at your most attractive.”

Treat yourself as you’d like your mate to treat you.
So you didn’t get what you wanted out of a past relationship. Don’t approach a new one from that feeling of lack. Whether it’s giving yourself fresh flowers or amazing orgasms, show up feeling fulfilled. Most important, let go of anger or betrayal so you can embrace good loving. Shatika Revis, 46, has been dating since her divorce nine years ago. She feels positive about the possibilities she’s opened herself to. “You have to love yourself first. Take yourself out to the movies, go out with friends, stay positive,” she says.

Envision your future family.
You may or may not want children at this stage. That’s something to think about — but not to stress about. Families take many forms. Tia Bennet, 43, is dating, but if Prince Charming doesn’t come along, she’s prepared. “Looking back, I passed up on some good suitors in my late 20s and early 30s because I was focused on my career, traveling and just doing me. Then when I was ready, those suitors had moved on and the options became fewer and far between,” she says. “Now I’m creating my own happy ending. I’ve recently explored becoming a ‘Choice Mom.’ I can always meet a man, but my window to have my own child is closing. I froze my eggs years ago and am considering IVF via donor sperm.”

Trust your gut.
After only nine months of dating, a 48-year-old sister I’ll call Kimberly married a man in his late 30s. She ended up supporting him when he couldn’t keep a job. She admits she’d always known something wasn’t right with him but his good looks and charm clouded her judgment. A year later, after discovering he was cheating on her when he was supposed to be looking for work, she divorced him. “If it doesn’t feel right in the gut, it’s usually not right,” she warns other sisters.

At this stage in life, when the fortunate among us are financially stable, it becomes even more important to protect the gains we’ve worked so hard for. To protect your heart (and your hard-earned cash), consider running a background check on serious suitors. Google, public records, your state’s sex offender registry and sites such as beenverified.com or instantcheckmate.com are good places to start. And if something concerns you, don't dismiss it.

Realize it’s a numbers game.
#Truth. “We’re so quick to lock ourselves into one man that we forget that dating is a competition, with the best rising to the top,” says LaDawn Black, a relationship expert, author and media personality. “Just because you’re dating several men does not mean you’re sleeping with them all. Men often don’t commit to one person until there is a ring in play. Why give one man your all when he hasn’t [yet] demonstrated that you’re the one?” Yes, there’s a gender double standard here, which is why Tina Miles*, 43, remains discrete. (It’s a good idea to share dating activity with a close girlfriend, as a safety measure). She dated seven men, some consecutively, last summer (Go ahead, girl!). “Each person I’ve dated has brought a different experience and something different to the table,” she says.

Check in early and often regarding expectations.
Just do so in casual conversation. A key to playing that numbers game is being open with each prospect about whether you intend to be exclusive and whether or not his or her intention is the same. If there are others, be up front about it. How many others? That’s your business. “While one brother commented that I had a harem, everyone else understood,” says a girlfriend who decided to leave serial monogamy behind as her 40th birthday drew near. “The dude who complained turned out to be a guy who dated an army of women himself and wasn’t interested in settling down,” she adds. Now happily married, she says deciding against casual sex during this phase was the right decision for her because her future husband understood that she values intimacy linked with commitment.

App-ly yourself.
Apps such as Plenty of Fish, Black People Meet, Match, Zoosk and BLK can be good places to start a conversation with a potential mate. “Pay for quality vehicles for more screening and better matchups, and accept the profile design help and tips that apps/sites offer,” Black advises. And you don’t have to limit yourself to one; Miles, for example, maintains profiles on multiple sites.

Check the right boxes.
Campbell warns, “Women should set their standards high for personal qualities that are really important, like honesty, commitment and stability. But [they] shouldn’t get caught up with what they think a partner should look like [and whether a date fits the mold]. This person may actually be the person God has intended for you. You have to be open so that you don’t miss new opportunities.” Also consider dates who may be of a different age, ethnicity, nationality or faith.

My girlfriend Belinda married a wonderful man last summer. She told me, "he's different from everyone else I ever dated." First of all, he’s medium height and slim. But he's also sweet and successful. He satisfies her emotionally and physically. "He pursued me in a way no other man had. It wasn't about having a pretty woman on his arm, or about a sexual conquest," she says. "He wanted me. He wanted us. All of his actions, from the very beginning until now, are proof of that." Though happily married, she asked me not to use her name because she and her hubby are very private. But Belinda’s bliss is obvious to those who know her well. And we couldn't be happier that in the end, she won big at this game called love.

* Name has been changed

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illustration of lady interested in dating and two male faces covered with hearts
Shannon Wright