Dating in your mid-30s is a mixed bag at best and a minefield at worst.
People who are single and unmarried at this age tend to either be a) going through a divorce, b) in a state of perpetual childhood, or c) hung up on an ex. Often they are all three at once.
I wrote recently about a promising guy (let’s call him J) I had begun to date. He was cute, charming, older, 4 years divorced and very, very past that relationship. He’d had one other long term relationship in the past 4 years but that too was very over, according to him. We were attracted and had a blast every time we were together, which was quite frequently over the course of several weeks. We talked everyday and texted sweet, flirty messages non-stop. It was fun and romantic and butterflies, all the beginning good things to a relationship.
After three weeks of dating, J asked me to ‘go steady’ and date exclusively. He called me his girlfriend and while I wondered if we might be moving too fast, I was open and willing to keep exploring what we had with this level of commitment and intention. We’re both older so why not date seriously? See where this thing could go?
Then a couple of weeks later … a bomb went off. His ex showed up. The ex-girlfriend, not ex-wife. Apparently she had sensed that he was dating someone and wound up on his doorstep, begging him for another chance. Which left J with a decision … continue to take a risk with an unknown (me) or go back to what he had previously known and had loved very much at one time (her).
He opted for the latter. And while it hurt when he told me, I understood and was grateful he ended things with me swiftly and honestly. We’d only been together a short amount of time and he had a longer history with this woman… albeit a very toxic and co-dependent one (according to him). However, if someone isn’t over their past, there is no way they can ever be ready for a new future. No matter how hopeful and promising that future might look.
I was hurt and a little upset, mostly at how he had rushed things emotionally while he clearly still had lingering feelings for someone else. But then I realized … how could I be angry at him when I had been there too, the year and a half after I had my heart broken?
I have written about this many times but after I endured a painful breakup with the man I was wildly and deeply in love with, I was an absolute wreck. And I dated a lot of men.
I tried so hard to move past that breakup, but I did it in all the wrong ways. I wanted to leap into something new, with everything I had, so I could distract myself from thoughts of the relationship – and the man – that crushed my heart. It was completely unfair to anyone I dated that year. I should’ve sat with my grief for longer, I should’ve stayed single and alone until my heart had healed, and I definitely shouldn’t have dated … but I did. And because I wasn’t healed from my past, I was an emotional wrecking ball, just crashing my way through the men I attempted to build a connection with during that year.
Luckily, the men were savvy enough to see my wounds clearly for what they were. And they were gentle with me, even while I was combusting on a semi-regular basis.
I thought of this when J told me about his desire to get back with his ex. He too had done what I had done. He was rushing things with me in order to forget the pain of his previous relationship ending. He had laid it on thick with me … talking about future plans, promising things he shouldn’t or couldn’t promise … because if he’d been truly honest with himself and with me, he would’ve admitted he wasn’t over his ex.
And there it is … that elusive ticking time bomb. The ex factor.
It got me to thinking … how many people are out there just like this? Unsure of their own feelings and emotions while jumping from extreme to extreme in relationships … these emotional wrecking balls looking for love and a future, while gripping so tightly to the past? Unable to admit that they’re honestly still hoping and longing for the ex to show up and rectify their pain .. while in the meantime, soothing their aches temporarily with anyone (un)lucky enough to cross their paths?
It may not be fair, but I don’t think it’s intentional … and it is definitely relatable.
I wrote before that it’s likely impossible to completely ‘clean up your mess’ before embarking on a new relationship, but perhaps the one thing you MUST address is the issue of your feelings with your ex. Sure, you might always have a soft spot for a particular person … even if you know you probably shouldn’t be together. That seems normal … and honestly at this age, it’s unlikely I will meet someone who hasn’t been powerfully moved by another person, who hasn’t been in love and had their heart broken. But … I think it’s fair to ask that you’ve at least addressed any lingering feeling and/or hope that you might have regarding that person.
I too learned this one the hard way. I wanted so badly for my new future to begin, dating really great guy after really great guy, but how could it … when in my heart I was longing for the one who broke it – Andy – to come back?
I was bummed when it ended with J and I, though grateful it happened sooner rather than later, but there was a silver lining to this experience. It’s clear I’ve made substantial progress in this last year and J showed me that. For starters, even though I was cautious and worried about how fast we were moving, I realized I was truly present with him. I was ready and open to explore what we could be. No comparison to past relationships or past love. No thoughts of my past really. Just enjoying him and us for what we were with an openness for what we could be. No fear.
This is huge progress for me! My previous attempts at opening up for a relationship involved me self-sabotaging. I would panic and run and freakout. I would compare how they treated me to how I had felt in the relationship with Andy. During that tumultuous time, I became accustomed to a rollercoaster of emotion — feelings of great love mixed with frequent feelings of rejection. I was used to an unavailable man, both physically and emotionally. So to have someone be present and available honestly triggered a fear response in me for a long, long time. But it didn’t with J. I may not have been sure of what we would become, but I was ready to figure it out.
On top of that I actually did start to ‘clean up my mess’. Ok, ok, so I still haven’t done the floors (for SHAME) but I do have a cleaning lady coming … but that’s not even what I was referring to. I finally parted with some things from my past relationship that I needed to get rid of a long time ago. It was really freeing for me. I still kept one or two mementos, because even though Andy broke my heart, he was also an important part of my personal growth and it’s ok to be reminded of that. But they don’t hold the meaning they used to, they don’t elicit the same emotional response. Quite frankly, they are just reminders of my strength and growth … and of a season in my life that was full of love, totally imperfect but completely wonderful in it’s own way.
I wasn’t sure what true longterm potential was there between J and I. To begin with, it was brand new, so there’s just no way to know. Add to that there were a few orange flags (I hijacked this concept from Natalie Lue of Baggage Reclaim). Orange flags (or code ambers) mean proceed with caution. They aren’t do-not-pursue-further signs, but rather take-some-time-to-decide signs. But I was ready to figure all this out, to take the time to see how compatible we may or may not be. I wasn’t running at the slightest issue.
This. Is. Progress.
However all of it was rendered null and void because J was hiding his own little ticking time bomb, his lingering hope for the past. His ex-factor.
And this has proven what I have honestly known for quite some time. You cannot move forward into your glorious, happy, hopeful future if you have any emotional desire for the past. You don’t have to hate your past, you don’t have to be enemies with it … but you do have to be certain that your hope, your love, your dreams lie in the wild, unknown future and not in the past.
And it’s ok if you’re not in that place yet, it’s ok if you’re not over your ex. These things take time, believe me. It’s normal if you still have feelings and a longing for what once was, but word to the wise … you should probably resolve those feelings before crashing into someone else’s life with your time-bomb waiting to go off.
It feels good to know that my heart is ready. Ready and open for what may come. J showed me that I’m in a different place … finally. Emotionally I feel … lighter, happier, free. Ready and hopeful for my wild, unknown future.
And for the first time in a long time, I can honestly say that my ex is not a factor for me.