This breakup felt different.
Neil and his girlfriend were considering making big life changes for each other — him moving from Chicago to New York, for one.
So when the relationship fell apart and he found himself single at 30, it felt heavier than similar previous splits.
“I was pretty heartbroken,” said Neil, now 33, who asked that his last name not be used due to potential embarrassment that his ex might think he wasn’t over her. “I think I put too much pressure on it.”
No breakup is ever easy. But for people in their 30s, breakups can feel more emotionally taxing than splits in other decades, experts say.
“The breakups are harder in your 30s,” says therapist Heather deCastro, who works with millennials at her New York practice, Millennium Psychotherapy.
Factors include a generation of millennials who wait longer to seriously date, meaning years-long relationships now end in the third decade. And pressure to fit someone into your already-fixed life — apartment, adult job — can mean that an exit can be a harder unraveling. Meanwhile, the fear of starting over is sharp for those who want to get married and have children.
The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that a record share of Americans has never married. In 2012, one in five adults 25 and older had never been married. And the median age to get first hitched is 27 for women and 29 for men. In 1960, those ages were 20 for women and 23 for men.
Not finding a forever partner is a common concern, said Kute Blackson, author of “You Are the One: A Bold Adventure in Finding Purpose, Discovering the Real You, and Loving Fully.”
“The older you get, maybe the stakes get higher,” said Blackson, who helps men and women navigate dating through seminars like “The Man Breakthrough Experience” and 14-day India treks.
Pew reported that in 2015, 53 percent of never-married adults said they would like to marry eventually.
Neil said that, since his big breakup at age 30, questions about future intentions arise more quickly when he’s dating now.
“It usually comes up a lot quicker than ‘Let’s just hang out and get to know each other,’” he said.
Breakups later in life may be harder, too, because the couple may have tried for years to make a relationship work.
“It’s stability, and it’s safer, and you’re doing what everybody else is doing,” deCastro said.
But just because you are already dating someone, experts advise, is not a reason to stay together.
Blackson often asks clients, “If you were to meet your partner today, would you date them?”
“I kid you not, people go silent,” he said.
He added, “By the time you reach 30, you’ve been dating since you were in your 20s, you may be with a completely different person. That’s not a bad thing. That’s just growth.”
He urges his clients to identify their own wants and needs. That clarity can come with age.
This can be particularly tough for women, who face fertility concerns as they age.
“I think in the 20s, it’s a lot easier — especially, women feel like they have more time,” deCastro said.
Stress arrives in many shades. Emerging from a years-long relationship, Carly Popofsky, 30, realized that all her Manhattan friends were now hitched.
“I think being single is a lot more glaring now because it doesn’t feel like everyone’s doing the same thing I’m doing,” she said.
Meanwhile, she said, the dating landscape has changed dramatically, as apps and online dating became mainstream while she was in a relationship.
Other relationships can have an impact on your own feelings. Wedding after wedding, people may feel anxiety as they become surrounded by friends’ spouses.
And people who seem to have found their perfect match splash happiness across Facebook and Instagram.
“People project this image, and it looks so great,” deCastro said. “But it’s not what’s going on inside. It’s not reality.”
Married friends may also add to singles’ stress in surprising ways. Often, deCastro said, clients are scared by pals sharing anxieties like, “Did I really make the right choice?”
“Other friends have these marriages, and they hear from their friends that it’s not that great,” deCastro said.
Dating past your 20s means you often have a more adult life. Standards have been set: You’ve made yourself a comfortable home, maybe one you own and don’t want to leave. Perhaps you prefer nicer restaurants or don’t want to compromise on travel.
“You’re not willing to budge as much,” deCastro said.
Popofsky said she now has the same high standards but different values — she cares more about someone’s behavior, not job, for example.
“I wouldn’t say I’m picky,” she said. “But I’m looking for someone great.”
Now, past his 20s, Blackson said he is “much more able to discern who is right for me, who I am, what works.”
Finding that balance and moving past anxiety over dating and splitting in your 30s, involves a few key factors.
“The most powerful thing I think someone can do is to sit with their pain,” Blackson said. “It takes tremendous courage to sit with the feeling of loneliness, to sit with the pain.”
John Grohol, psychologist and founder of Psych Central.com, similarly suggests a post-mortem.
“People are so quick to say, ‘I have to get over this breakup,’” said Grohol, based in Newburyport, Mass. “Take the relationship apart, and see what worked and didn’t work, and take that new knowledge that you have, and use it for your next relationship.”
If an ex had a quick temper, for example, perhaps you are looking for someone who handles anger in a healthier manner.
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up or bathe in feelings of guilt or failure.
“A lot of people take it personally and feel terrible and think that they did something wrong and they didn’t choose right,” deCastro said. “Give yourself a break.”
When clients tell him they’ve been through a breakup, Blackson tells them, “Congratulations!” and salutes their new chapter.
“You made a courageous choice,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage to follow your heart and not compromise what you know inside. If you stay together with someone you know is not right, you’re never going to be fulfilled.”