What it’s really like navigating online dating in mid-life

What it’s really like navigating online dating in mid-life

“I’d love to meet up,” he said. “But I’m still living with my wife.”

After 15 years in a de facto relationship, I was thrown into the wild frontier of mid-life dating – a digital playground of filters and lies, hopes, friendships and unique encounters.

Dating in mid-life is not uncommon. According to eHarmony, there are more than 4.6 million single people in Australia aged over 40.

I once met a man with a cleaning fetish. And a bitter divorcee with his ex’s wedding dress on full display. And an academic opera singer who brought a back pack with red wine into the cinema. And a bloke living on a bus.

There’s a panic that sets in with mature-age daters. We’re running out of time! The challenges are endless. But it’s a mindset shift.

Remember phone numbers written in lipstick on the back of beer coasters? Sexy dancing in stretch jeans? Awkward hellos on answering machines? Back then we didn’t have mortgages and kids and pelvic floor issues.

Dating in mid-life is a process that demands vulnerability, a willingness to adapt, and the courage to put yourself out there. And there’s a paradox of choice. The categories are endless. But more options doesn’t mean better outcomes.

What about profiles? Be natural, they say. Look energetic. Show travel shots. Don’t use your best photo. Surprise them. But be authentic. That’s like the undies I saw hanging over the bath in one man’s photos. Or another one that said: “I am fat and ugly but I will make you laugh”.

Mid-life individuals may carry baggage from past relationships, including divorce, the loss of a partner and substance issues. Online dating provides a platform for these individuals to explore new relationships, while addressing past wounds and apprehensions. Navigating this landscape calls for honesty and a willingness to give oneself and potential partners second chances.

Men are lonely. They don’t have the tribal networks of women, to share and laugh and cry through these new realities. I have made some friendships with fellas who just want to talk and have a pizza.

Never look desperate book cover

Never Look Desperate by Rachel Matthews.

In my new novel, Never Look Desperate, I feature Bernard, aged 48, who lives alone in an apartment in Melbourne’s CBD. He feels like a disappointment to women. He believes that when they sleep with him, it’s out of pity. He fumbles with the apps, chatting and photo sharing.

For those who weren’t exposed to online dating during their younger years, technology presents new learning curves. Navigating apps, grasping online etiquette, and getting the right angle to reduce double chins on Zoom are like preparations for job interviews.

And the bedroom becomes a kind of truth or dare game. There’s stretch marks and pot bellies; snoring like a bandsaw; a new lacy bra from Kmart, but with support wire; Spandex; hot flushes mistaken for arousal; nose hair.

Ageism is still a battle. One man from the outer suburbs of Melbourne said he did not reveal to younger women that he’d had the snip. “In case they want to get pregnant,” he said. “I just keep it quiet”.

Unrealistic beauty standards absorb the internet and media more than ever. Look younger, the ads say. How did the world decide that the Kardashians, famous for their butts, should get more hits online then Sir David Attenborough?

I read recently that a skinny look is back. There are pressures on men too: be gym-fit, cut out carbs, and moisturise. These unrealistic expectations fuel the vulnerability of older daters. We’re afraid of looking our age.

Is there an upside? Some later-life romancers said they have more freedom to choose the right person. Their kids have grown up, they know what they want, and the Nutella jar is full. They are wiser and can empathise with the pain of separation.

So, what do people want? From my conversations with men, women and the queer community, physical intimacy with someone you like is a delicious escape, regardless of your age. But we still need to be understood. We still want to hold someone’s hand; to have that person who will pull glass out of your foot. Respect and kindness are paramount.

Six years on, I met someone who buried my 19-year-old cat in his front yard, with daffodils and little solar lights. He is kind to my family and makes me laugh.

Mid-life dating is confronting but liberating. Be discerning, and enjoy the new you.

Rachel Matthews

This article was written by Rachel Matthews.

Rachel is a Melbourne-based lecturer, teacher and author. Her latest book Never Look Desperate is available now. Purchase a copy here.