Why has dating men in my 50s been such a dire experience? | Ask Philippa

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The Guardian

The question I’m a 54-year-old woman, divorced for three years. My experience of men for this time has been pretty awful. I feel used and played. I want to ask you about the role mobile phones play in relationships, particularly how they can be used to maybe allow people to cheat. When I was in my 20s, they didn’t exist and communication between me and my then-husband was straightforward and I really did trust him. It’s only since divorce that I have come across such horrible behaviour. Is this something to do with my age group? It seems that men my age think it’s OK to treat women like sweets in a shop, not giving any care about feelings after initially pledging very convincingly that they do. The last one, who I thought was all right, lied about being supportive and used me to help him through some kind of breakdown, then feeling much better went away on a cycling holiday and slept with someone he met, telling me quite proudly about it and his plans to take that forward. What’s going on? What’s wrong with me and what do I need to learn please, as I feel lost with this? My foray into internet dating has been so dire that I’m reluctant to try again. Is there any hope for women around my age?

Philippa’s answer Let’s start with the most important thing – there’s nothing wrong with you. There isn’t anything wrong with mobile phones either, nor even is there anything wrong with most men. Beware of charm, smarm and promises and rely more on watching how someone behaves. I’ve got no rules about whether or not to sleep with someone before you’ve got to know them, but don’t do it if you expect faithfulness to follow and will be hurt if it doesn’t.

Re-entering the market for love in mid-life is multifaceted. The people – including you – will be more complicated characters than you were in your 20s with complex histories and the problems that go with them. You may also be more likely to be lonely and therefore more vulnerable. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any hope. There is plenty of hope.

It seems easier to fall into relationships when we are younger; we try out more new things and bump into more single people. When we are older, going out is more of an effort, we tend to be more set in our ways and some flexibility of attitude may be lost. I think it may be more difficult for two older people to form a strong attachment, as young people in couples can mature together. But when you get together at an older age you’ve already formed so you can expect bonding to be a more complex process. But it is far from impossible.

Thinking about that man who you helped get through his breakdown, because you had helped him, he was probably feeling understood and therefore had more confidence. It seems he took your attention as generously given rather than realising he was meant to reciprocate. Maybe he mistakenly thought you’d be delighted for him! The other thing he was doing was having a shared experience on his cycling holiday with new friends so they had something other than dating to connect them.

And this is the main problem with internet dating or a blind dates – these dates start without the foundation of shared experience. There isn’t much to bond over when your experience with them is just having a coffee, or even just having sex. But when you work alongside people, or belong to the same group, then such a relationship might have a more solid foundation than only having loneliness in common. Loneliness is crippling and we may reach out to the internet to appease it – but the potential companions there may also be lonely. Loneliness might even make you lower your standards, so seek groups of people to join rather than looking for one other person to appease loneliness.

Lots of potential companions are out there and everyone is in a different psychological space, entering the fray with a different set of attitudes and wanting different things. You’ve been hurt and I’m sorry, but it isn’t because there is anything wrong with you. It’s because you may have had different expectations and assumptions about the relationships and encounters you’ve had so far. You’ve been hurt and I’m sorry. I expect you have been open with the men you’ve met and that means you are doing things right because if you’re not open, you wouldn’t be giving yourself a chance.

Have as much joy and connection as you can get into your life. Join everything. Use your spare time to do what you find satisfying. When somebody worthy next shows up, check out your and their assumptions about life, sex and companionship then compare and contrast. Expect setbacks, expect time to pass before you find what you want, but remember there are good people on your wavelength in the world. You are more likely to find each other when you are doing what you love and enjoy.

If you have a question, send a brief email to askphilippa@observer.co.uk

July 24, 2022 at 10:51AM Philippa Perry

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