Dating at 30 — or on the cusp of 30 — is a whole different ballgame. Chances are you’re dating with more intent than you were in your 20s and looking for someone to build a future with (or at least grow with during one of the more critical, meaningful decades of your life).
What should you be looking for in a partner? Relationship experts share seven qualities a partner should have by the time they reach 30.
1. They’re self-aware and have a baseline understanding of who they are at this point in their life.
By the time you reach 30, you should have some knowledge of who you are as a person: You know what you’re objectively good at career-wise or inter-personally and what you need to work on to become a better, more well-rounded person. If the person you’re dating isn’t self-critical, consider it a post-30 red flag, said Jess Hopkins, a counselor who works primarily with millennials in Los Angeles.
“A good catch knows both their personal weaknesses that need shoring up and their natural strengths that can be leveraged to maximize their potential,” she said. “When your partner has a high level of self-awareness around these areas, they’re more likely to take accountability for their life and do the heavy lifting necessary to become their best self.”
2. They’ve experienced long-term (or longish-term) relationships.
By 30, many people are disillusioned with dating apps and are ready to settle down in some shape or form. Hopefully, the person you’re seeing has dabbled in relationships, too. If they spent some time in their 20s with a primary partner, it’s a good sign that they have the sticktoitiveness that a long-term relationship calls for, said Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counseling men.
“Relationship experience may seem obvious, but it’s not always,” he said. “Your best match is going to be someone who’s been in other relationships, has learned things about themselves from those exes and understands the give and take it takes to make a relationship work.”
3. They’ve demonstrated they can be happy single, too.
On the flip side of the coin, look for someone who’s had time since high school when they’ve not been in a relationship.
“I counsel couples regularly who have relationship problems like codependency or controlling behavior that ultimately originate from one partner never having been on their own,” Smith said. “To be a happy, healthy partner, you need to be comfortable with yourself and able to be responsible on your own.”
4. They’re comfortable talking about sex.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with finding a partner who knows all the right moves to get you off. But technique only gets you so far. Good sex in the long term requires an open, ongoing dialogue about what you’re into and what you’re not. (If you were fine with the toe stuff before but now you’re really, really not into it, you should feel comfortable telling your foot-play enthusiast bae.)
“You need to be able to connect physically and emotionally in bed,” said Moshe Ratson, a marriage and family therapist in New York City. “In this regard, an open and sexual communication is an important mean to deepen intimacy and explore needs, desires and fantasies.”
5. They have a life of their own, separate from you.
The goal of a relationship isn’t to meld your two lives together to the point that they’re indistinguishable. Don’t aspire to be tied at the hip. Aim to have a full, fascinating life on your own, and then find someone who has an equally full and fascinating life, said Kristin Zeising, a psychologist in San Diego.
“A healthy partner is someone who can have their own life, career, friends and interests while maintaining a relationship,” she said. “They want to take care of you in some ways, but they also take care of themselves.”
In other words, you don’t want somebody who will sacrifice themselves for the sake of the relationship.
“You want someone who has a strong sense of who they are, knows their values and has a life that reflects that,” Zeising said.
6. They’re financially literate (or trying to be).
It’s time to bring up a decidedly unromantic point: Debt is a fact of life for most millennials. According to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, those under the age of 35 are an average of $67,400 in debt, and 35- to 44-year-olds carry an average of $133,100 of debt.
Clearly, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find someone who’s got their financial house entirely in order, but you should be able to find someone who’s making an honest effort to change things, Smith said.
“Regardless of past mistakes or existing money challenges, you should look for a match who owns, not ignores, the money issues in their life, whether it’s student loans or job insecurity,” he said. “This is not only a sign of financial responsibility but also of maturity. We don’t have to have our money lives all together by 30, but we do have to be on a path of taking responsibility.”
7. They’re excited about life.
At the end of the day, you want someone who’s just as giddy about life’s big plans (a 10-year goal to buy a home, for instance) as they are about the little, but no less exciting, plans you have together (date night or a queso-and-breakfast-taco-filled weekend trip with friends.)
“When your partner is a couch potato without hobbies or interests, that energy becomes contagious and creates a negative domino effect in your life,” Hopkins said. “On the other hand, when your partner is fully engaged with life, they are more likely to try new things, seek out opportunities for leveling up and, frankly, they have a whole lot more fun. Engagement is a primary key to a relationship that is connected, passionate and exciting.”