In Love for the First Time -- at 42

"Help! I’m like a teenager in puppy love, desperate for him to call." Our over-40 dating expert answers

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

Do you agree with Sherry’s advice? Read her answer; then scroll down to post your own take in the comments.

Q. I’ve had lots of relationships, but I guess my career (I’m an artist) was always my priority. To be honest, I’ve always wondered what all the fuss was about.

Well, a few months ago I was hit HARD by Cupid in the form of a 50-year-old divorced man with two twentysomething kids. I’m 42, a grown woman, but I feel like a teenager in the throes of puppy love. I’m sitting by the phone desperate for him to call and upset if he wants to spend time with anyone but me. I know he cares but I’m afraid my extreme neediness might eventually turn him off. How can I put things in perspective and calm down?

— Jill

A. The teen years — a time when one is beleaguered by pimples, parents and, ah yes, obsessive passion. Only you missed the last part, having been a high achiever on the career front, and you’re now playing a vigorous game of catch-up. But this is one "test" you shouldn’t want to ace.

Mary Sise, LCSW and co-author of The Energy of Belief: Psychology’s Power Tools to Focus Behavior and Release Blocking says, "There’s nothing worse than acting like a pathetic needy teenager, behavior that is fueled by fears of not measuring up." Claire Turner, a 46-year-old Denver podiatrist knows this firsthand: "I fell in love for the first time at 40. Before, I’d always been the one who was pursued. But my neediness and excitement about Bob exploded off the charts."

Here’s a flash, and not a hot one: Hormones are the reason "youthful" puppy love sparks such extreme doglike devotion. Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, a specialist in women’s love issues explains, "The relationship has activated the reward-pleasure center in your brain that has high levels of dopamine." The psychologist adds, "Chemically your brain cannot distinguish between falling in love and being addicted. In short, your neuro-hormones have hijacked the more sensible front part of your brain." It may have been fun in the beginning to have so much romantic energy but now it’s exhausting, like you’re chasing your tail.

How to offset the dopamine deluge? Tina Tessina, LMFT, PhD, and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again suggests, "Befriend yourself. Your life has to feel more important to you than his. Codependency will doom the relationship. Be involved and busy, so busy that you miss some of his phone calls."

Claire, the Denver podiatrist, followed this advice. "I purposely stopped being so available all the time," she says. "I took up some engrossing volunteer work. I stopped spending the entire weekend with Bob and made time for my girlfriends. And I asked them about their lives instead of monopolizing the conversation with stories about my boyfriend."

There was some initial anxiety as Claire weaned herself from the high that comes from constantly being around the love object. Dr. Wish offers more suggestions for activating the reasoning part of the brain: "Write down on a piece of paper statements that help reestablish your power like, ‘I don’t have to act on every feeling;’ ‘It’s always wiser to go slower in the beginning;’ and, ‘It’s easier to speak up than to slow down.’ Repeat these statements to yourself several times a day."

Try these tactics and soon you’ll stop being a Peter Pan in the relationship sphere. Claire shares, "I’m happy to say I fell down to earth. Bob and I are still together but now the relationship is part of my life, not my whole life."

More information on the experts quoted in this article:

Do you have a tough question about dating or relationships?E-mail Sherry at and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.

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