by Lauren Szilagyi

Why is dating in midlife so weird?  Is it because we are not as “hot” as we once were?  I admit, I’ve fallen for the outer man more times that I’d like to admit. Could it be as simple as we are just rusty after decades not being in the game?  All of us midlife daters know how vulnerable it feels to toss your outdated self into the arena of love. How do you greet said date?  Shaking hands seems so all business and hugging someone you’ve never laid eyes on feels so fake. There isn’t a prep class or guidebook and who knows what to wear. It’s all so freakishly awkward. Is there a way to make dating, do I dare say, fun again?

It seems to me that even though times have changed, we all grew up in the same era. Maybe I’m a baby buster but so is the date watching me pay for my coffee or agreeing to let me split the bill. This was unheard of when we were in our 20’s. I’m just as modern as Melania but don’t ask me to change when it comes to chivalry. The times seem to have “liberated” women to not allow men to be in control, thus “liberating” men to remain noncommittal even to holding the door. I’ve been told my views are antiquated and was not prepared to negotiate these new gender roles when I began dating.

I did expect that certain things would have run their course by fifty. Things like social ineptness. “Oh, you’re still in love with your last flame and you’re dating other women, me included, to get over her. Of course I understand.”  What just happened to my spine?  Men tell me how seemingly nice women turn mean and lash out at them instead of talking to them about issues, leaving them hurt and confused. OK girls, we can do better. It all feels so chaotic and adolescent. Has anything changed over the past forty years?  Is there a way to redeem all this?  Beneath the surface there is something more going on.

At the core of this disconnect I see people with decades of brokenness that wasn’t possible to have sustained in their twenties. The rejection of divorce, grief of loosing a spouse to death, anxiety over children growing up in a single parent home, financial struggles shouldered alone and watching dreams vanish can damage our souls. Do these years of single brokenness need to be embedded in our hearts like shrapnel affecting each new romance?  Is it possible to reconnect without fear?

From my “vast experience” of four years in the dating world, now considering myself a professional dater, I’ve seen brokenness manifest itself in several ways. Most commonly it turns its victim into a regurgitator.  Over the time it takes to finish a Starbucks, I’ve heard all about the exes and their evil intent to ruin “innocent” lives. This information is unsolicited. Being a hard core Yankee at heart, I’m not a therapist for a reason and am working on a strategy to stop these upchuck sessions. I know women who after years can still speak of nothing but the sins of their ex. I tell them that even if their ex was an axe murderer, they need to stop talking about it. Forward momentum can never occur otherwise.  Let’s all move on to sunnier beaches where the ex’s aren’t swimming.

Conversely, there is the Teflon dater. “Oh, the divorces, no big deal. God works all things for good, no hard feelings.”  What, are you alive?  Anyone who has gone through divorce knows the heartache that follows. These wounds need counseling and self-examination to heal. In my mind, the regurgitators and the teflons shouldn’t be dating. Maybe I’ll create a questionnaire to assess dating readiness. Only during the past year would I have passed this test. Yes, we’re all broken but these responses are red flags of bad brokenness.

I want good brokenness that offers a chance for healthy relationship. Recently, I had the good fortune to experience this with a Starbucks date. What I learned about his former marriage I solicited. He raised his children alone but many years later, the man sipping Starbucks across from me is happy and loves Jesus. The unfair hand that he was dealt led him to start a men’s group, encouraging them in their Christian walks. Apparently these men go through boxes of tissues at meetings. Wow, who knew that happened?  Instead of feeling covered with bitterness, I walked away from this date in awe with hope. Yes, he ordered and paid for my coffee.

This good brokenness is something beautiful to behold. This date projected joy and peacefulness. He laughed easily at himself and told uplifting stories. I heard insightful questions sent my way. I felt like I was a whole person, not someone from the ex’s club. I left curious, wanting to know more about him. We are all responsible to bring our stories of redemption to the dating world, becoming more compassionate and lovely because of pain and loss. Our scars can be badges of strength. This brokenness is a powerful gift we have to offer in midlife.

I want to be a breath of life to the Starbuckers I meet, so dates walk away not feeling sympathy for me but encouraged by a life reflecting Jesus. Sharing my past from a healed present, I am becoming more authentic. Midlife dating has turned into a platform to shine my new life of unashamed brokenness. With my focus shifted, the “hotness criteria” now includes discovering how brokenness has worked in my date’s life. This is my evaluation of a healthy heart. I see Jesus sitting at Starbucks with me, calling me to speak truth with grace and gently listen to others. This perspective has removed much of the weirdness and is turning coffee into holy grounds.

Lauren lives in Ashburn, Virginia were she writes about the adventures of her life with authenticity and humor. She has one grown son and annually participates in medical mission trips to developing countries. Lauren works as a Nurse Practitioner specializing in Wound Care and Travel Medicine.

Cover photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash