Women are often the target topic when it comes to love and dating advice. But all too often, women in their forties are overlooked during these conversations.

Sadly, this is nothing new. Hollywood movies often perpetuate the idea that women cease to be datable above a certain age. Even 37-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal was told she was too “old” to play someone’s love interest in a film. But despite what Hollywood might have you believe, women don’t reach an expiry date once they hit 40.

While no two women are the same (even those in the same age bracket), women in their forties really do have completely different expectations and priorities to those younger than them. And if you’re going to date women of their caliber, then it’s time to learn what they need.

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Maggie Gyllenhall (Ari Marcopoulos/New York Magazine)

So what do women in their forties really want and need when it comes to their love life? To better understand them, you have to look not only at their attitudes toward dating, but where they’re at and where they’ve been with life in general. Here’s what you need to know.

They know what they want in life.

Your twenties, and even thirties, are spent learning a lot of lessons about love and life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got it all figured out by the time you reach your forties, but it does mean there’s a lot of history to look back on.

Sally and Nicole are both in their forties and have led quite different lives. Sally is 48, and her life has changed a lot from when she was in her thirties.

“When I was 30, I was married and following my husband’s military career around the country,” she says. “I didn’t really have a career, though I was getting whatever job I could when his job transferred us, and at the time, I was working in a university’s fundraising department.”

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Sally is now divorced and lives alone. Rather than picking up another “whatever” job, she’s spent five years establishing a career as an IT project manager.

On the other hand, 41-year-old UX designer Nicole has been running her own business for the past 17 years. After years of globetrotting, her priorities in life have remained the same.

“I spent my twenties and thirties traveling the world solo,” she says. “I am not—nor have I ever been—interested in marriage or kids.”

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These two women are quite different, but one thing’s for certain: They’ve lived through enough to know what does and doesn’t work for them. You’d be smart to inquire.

They know what they want in a partner.

A woman in her forties is bound to have a lot more dating experience than when she was younger. They might have been married before, or have children, or have had a few long-term relationships. Maybe they thought they’d have found “the one” by now; on the other hand, the exact opposite may be true for them.

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Neely Steinberg is a dating coach who refers to herself as a “love enTREPreneur”—a reference to her business The Love TREP, where she functions as an image consultant and love expert extraordinaire. According to her, women in their forties have their priorities straight when it comes to figuring out what they do and don’t want.

“Women in their forties are amazing!” she says. “I love working with them. As far as their priorities and expectations, I think many start to think differently about what’s really important in a partner and a relationship. They have so many experiences and so much knowledge to draw from by this point that guys like the ‘bad boy’ or the ‘emotionally unavailable man’ have less and less allure.”

I think women in their forties … are looking for emotionally and financially stable men who will be their partners and equals in life.

Steinberg says these women often have a better idea of their desires in life.

“I think they start to let go of some of their more superficial wants and start focusing on what it is they really need,” she says, “I think they expect a lot more from a man in terms of character and integrity—they start to raise their emotional standards.”

Sally says she’s not willing to settle for just anyone for the sake of being with someone.

“I’m firmly in the camp that it’s better to be single than in a bad relationship,” she says. “So any relationship would have to be better than just being by myself.”

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Despite admitting that her requirements for a partner are a little “vague,” she does have a few boxes she’d like ticked.

“He’d have to feel like a peer,” she says. “Someone I can talk to and collaborate with as an equal partner. Someone who I can connect with mentally and emotionally. Someone who I trust and can negotiate with. Pretty much everything other than that is negotiable.”

Steinberg says she’s also seen women in their forties with a desire for a partner who’s more of an equal.

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“I think women in their forties … are looking for emotionally and financially stable men who will be their partners and equals in life,” she says, “Most single women in their forties have an established career, are doing well financially on their own, have traveled the world, and have full lives. They want men who are also financially responsible and who will treat them kindly.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re not looking for a “someone who will do the little things”—if she’s into the kind of guys who hold open doors, that is.

“Hopefully he will appreciate offering these small gestures; in turn, she looks forward to offering him small gestures of appreciation and admiration,” says Steinberg.

They probably have more confidence than you think.

With so many industries profiting from making women feel insecure (looking at you, weight loss tea companies), it can feel like an uphill battle to maintain one’s confidence and sense of self-worth. And it’s certainly an issue that most women could admit to struggling with through their twenties and beyond.

I am a lot more willing to try things without knowing what the outcome will be, and that’s the essence of confidence, isn’t it?

Steinberg says that acknowledging a newfound confidence—or lack of insecurity—is key to understanding a woman in her forties.

“Understand that she knows herself, has less tolerance for games, and wants honesty when it comes to feelings,” she says. “It’s a great demographic to date, because women this age, generally speaking, have more confidence and self-esteem than women in their twenties and thirties. They will be more up front with their needs. So what you see is what you get. It’s a lot more straightforward than with a woman who is still finding herself.”

That confidence doesn’t just include a secure feeling of self-worth. Sally says she feels more secure in life in general because she knows she’s capable.

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“I think that I’m more confident now,” she says. “But that contains both knowing that things can go horribly, horribly wrong, because I’ve been through that, and that I’ll survive when it does, because I’ve been through that, too. I am a lot more willing to try things without knowing what the outcome will be, and that’s the essence of confidence, isn’t it?”

Of course, this isn’t the case for every woman.

“My confidence is probably about the same as it ever was, which is low,” says Nicole.

Don’t expect someone to have Beyonce’s confidence just because of their age. Some studies suggest that feelings of happiness may dip for those in their forties: a sort of midlife crisis. There’s definitely no magic age to have it “all figured it,” and that’s okay. As clichéd as it sounds, it’s important to be respectful and accommodating to people’s journeys and that includes where they’re at with their insecurities.

They don’t care too much about society’s expectations.

Think single women in their forties spend their days pining for a husband and wishing they’d had more children? Think again.

“Having friends and pets is enough for me,” says Nicole when asked if she ever feels pressured to have a family.

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Sally says that while she notices some pressure to be at a different place in her life, that pressure doesn’t always make sense—nor does she care much for it.

“There are a lot of different expectations that people have of me, some of them contradictory, and some of them simply not possible,” she says. “Most of my friends are coupled up, but there’s not a strong expectation that I would be.”

“There are those who figure I’m ‘past it’ and no longer couple-able. There are those who expect me to be okay with casual sex. It’s all over the map and so feels largely irrelevant to me.”

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The bottom line is this: Don’t assume a woman is desperate to find a man and settle down simply because of her age. As Nicole says, “I do not care about the status quo whatsoever.”

What does a woman in her forties want?

It’s never great to make generalizations about any gender, but it does help to understand where people tend to be at a particular moment in their life. From what we gather, women in their forties have zero tolerance for mind games, incompatible partners, and dating for the sake of dating.

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At the same time, understand that every woman is a unique, multi-faceted human being with her own ambitions and goals. Some women are looking to settle down at that age, while others are happy dating or just remaining single. The only way to find out is to get to know them. What have you got to lose?

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