Dating is never easy. Figuring out ways to meet new people, knowing the right things to say, and deciphering the best methods to impress a potential mate can be confusing and overwhelming. While I count myself lucky that I haven’t been on the market for several years (I swear I’m not rubbing it in), many of my friends have become increasingly frustrated by how difficult dating is, especially after 30. But what makes dating after 30 different from dating in your 20s? Turns out, there’s a lot. I spoke to dating and relationship experts as well as women who are navigating dating after 30 to find out what’s so different and how to make it easier.
The dating pool is smaller
According to the Pew Research Center, the average age for marriage in the United States in 2011 was 27 for women and 29 for men, so by the time we hit 30 a lot of our friends and potential mates are already in committed relationships. This means that the dating pool after 30 isn’t quite what it used to be.
“The dating pool has shrunk by 30, with more of your peers in long-term relationships or marriages, and with your social circle feeling smaller,” said eHarmony’s Chief of Advice Jeannie Assimos. “This is when dating services come in handy, to find the others that are available and ready to date.”
Laura Ryan, a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified hypnotherapist, and certified Imago Relationship Therapist agreed. “Many eligible men have now gotten married or are in long term relationships because nesting and settling down is something that starts to happen in your late 20s and people begin to marry and have children in their 30s,” she said. “Your pool of girlfriends also shrinks because many of them are now married and/or have children, so they are less inclined to want to go out for half-price Margaritas with you on a Tuesday.” With fewer potential partners to choose from and no wing woman, things can be a little tough.
Your goals are different
After 30, many experts agree that women are more interested in commitment than ever before. “Several of the women I’m currently working with report that they’ve set specific timelines for potential relationships. They expect to discuss living together after nine months of dating and want to get engaged within 18 months,” said Dr. Jess O’Reilly, Astroglide’s resident sexologist. “I often caution against these time-based goals, but ultimately, they’re the experts in their own relationships.”
Rhonda Milrad, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of the relationship app Your Sage, agreed, telling me that after 30, people are looking for a life partner. “Up until this time, your priorities have been career and experiencing life, and you weren’t interested in settling down. You did not feel the pressure to start thinking about what city you wanted to end up in and the age by which you wanted to have your first kid,” Milrad said. “Now, in your 30s, priorities are changing, biological realities are setting in and your focus is to find someone with whom you can build a life and have children.”
Your brain is different too
It isn’t just that the dating pool is smaller after 30, it’s also that your brain has literally changed since you were 21 and sidling up to the hottie at the bar.
“Brain development is the primary reason dating after 30 is so different,” said David Ezell, the clinical director at Darien Wellness. “Cognitive development is done after the age of 25 and as executive functioning comes into play connecting today’s actions with tomorrow’s desires begins to be the driving force in healthy people’s lives. People discover what they want and start seeking partners who can give it to them.”
Tinder may not be for you
Because your goals after 30 may be quite different than your dating goals from your 20s, dating apps may not be the best bet for meeting people.
“It’s of much higher likelihood that when you’re on the other side of 30 that you’re seeking a partner to share your life with. The apps are millennial focused and there is a current ‘hookup’ movement, which you will be mixed up in on the apps,” said certified international dating and relationship Megan Weks. “It’s possible that you may bump into someone who is age appropriate who wants the same things, but it’s difficult to navigate the apps when it comes to figuring out the other person’s goals. The best way to find out is to ask!”
Brandyce Stephenson, the owner of a marketing consulting business and self-proclaimed “single gal in her 30s” who lives in West Palm Beach, Florida agreed. She told me that traditional dating apps don’t have what she’s looking for. “I would certainly say [apps like Tinder are] more for a good time than forever, but that has changed for me in my 30s, I’m not interested in that.”
You’re set in your ways (and so are they)
While dating in your 20s may mean a lot of compromise and dating people who have very different values than you, by the time you hit 30 those days are over.
“Another major transition in the 30s is being more set on one’s values and preferences. Most people go through a re-evaluation of life around early 30s on what they really care about and what they want they want out of life,” said Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist in Colorado and founder of a niche dating site. “This re-defining time spills over into their dating life where women in their 30s are often much more direct on the values they want in a person and what types of behaviors they will and will not tolerate.”
It’s hard to find someone your age
One of the downsides of being more set in your ways and knowing exactly what you want is that you may not seem quite as fun to some potential mates as women in their 20s appear.
“When women are over 30 they also have to accept the reality that many of the men who are their age have now started dating women who are younger than they are,” said Ryan. “It seems that around age 30, men start looking for younger women to date, which narrows the dating pool significantly. Younger women are perceived as more ‘fun’ with fewer expectations and a more youthful appearance and body.”
Ryan said that many men even limit their online dating searches to only women up to age 35, regardless of how old they are themselves. “There is very little that we can do about this, but accepting this reality is important when setting expectations for dating.”
Potential partners have more baggage
Another reason that men may start dating younger women after 30 is that we tend to have a bit more baggage the older we are. This isn’t limited to women so you’ll need to ready to deal with some baggage in your own potential partners too, like past relationships and maybe even kids from prior relationships.
“In your 30s, chances are you’ve already had a few relationships. Some of these might not have ended amicably, and could have involved being cheated on or feeling violated in another way. This can sometimes lead to fear in a new relationship, and past fears can haunt new relationships,” said Candice A. of Toronto Wingwoman. “Combine this with the fact that we usually have more responsibilities in the 30s dating can be considered more difficult.”
Shared interests are more important
When you’re set in your ways and looking to find someone your own age, one of the best ways to do that may be doing something you love. Chances are, if someone else is doing it too, you may have more in common.
“The 20-something scene typically means going to a loud bar to meet singles. The 30 somethings tend to do activities they enjoy that offer exposure to other singles like, running groups, art classes or volunteering,” said Jaime Bernstein, a senior matchmaker for the professional matchmaking startup Three Day Rule. “Finding some common ground and interest creates a deep bond faster.”
Networking is king
But how can you find new activities and meet new people with shared interests? It turns out, networking isn’t just for finding a new job! The great thing about networking is that even if you don’t meet the one, you gain a ton of other benefits like improving your small-talk skills, trying new restaurants, and maybe even doing something you’ve never done before.
Sheyla Ventura, who is a brand coordinator for a dating app in New Zealand thanks to all of her personal experiences with other dating apps, told me that “networking has surprisingly become a thing” adding that when you share things in common, it’s easier to find a more compatible person. “I go to climbing gyms and I feel comfortable around new friends sharing the same interest,” she said. “I need to find someone more into sports and less into heavy drinking and partying.”
New apps for the 30+ crowd
Speaking of dating apps, just because the typical ones (like Tinder and Bumble) may not be ideal for women over 30, that doesn’t mean there aren’t apps out there.
“Dating apps over the age of 30 tend to focus more on meaningful relationships and specific interests. Dating app users tend to say that there’s a dating app for everyone, and it’s true,” said Gabriel Rotman, one of the co-creators of Jabo, a dating app designed around doing things specifically with people over 30 in mind. “If you’re a person of religious faith, there’s an app to find people who share your faith. If you’re an audiophile, there’s an app to meet other audiophiles, and so on.”
He added that Jabo in particular is an app to meet people who love outdoor recreation and an active lifestyle, which he said is great for people over 30 “because it helps them get back to their youthful selves.”
Things may move more quickly
Once you connect, whether it’s through an app or otherwise, things may happen a little faster than they did when you were in your 20s, at least from a commitment perspective.
“From my experience with clients, in general, people dating in their 30s still message via app or online personals, but the messaging doesn’t last as long as those in their 20s,” said relationship expert Chris M. Lyon. “Singles in their 30s want to get to know someone in person quicker, and in more of an information-gathering way than a hookup.”
Acceptable behavior changes
We all did things in our 20s we aren’t proud of, we can all admit that, right? As we get a bit older, what’s considered acceptable (for both men and women) in the dating world changes quite a bit.
“In yours 20s, daters are open to last minute invites, [like] getting a text to meet at a bar at 10 p.m. on Saturday night,” professional matchmaker Bernstein told me. “Most 30-somethings find that to be a little offensive and feel like it is more respectful to have a plan several days out.”
It isn’t just about planning, though, it’s also about behavior during and after the date. “In your 20s, it was perfectly acceptable to go out to a bar and go home with a new person that night. In your 30s, the men who are hanging around bars may not be the best quality people for long term partnership (and many may be struggling with addiction issues),” Ryan told me. “An expectation develops when you are over 30 that since you are a mature adult, you will really get to know someone before you have sex with them, so we transition into a more formal dating style of a glass of wine with dinner instead of ten jello shots at the bar.”
Money is more important than ever
I don’t mean that the amount the date costs is so important, though that’s something to keep in mind. What I mean is that after 30, people are concerned not only about their own money, but the general financial situation and responsibility of potential partners.
April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert and the author of the Ask April advice column told me this is very important when dating after 30. “People in their 30s want to know who they’re dating and how it affects their wallets. They aren’t always interested in someone who’s making big bucks, but they want someone who’s honest about their financial profiles. An entrepreneur with huge debt is sometimes less attractive than a social worker with high credit.”
Financial experts like Kerri Moriarty, who is a founding team member of Cinch Financial, agree. “The impact is noticed in a number of ways – everything from it no longer being ‘cute’ [that] your date is still living with his or her parents all the way to … the prospect of marrying someone with significant debt and no retirement savings compared to your decade of 401(k) contributions,” Moriarty told me. “It’s more a consideration than a deal breaker in most cases, but turning 30 is still a milestone of officially becoming an adult, a time to reflect on the ‘youth of your 20s’.”
The payoff is worth the effort
Dating after 30 may not be the easiest thing to manage, but by getting to know potential mates once you’re settled in your career and know what you really want, the relationship may be more likely to last for the long haul. And even if it doesn’t, you’ll be more secure in yourself as an independent woman to get back out there and give it another go with someone else when you’re ready. So join a networking group, download some new apps, and get out there! Your dream partner is waiting.