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By Laurie W.

While rules are different for men than women–and yes, that may sound sexist, but it’s true–enjoying life in general after 40 can be an art. That means taking vacations you’ve always dreamed of, getting out of relationships that no longer work, learning a new language, trying a new career and even finding your soul mate where and when you least expect it. Women usually get asked out less after age 40 (than do men), but that is not necessarily a bad thing: for once in our lives we are taken seriously as career women and the men who do strike our fancy are generally more real than the dogs hounding us at 29.

Step 1

Make peace with yourself. That’s the first step for any single adult. Dating sites are filled with lonely hearts desperate to make a connection. People who are comfortable in their own skins still post profiles and search for love, but they’ve already made the deepest connection: with themselves. Make peace by listing your goals in life and gradually start checking them off. Be aware that your love for your family and close friends is at the top of list and ensure that you maintain good relationships while also taking care of Number 1.

Step 2

Look your best. Take a gander at Cheryl Ladd, Christie Brinkley or Tony Danza–all over 50 and all incredibly good looking. True, they are celebrities, but why not emulate them? Danza goes roller-blading (so can you) and Christie Brinkley dumped her no-good-cheating-louse-of-a-husband (so can you). Get to a gym at least 4 days/nights a week. If you can’t do that, walk an hour a day, preferably after dinner. Eat right. Talk to a dietitian if you need help with this. One great tip: write all your meals down for a few weeks until the pounds start to melt away.

Step 3

Do the things you didn’t have time for when you were younger. Maybe you had a child at 20 and now he’s in college. You always wanted to go to college yourself, and now you’ll feel like 20 again the minute you fill out that application to Brown. Maybe you want to go to grad school, become a cosmotologist, try community theater, go to Rome, take your best friend on a cruise or adopt a baby from China. Do it. All of these choices will rejuvenate you and give new meaning to your life.

Step 4

Date outside your age range and comfort zone. This may sound counter-intuitive (since generally, women over 40 have a rougher go of it), but some sweet romances with young men or women can be memorable. When you were 20 or even 30, you couldn’t date someone much younger (that would have been illegal). Why not go out with that younger man who is so impressed with your latest book or the friend of your 21-year-old daughter, the one who is also learning Japanese? Just don’t expect these romances to last. If you like older men or women, do that. Yes, guys, why not try dating a woman a bit older than you. Unfortunately, the dating boards are full of 57-year-old guys wanting to date women 20 to 10 years younger than themselves. This is somewhat amusing in that men still die on average, 5 to 7 years before women do.

Step 5

Get out of debt. Now. The less debt you have hanging over your head the freer you’ll feel to pursue the things that count: romance, travel, family, friends, your pet rabbit. In addition, make sure your financial house is in order. If you don’t have a job, get one. If you are self-employed, step it up. If you don’t have a savings or retirement account, the time is now.