Right now, I know people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even 50s who are in dating relationships. From Hallmark movies to reality TV shows to real life, the quest for love is a steady theme for all ages.
There are some big differences between the youngest dating couples and the oldest, but there are also similarities. And while it may seem the young and beautiful have the greatest advantage in the quest for love, each decade of dating has unique benefits and potential pitfalls. Here are a few that go with each age.
Dating in your 20s
Your 20s are statistically the most common years in which to meet and marry your spouse. According to the United States Census Bureau, the average age for first marriage is 28 for women and 30 for men.
If you’re a 20-something, you likely have many opportunities to meet other singles in your life stage. Places such as college and post-graduate programs, church college and career groups, internships and mission trips are natural places to connect during this season. Case in point: The last wedding I attended, the couple (both in their 20s) met while serving together at a Christian camp.
Another dating advantage of those in their 20s is their relatively uncomplicated lives and identities. I wrote about this in “My Single Identity Baggage.”
Say a (college) guy plops down on his female friend’s study blanket, and they start a conversation. “What are you going to do after graduation?” he asks.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she says. “I might teach for a year or apply for grad school or go on a short-term missions trip. How about you?”
He smiles (because he likes her sparkly eyes). “Well, I’ll keep working as a server to pay off my school loans, but what I’d really like to do is help inner-city youth.”
“Really?” she says. “That sounds exciting.”
Freeze. This couple has very few bags so far. They have potential suitcases, but they have no idea what will fill them. They may even dream of selecting and filling suitcases together. Sparkly eyes and enthusiasm for the future is enough to create a bond.
While not always the case, meeting and falling in love with someone tends to be easier when you’re in your 20s and less set in your ways.
Those in their 20s may lack wisdom when it comes to relationships. Paul cautioned the young man Timothy with these words: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
If you’re dating in your 20s, be sure you are seeking the Lord and godly counsel from fellow believers you trust. Realize that when you marry young, you are signing up for a long-term commitment. The two of you will certainly do some growing up together, so be prepared for that dynamic.
Dating in your 30s
I was very single the year I turned 30. However, my late 20s and early 30s were a sweet spot for community with my single girlfriends. We took trips together, entertained in one another’s homes, and were active in our communities and churches.
At the same time, another dynamic was happening. Some of us were beginning to wonder if our plans for marriage and family would ever pan out. My male friends felt this too. They may have felt an even greater weight, as they were the ones expected to initiate these intentional dating relationships.
The 30s are becoming a more common age to get married for the first time. I married at 31, and many of my friends tied the knot in that decade as well. But dating in your 30s can be more complex than dating in your 20s.
Plato famously said, “Know thyself,” and Polonius in Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” added, “To thine own self be true.” By the time a person reaches his or her 30s, their identity is more firmly set. During his 20s a young adult has learned what he likes and dislikes, has had shaping experiences through jobs and travel, and has discovered many of his strengths and weaknesses. All this adds up to insight into the kind of spouse to — and for — whom he would be best suited.
When I was 30 and met my husband, Kevin, I immediately knew he was the right kind of person for me: fun-loving, accepting, supportive and passionate about God. Earlier in my life, I might have been drawn to and chosen a different kind of personality that was not as well-suited to me.
A second advantage is a heightened sense of urgency and intentionality. As I mentioned, as a single 30-something I was aware that my days of establishing a family in the traditional way (through marriage and childbirth) were finite. Therefore, I took every relationship more seriously. I would not date someone I knew for sure was not a potential mate; but I also kept my eyes open for possible (and even unexpected) matches.
A new decade brings with it a smaller dating pool. Those who married in their 20s are now “off the market,” so to speak, and dating as a numbers game officially shows its hand. Likewise, 30-somethings lack some of the natural meeting places those in their 20s enjoy. Even if you are back in school or serving with other single adults, you may find yourself a decade older than the singles around you. While you feel ready for an intentional relationship, months (or years) may go by without meeting anyone who is a possibility.
Because of these challenges, online dating has become a popular way to meet someone who is marriage-minded and shares your values. However, it can also introduce unwanted pain and rejection. A friend of mine sporadically uses online dating sites, and her experiences range from disheartening to just plain bizarre. On the other hand, I’ve heard many success stories of wonderful Christian couples who found each other through the internet. Those in their 30s may have to open themselves up to less traditional romances, but they can still forge wonderful Christ-centered relationships.
Dating in your 40s
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a single friend who was in her mid-40s. “You know,” she said. “I’m just looking for a man I can sit across the breakfast table from and enjoy conversation for the next 30-plus years.” The beautiful simplicity of her statement made me smile.
Yet many never-married singles in their 40s fear that marriage may be off the table for them. Remember the famous line in the ’90s rom-com “Sleepless in Seattle,” where Annie’s co-worker says, “It’s easier to be killed by a terrorist than it is to find a husband over the age of 40”? According to The Atlantic, it’s a fear that still permeates American culture.
Singles in their 40s know what they want! Like my friend who desires a pleasant breakfast companion, more mature singles likely have a streamlined (and perhaps more realistic) picture of their desired mate. Though they may still wish for children, individuals starting — or preparing to close out — their fifth decade may not feel as much pressure to get married quickly. They have the luxury of being selective, with the wisdom and self-knowledge to make a wise choice.
They may also have a financial foundation and career security that offers them benefits in both dating and marriage. Those who marry in their 40s may not experience the “living on rice and beans” younger married couples endure. Wisdom, maturity (emotional and spiritual) and security can also forge strong relationships that experience less friction.
Much like the 30-somethings, those in their 40s often lack suitable marriage options. Many of my single girlfriends in their 40s lament the shortage of godly single men in their acquaintance. And the men in this age group may find it daunting to initiate relationships that seem to have the immediate expectation of the big “M” (marriage).
The 40s may also be the decade of second (or third) marriages. Many of my friends are having to consider if they would marry someone who has been divorced, widowed or has children. Unlike the relatively “clean slate” of young adulthood, dating in your 40s involves more complexities and compromises.
That said, this is an age group where I often observe the special “God stories.” The man who pursued my friend after seeing her speak at a conference for single parents. The widow and widower who met in a local hiking group and married a year later. The longtime single missionary in Europe who met and married a woman there and they now have two children. Clearly, it’s never too late for God to establish a godly marriage that brings Him glory.
Love at any age
Back when I was in college, I heard about a never-married woman in her 40s who suddenly had two godly men approach her (at the same time) — both interested in marriage. One was a widower with children and the other had never married. Both recognized she was a woman who not only loved Jesus, but also served Him with her whole life.
She liked both men, so she prayed and sought counsel about this unexpected “opportunity.” She ended up marrying one of them. When I first met her, she had been happily married for several years and was grateful for the kind, caring man God had provided for her.
Hers is not the only inspiring later-in-life love story I have encountered. The opportunity to date someone great (at any age) is never promised. But it is possible. And many times God intervenes — sometimes against the odds — to bring people together.
Whether you’re 20 or 49, you will likely experience some challenges when it comes to dating. You may also discover some perks to your singleness. Ten years into marriage, I am profoundly grateful for my years of singleness and the many fulfilling experiences they afforded me.
Remember that God sees your situation. He knows your challenges and desires. And He invites you to lean in and trust Him with your love life — whatever decade you are living right now.
Copyright 2020 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.