dating through the decades

I am now 53 and have been divorced since 2002. Finding myself single again in my late 30s after being in a relationship for nearly 20 years was interesting, to say the least. We now have mobile phones and the Internet to add to the mix. Fast forward another 14 years and the dating world has changed even more. Here is a potted history based on my experiences of dating through the decades.

The 1980s: The landline age

I met my first serious boyfriend in 1980 when I was 17. We had met on a trip and lived on opposite sides of London. In between seeing each other, we communicated by phone or letter. And that was a landline phone. There were no answerphones either. Well, they may have just been coming in but not many people had them. So if no one was in, you had to try again later. If a boy asked for your number then you knew he was genuinely interested because he would probably have to get past your father first! We couldn’t always speak for long because telephone bills were charged per minute, no inclusive call times. Some of my friends did not even have landline phones so we had to go round to each others’ houses and speak in person. Imagine that!

The whole pace of life was slower back then. You met people in real life. If a boy liked you he would come and talk to you or ask you to dance. There was no hurry to jump into bed together: we would start with friendship and a bit of snogging. There were personal ads in newspapers but that was mostly for older people. When my first boyfriend went to university we ended our relationship but we remained good friends. We still wrote to each other regularly and there were no hard feelings. Our lives were going in different directions. I did stop writing to him when I got married because it did not feel right. That is something I have regretted to this day.

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The 2000s: The Internet age

I was married all through the 1990s and in 2002 I was single again. I met someone on a night out. Pretty much the same as 20 years earlier, only now we had mobile phones. Texting was exciting. It felt very personal and intimate and you could keep a connection at all times of the day, even at work.

That relationship ended after a year and I was heartbroken. I had just turned 40 too and was not in a good place emotionally as I was going through a difficult divorce. Somehow I discovered online dating. It was very exciting – all these single men living in the same town as me! I entered into the spirit of it and had some good fun. It was all still fairly innocent too. There were no expectations which I liked. You started by messaging and if it fizzles out, as many of them didn’t, you would probably exchange mobile numbers. It felt safe as there was a certain anonymity. You might then arrange a date, have a nice evening out and be honest if you felt that there was no chemistry. I made a couple of good friends too. There were a few horrors but most of the men I met were decent ordinary guys.

I did eventually meet someone online and we went out for nearly 2 years. However, he was not over his previous relationship and I made the mistake of thinking that by being with me he would let go of his ex and fall in love. There were no hard feelings this time and we parted amicably.

A couple of months later I signed up to a dating site again and a few weeks later met someone I clicked with. We dated for a few months and then he had to move to another part of the country for his work. By now I was 42 and realized I had been in and out of relationships pretty much since I was 17! It dawned on me that a man would never make me happy and I had to learn to be happy on my own. I also decided that I wanted to go back to the old-fashioned methods and meet someone in the ‘real world’. I also wanted to build up a friendship first. I wasn’t sure how that would work, especially as most men I knew were married. I was running my own business by now and did a lot of networking so I was confident I would meet someone eventually.

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I did meet someone about 6 months later via a mutual friend. However, that was online originally too. I had made friends with some people on a teachers’ forum (when I was teaching). We used to chat regularly on MSN. I suppose this was the precursor to things like WhatsApp, but you had to be on a computer to do it. We also met up a few times. He was separated but not yet over his ex-wife so that never came to anything.

The 2010s: The mobile app age

Apart from a brief relationship lasting just under a year, I have been single pretty much all the time since then. It has been a time for reflection and getting to know myself. As I approached my 50s I knew that I wanted to meet someone I could settle down and grow old with. I did not really think about men, other than as friends, very much.

I became interested in Buddhism and meditation. As a result, I slowly started to realize that what I wanted did matter and learned to love and accept myself. I also allowed myself to heal from past hurts and abuse. I accepted that the problem was not that there weren’t any decent me available out there but rather that I had been with a lot of arseholes because I had allowed them to be.

Then men started to notice me again. And better quality ones this time. In the last year, I have been on a few dates. They have all been with men who have some association with my past (not exes though). I had been feeling sad when I saw friends with long and happy marriages since they were in their 20s or 30s because I knew I could never have that. I could see that they had a much deeper relationship because they have grown up together. I had got back in contact with some old friends after my ex-husband’s death and realized that a connection with the past was important to me. It was easy to pick up from where we had left off, even if it had been 20 years or more. There was no need to try and impress them, they already knew my background and I theirs.

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The Internet has had its part to play because we have reconnected via social media. I am not sure if it would have happened otherwise. Maybe it’s an age thing but apps such as Tinder leave me cold. The idea of dismissing someone because you don’t like their picture seems very superficial to me. That said though, I know some of my friends’ children have met their partners through these apps but I suspect these are in a small minority.

Dating through the decades has changed and the Internet has widened our scope for potential partners enormously. However, we have to be careful not to become overwhelmed. Often what we are looking for has been there all along. Take time to get to know yourself and what you want in a partner and a relationship. Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling and heal from past hurts before moving into another relationship situation. I believe the old-fashioned methods are the best and used wisely the Internet can enhance our means of communication. And above all, never settle. I have learned the hard way too many times!

Image: flickr

Helen is a leadership coach and mindfulness trainer. She is worldly-wise and knows a thing or two about dating.

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