Divorce can be ugly and dating after a long-term relationship isn’t easy, either.
Often, people turn to dating apps to find companionship or love again, and for some, this could mean dating someone years younger. While there’s still a stigma for men and women who date younger — women are often called “cougars” — others believe it could be a sign of a mid-life crisis.
Natasha Sharma, relationship and parenting expert and creator of The Kindness Journal, told Global News a mid-life “crisis” occurs when one or a series of decisions are made in or around the midpoint of someone’s life, usually over the age of 50.
“This could be based on changes like divorce, job change or retirement, children moving on, etc, or nothing at all,” she explained.
“Sudden onset of existential angst around the awareness of one’s own impending death/mortality and these feelings of angst and insecurity lead to poor decisions.”
Some say it is ‘liberating’
But in a recent column in The Telegraph, author Lauren Libbert said dating someone younger after divorce could be liberating.
“What those near me hadn’t realized, was that after years of being trapped in a failing domestic relationship, I had now discovered a new, more confident, midlife self. It was sad our marriage hadn’t lasted, but I also felt liberated and free,” she wrote.
“Exiting an ailing marriage and moving into a new dating lane is quite the opposite of a crisis. It’s like finally Marie-Kondo-ing a comfy cardigan that has shrunk in the wash and lost a few buttons.
“It no longer fits. It no longer sparks joy. It’s time to move on.”
Libbert continued she wasn’t looking for a father for her children, she was looking for someone for herself. “As people we grow and change with the years and, if a marriage can’t grow and change with us, is it such a bad thing to find new relationships that do?”
But there is still a stigma that exists when people date people “too young.” You often see examples in the celebrity world, like singer Katharine McPhee, 35, marrying David Foster, 69, earlier this year.
More famously, there’s the example of the 15-year difference between Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. The two divorced in 2013.
Sharma said there is still a legitimate concern over dating someone who is “too young,” beyond being the legal age of consent.
“I believe many people still find it to be a social faux-pas for ridicule and joke-jabs,” she said. “We are definitely loosening some of the strict traditional views of relationships that don’t make much sense today, but we still hold some conventional ideas close at hand, whether we are aware of this or not.”
But for some, it can just come down to attractiveness and desirability. As a previous New York Times piece noted, one study of online dating found women “peak” at 18, when men peak at 50, making it hard for some older women to find men their age.
But is it a midlife crisis?
But would this be considered a mid-life crisis? Sharma doesn’t think so.
“In fact, the entire idea behind the prototypical ‘midlife crisis’ is something I challenge in general,” she continued. “Experiencing a period of adjustment, transition, and hopefully, subsequent growth after significant changes to one’s life around the ‘mid-point’ hardly constitutes a crisis.”
She adds people at mid-life are much more aware of who they are and what their individual needs and boundaries are.
“They are better equipped to make more informed life choices at that stage versus when they were younger,” she said.
“In addition, our needs themselves have often changed. The decisions we did make in our late teens or early 20s may have been perfectly suitable at that time, but don’t necessary fit at midlife or beyond, and there is no shame in that.”
When we are young, she argues, we try to fit into society’s standards or social norms, but when we are older, we are financially and socially equipped to make decisions that work for us. A mid-life crisis is also often the case when someone buys a fancy car or a luxury item.
“This may include purchasing a certain item, making over one’s appearance, just feeling more liberated to be free to choose as one wants. The only problem I see in this is if the choices one makes are unaffordable, or cause harm to oneself or others.”
And when it comes to dating, Sharma believes it can be a result of connecting with someone positive — which often isn’t the case in a older dating pool.
“Connection is connection, and as long as the two people who are involved in the relationship are of legal age, one is not vulnerable/being taken advantage of, and they both have the capacity to consent to said relationship, it should not necessarily be written off as a crisis,” she said.
She argues women in particularly are subject to this judgment when dating younger men, whereas men tend to be applauded for it.
“That said, I do believe that we are more likely to experience deeper success and satisfaction in a longer-term relationship with someone who is in or about our age group, for the purposes of experiencing the journey of life together, and it’s moments, at or around the same times,” she explained.
“Shared experience is part of what deepens and strengthens connection and relationships. However this does not necessarily hold true in each and every case. Every relationship is unique and independent.”