As we reach the holiday season, it's not uncommon for someone not in a relationship to feel a need to be with a significant other, or at least to have someone to take with him or her to that office party or family gathering. If you're in your twenties, the stress to make this happen is often pretty low. But if you're a bit older, it can sometimes produce lots of anxiety.

Today, mid-life dating has become much more common. Divorce, a partner's passing, or simply a career-based decision to wait on getting into a serious relationship are a few reasons why an older person is on his or her own.

Take, for example, the decision to get married. In 1980 the average marriage age for a woman was 22 years. By 1990 it had climbed to 24 and today the Census Bureau reports that women marry at an average age of 27.4 years and 29.5 years for men.

Waiting on marriage is one reason for dating at an older age, but another change that has promoted more dating, especially for those well past 30, is the availability of numerous Internet services promising to find your perfect match. While that promise may only sometimes come true, millions are using such services to more easily enter the active dating pool.

But while online apps may make it easier to locate someone to date, mid-life dating still can be a stressful proposition. One reason is that dating when older can easily upset an established life. You have a career, friends, regular routines and activities that hopefully you enjoy. Then, suddenly, a new romantic interest can affect many of those established things.

Instead, you can limit some stress by maintaining much of your normal life, rather than suddenly changing everything for that new person. If that someone has you cancelling plans and changing schedules, it sends a message about how little you value your current life.

Similarly, you want to hold on to existing friends. When you focus only on that new person, you can eventually leave yourself feeling guilty and anxious over how you've treated, and possibly lost, trusted friends.

The key is to view mid-life dating as an enjoyable, interesting adventure that's an addition to your existing life, not a replacement for what you already have. When mid-life dating isn't an "all or nothing" proposition, it will be much less stressful.

Counseling Corner" is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.

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