In the mid-1980s, a now-famous headline warned women they were more likely to die in a terrorist attack than get married after 40.
Times have changed. Statistically speaking, we're marrying later: The average age is now 26 for women, 28 for men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (Up from 22 for women, 24 for men in 1980.)
Fifty percent of women and 45 percent of men ages 18 and older are now unmarried — the highest numbers in at least half a century — according to the Census Bureau.
Headlines and statistics aside, what hasn't changed for singles hovering near that 40-year mark — both men and women — is how complicated and messy dating can be.
"The pressure is much more intense than when you're younger and feel like you've got plenty of time," says clinical psychologist and sex therapist Judy Kuriansky, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Healthy Relationship" (Alpha). "The clock ticks. Not just for a baby, but for a second and third date. Are they really going to commit? Can we seal the deal?"
Add in the anxieties that Kuriansky says many older singles are experiencing — "I can never compete with all the girls in their 20s"; "All the good ones have been taken"; "I'm not as hot as I used to be" — and you've got some pretty compelling, anecdotal evidence to back up what a recent, major study of 5,200 singles ages 21 to 65 revealed: A majority of singles ages 55 to 64 identified themselves as "very happy" or "somewhat happy," as did a majority of singles ages 21 to 34.
It was the folks in the middle who reported significantly lower levels of happiness.
Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, a lead researcher on the study (commissioned by Match.com, for which Fisher serves as an adviser), says the kid issue further muddies the waters.
"The biggest gap is between people looking for a reproductive partner and people who are not looking for a reproductive partner," says Fisher. "From a Darwinian perspective, the brain that wants to reproduce is very different than the one that's not going to reproduce."
So men and women who desperately want children — and feel as if time is running out to have them — are mingling with folks who don't want to go there. Or, in some cases, who already went there in a previous marriage.
"It's not like trying to find the right job," says Fisher. "This is sending your DNA onto eternity. It's a whole different matter."
But experts say post-30s dating has definite benefits that can be maximized with the right mind-set.
"It's almost like your ability to decipher whether someone is right or wrong for you is microwaved," says Whitney Casey, author of "The Man Plan" (Penguin-Perigree). "An advantage of having a little age under your belt is a better sense of yourself and what you want.
"In your 20s, you still have so much growth to do — emotionally and mentally," she says. "In your 20s, shiny, new things are super-attractive. Now it's like, 'I've seen that shiny, new thing.' "
You're also likely to meet people who are interested in more than just your fabulous legs or abs.
"The attraction will be deeper than just the superficial," says Kuriansky. "You're attracting people who are more interested in you."
You're also less likely to be looking for love in all the wrong places.
You're no longer going out with four other friends to bars on a Saturday night, says Fisher. "You have a steady job, a lot of your friends are married and you're less free to roam around."
Meeting someone through mutual friends, a dating site or another curated method increases the odds that you've got compatible values and interests.
"You do something you're interested in that overlaps with what someone you would date might be doing," says Kuriansky. "You might like to crochet, but you're not going to meet many men in a crochet class. What about wine tasting? A photography class? You might want to learn guitar. Ask yourself where a man who is settled in life might go."
Above all, it helps to know what you want in a partner — but not be wedded to it completely.
"You can't be stuck on they have to look a certain way or come from a certain background," says Kuriansky. "When I talk to my clients who are a little older they say, 'I want someone who loves me, someone I can count on, someone who will be faithful and accept me for who I am and enjoy the things I enjoy.' Trust and honesty become more crucial, as opposed to someone who's cool and pays for me on dates."