At 30, men fall into three categories

What's on your mind? What's bugging you about your love life?

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Dear Meredith,

I have read your letters for a long time but have never considered sending one in myself, despite being perpetually single (only one brief and not serious relationship). But I'd like to get your take on something.

At 30, men my age seem to fall into one of three categories. The first group just got married to partners they've been dating for a long time. It will be at least a few years (I assume) before any marriages that weren't on steady ground move into separations and divorces. I'm not rooting for it; I'm just estimating.

The second group is the people who did not end up taking the next step and recently broke up with their long-term partners. Because they're so recently out of a serious relationship, they are not interested in anything serious.

And then there is a third group of men who are single but appear to be unable to consider pursuing professional accomplishments and a relationship at the same time. I enjoy my career and there are many more milestones ahead of me. But I'm open to the idea that I could reach them as a single person or as a partner – and in fact, some of those goals may be easier to accomplish with a partner, where you have additional support (emotional/physical/financial/etc.).

Basically, these men seem to have a list of things they want to do or achieve before they are "ready" for a relationship. I have always kept a very open mind to dating around age, race/ethnicity, professional background, geographic distance, etc., but I sense that I might just be better off taking a break from dating for a few years and picking up again in my mid-30s. By then, some men from group #1 may be available again, men from group #2 may be less skittish about a serious relationship, and men from group #3 may have achieved whatever they needed in order to be ready. For context, I have my graduate degree, am happy and successful at my corporate job, have a home, and am a responsible pet owner. I am doing better than ever emotionally and mentally after doing regular self-reflection in therapy for the past six years. I have a very full life with wonderful friends and family, so at this point a relationship is not a necessity but it would be nice to have a partner to share, build, and celebrate life together.

Is this a pattern you have seen or heard of as well? Am I missing something?

– Unsure

I don't think you can file all 30-year-old single men into three categories. Really, I think it's more nuanced than that.

That said, 30 is a complicated age. Some people want to be married by 30. Others think of it as a starting point for more adult decisions. I won't pretend age is irrelevant to the dating experience.

I’m a woman who fell into your third category of singleness when I was that age. I was building my life, but I didn't want to do that with a romantic partner. Also, I was caretaking for a sick parent at the time. I didn't have the bandwidth for more than work, friends, and family. My point is, it's not just about age (or gender); it's also about a bunch of other stuff you might not even think of.

But let's say you're right, I'm wrong, and the categories are very real. Why not date people who aren't your age? You say you're flexible about who you meet, so why not date the 35-year-olds? Or the 26-year-olds who want to marry their longtime partners at 30? That seems worth trying.

I think you also might have more luck if you go into dates with no expectations. You've done the kind of work that will make you a great partner, but the first few dates might not be about that kind of assessment. Sometimes people walk into a date thinking they're not ready for much, but then, after a bunch of fun outings, they start considering more. You can know you're ready to celebrate life with someone without bringing that energy and hope to every encounter. Accept that some introductions will feel casual until the connection grows.

In the beginning, enjoy a night out and consider whether there should be a second date. One thing at a time.

– Meredith

Readers? Do the three categories sound familiar? Am I right to say that some of the people in category two and three might learn they're ready for more over time? Should the letter writer take a break from dating? What was 30 for you?