Cynthia Bailey had Real Housewives of Atlanta fans cheering in August when, just four months after finalizing her divorce from ex-husband Peter Thomas, she made her relationship with motivational speaker Will Jones Instagram-official.
But if you ask Bailey about it, though Jones may have “stood out” from the guys she’s met since her divorce, she very much still considers herself single.
“I started dating on my birthday and promised myself I would be single for a year and just date and have fun,” the model, who turned 50 in February, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I just came out of a divorce, and it’s hard going through a divorce. So I promised myself I would give myself some me time. I wanted to get back to Cynthia and be in that space for awhile.”
“I still got some more months to go until I’m done dating,” she says. “I am having fun and I’m meeting great guys.”
Just because she’s playing the field a bit doesn’t mean the experience of getting out there has been easy.
“Everything has changed,” says Bailey, who joined the celebrity dating app Raya. “I’ve been involved in a relationship for the past 10 years. The whole cougar thing happened! I’m positioning myself to meet guys my age, they’re positioning themselves to meet girls younger, and young guys are coming for me. Like 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds. I’m like, ‘What in the world is going on?’ ”
“These guys, they don’t care at all about my age,” Bailey jokes. “It’s not like I act, look or feel 50 — I just am 50. But my milkshake is apparently bringing some of the young ones to the yard! I wasn’t ready for that.”
The ages of Bailey’s potential dates isn’t the only thing that’s different. The reality star has also been caught off guard by the “new rules” of dating that have come into fashion with the increased popularity of technology.
“Nobody calls each other anymore, it’s all about texting,” Bailey laments. “I’m old-fashioned, that was an adjustment for me. And then the emoji thing happened. Sometimes a whole text is emojis. I’m like, ‘What, I don’t understand what this means?’ So I had to learn about emojis and become more of a texter.”
Helping Bailey was daughter Noelle Robinson, 18, whom Bailey says has been a constant source of advice. “If I get too excited, she’s like, ‘Mom, you’re acting too thirsty. You’re over texting,’ ” Bailey explains. “Noelle had to tell me what ‘dry texting’ was. I was texting with this guy, we were going back and forth, and he was giving me these one-word answers. I was like, ‘What does this mean? He doesn’t seem that excited.’ And she was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s dry texting you. Next!’ ”
“She’s been really really good at helping me pick out outfits, too,” Bailey continues of her only child. “I’m 50 and I want to look sexy, but I want to be tasteful and classy — I don’t want to be the sexy old lady! She knows what’s hot and what’s going on. She knows the younger world, that’s just not my world. Even though I’m older, I still want to have swag.”
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Still, the biggest thing that’s changed about Bailey’s dating life is her approach to love.
“I always follow my heart, but I’ve learned to stop thinking and go with my gut,” she says. “I feel like at this point in my life, I’m the only person that knows what’s best for Cynthia. There’s a certain privilege you get from turning 50. You kind of get to do what you want to do. People have to respect that, with age comes wisdom. My past happened already, I’m looking forward. I’m 50, God damn it. I have no apologies. Leave me alone and let me enjoy my life. It’s a luxury and I’m embracing that and running full speed ahead.”
“A lot of people look at 50 like, ‘Oh my God, I’m getting so old.’ But it’s really not. Especially for me being single, I feel like it’s a rebirth. I’m starting over. The first 50 were for my daughter, for my family, for my husband, for everyone else. Now I get to be a little greedy.”
As for the guy who eventually gets her heart, Bailey isn’t worried about finding him. “I’m not really looking for a man,” she says. “I’m looking for love, but I don’t really have a timeline for it. If it happens, it happens. I’m so in a great place, and at peace. I’m having a lot of fun.”
The Real Housewives of Atlanta airs Sundays (8 p.m. ET) on Bravo.