Reinventing Romance: Unlucky in Love

Has a string of failed relationships convinced you that you’re cursed? There’s hope for you yet, says our midlife dating expert.

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

Emily Sommers has two theories about why, at 46, she’s never had what she considers a "successful" long-term relationship: "Either I’m not meant to ever be with anyone, or worthy men are impossible to find." After too many disastrous dates to count, the San Diego-based videographer characterizes herself as "cynical on the way to jaded." Still, she admits, "I don’t have time or patience to suffer through a dinner with Cliff Clavin or Danny DeVito!"Ann Richards is another midlife woman who’s in no danger of sharing airspace with an undesirable match. The 48-year-old labels herself "terminally single." After enduring "umpteen failed romances," Ann, a Manhattan financial analyst, asks semi-jauntily, "Who says being alone is a bad thing? Let girls in their 20s who have the energy and optimism bang their heads against that wall." Obviously, being partner-free in your 40s is a valid and oftentimes extremely fulfilling lifestyle choice. But when singlehood comes tinged with bitterness and an unshakeable resolve not to settle for anything less than perfection in male form — fantasy 101! — dissatisfaction can be the staple of a woman’s daily diet. Are Men Just No Good?The pattern of dysfunctional dating starts young. According to gender expert Susan Shapiro Barash, author of The Men Out There: A Woman’s Little Black Book, "If a girl’s first relationship at 15 ended badly, the same thing can happen at 28 and at 40. No matter how long she’s been in the dating business, if she keeps making the same fundamental mistakes — like choosing the wrong men — she will have the same result."The Men Out There: A Woman’s Little Black Book Ann Richards, of the "umpteen failed romances," has noticed a pattern in her own dating life. "All men — at least every one I’ve loved — are narcissists. Cute as hell, but total self-absorbed creeps."One needn’t be psychic to suss out why Kenn Shapiro takes issue with the ‘all men are evil’ school of thought. The 51-year-old single father and author of Finding It Again: The Truth About Love After 40 states, "Any woman who thinks the trouble is with men — and vice versa — needs to take a step back and look at herself. It’s not what’s wrong with the other sex, but ultimately what’s inside yourself that determines whether you’ll be with someone or not."Finding It Again For some women, the prospect of truly reflecting on what lies within is more frightening than skydiving sans parachute. Dr. Elinor Robin, a marriage therapist and Florida Supreme Court-certified mediator, puts it this way: "A person can be so afraid of intimacy and bringing her true self to the table that a man of depth finds her unavailable." Emily Sommers, the videographer with no patience for Danny DeVitos, says that the few men she has liked in the past several years haven’t returned the favor. She realizes her string of disaster dates has made her cynical: "Guys have complained that I never make time for them, or that even when we’re sitting at the same table, it feels like we’re in different rooms. I guess they have a point, but I’m not a kid anymore. I’m juggling a heavy load of chores that don’t get done just from wishing. My mind has a mantra going: ‘Gee, I’ve got to take the car to the mechanic tomorrow.’"Make Your Own LuckThe key to changing the mantra of ‘love just isn’t for me’ is a two-layer process. Gender expert Barash explains, "Figure out what you want and go for it." How to start? Two words: "Quit complaining." The next step, she says, "is working to understand your motivation. If you don’t want a partner, that’s perfectly fine. But if you feel a void, it’s necessary to break the pattern of going after the guy who was the football player while you were cheerleader. Try the bookish bald man. You’ve got to end the drama." It’s helpful to actually chart out a romantic resume of your love history. After writing out the details of four failed romances, Claire Lindsay realized that not only was she always choosing commitmentphobes, she herself had seldom answered the needs of her lovers.

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