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© Jacquie M Boyd

Tom is in his mid-forties.  Handsome and sporty, he cuts an impressive figure, fly-surfing in the winter waves off the beach near his cliff-top home on the Sussex coast.  Tom sold his medical supply business when he was 39:  he was able to retire on the proceeds and pursue his sporting interests, travel and manage an extensive property portfolio.  He was married, briefly, in his early thirties and doesn’t have children. 

‘I’ve been called a lot of things in recent years:  bastard, stringer, serial monogamist, time-waster and little boy lost – those are the printable descriptions.  I have also been described as being emotionally immature, selfish, self-obsessed, narcissistic, a closet gay, also vain.

‘I suppose there’s no smoke without fire, but all these and other less than complimentary descriptions of my being have come exclusively from women I have been out with.  This bewilders me as I can honestly say, hand on heart, that nobody else – friends, acquaintances, family, neighbours and former colleagues – would ever describe me in these terms.  I’m quite a nice guy, really.  These epithets all have to do with the fact that I openly enjoy being single and have no wish now, or as far as I can see in the future, to live with or marry a woman (or a man, for that matter).

‘There was nothing wrong with Julie (my wife), but I just found the institution of marriage stifling.  I’m very controlling and found I couldn’t be accountable to another person.  I agree that I lacked the emotional maturity and any sense of responsibility for somebody else:  I was great at managing my business but utter pants at marriage!  It felt like I couldn’t breathe and suddenly there was this pressure to become a father – my life became governed by fertility dates, thermometers and a calendar dictating when we must have sex.

‘As for children and babies, I have never wanted them. Julie didn’t ask, she just assumed that is what we would do – have kids.  I grew up with two brothers and my father spent all his time philandering about with other women.  He wasn’t really there with us to do boyish things like football and build tree houses.  My memories of my parents’ marriage were of fights, shouting and tears, followed by a relentless and inevitable round of suitcases, taxis, slammed doors and separations.  To me, marriage just didn’t look like a great prospect.  I’m too selfish to be a husband or father – I enjoy my freedom and an uncomplicated existence too much.’

Although Tom has long been released from ‘the confines’, as he describes them, of marriage, he continues to find himself ‘fair game’ at the hands of an expanding group of women.  According to him, ladies of a certain age, ‘can’t believe their luck’ when they stumble across this most eligible of men.

‘I don’t go looking for relationships, but they have a way of finding me.  I may sound big-headed, but all the women I meet seem to think I am some kind of prize and I’ve been waiting all these years for her to show up.  If I begin a relationship with someone, after a short while her eyes glaze over and she begins to think, as if she has some divine powers, ‘I can change him.  No one else has been able to convert him into a husband and father, but I can!’  They look around my modern, minimalist house, fretting about the dangers of the cliff at the end of the garden and the open plan stairs, worrying about the safety of our – as yet – unborn children.  Some have even secretly looked at property details so that we can move to a more family-orientated house.

‘I’m always straight with them.  My feelings towards them are purely amatory – I don’t want anyone to move in, I don’t want to get engaged, married or have children, either in or out of wedlock.  But this seems to make them more determined than ever.  I’m also not interested in anyone who already has children.  Why would I want to give up my surfing or golf so that I could take someone else’s kid to a party or a swimming lesson?  I don’t want children of my own and I certainly don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s.

‘I’m not looking for someone to share my life with, but my ideal woman would be financially independent, independent in nature and independent in spirit and without an urge to procreate.  It’s not very romantic, I know, but I do feel victimised by every woman I meet.  Perhaps my ideal woman would already be married to someone else, who has no intention of leaving and just wants a bit of fun.

‘I had a great time in my teens, twenties and early thirties, and always went out with women of roughly the same age.  I may be emotionally immature, as I’ve said, but I really don’t want to hang out with women decades younger than me.  I might be mistaken for being their dad!  While I might still have concupiscent yearnings for nubile young women, I’d prefer to give clubbing and camping at rock festivals a miss.  I do find the company of women in their thirties and forties most stimulating – they are more worldly.  I just don’t want to settle down with them.

‘I haven’t gone so far as having a vasectomy, but I am extremely careful when it comes to sex.  I don’t take any chances and am genuinely fearful that I will be tricked into making someone pregnant.  A girlfriend sees that I’m wealthy and even if she decides to go-it-alone on the parent front, she knows there is some financial security waiting for her.  If a relationship progresses (in my case beyond six weeks), the woman begins to feel I don’t trust her (which I don’t), and that creates tension.  We split and then, often as not, she reveals her true colours by turning into a crazy bunny boiler.

‘I’m extremely wary of starting any kind of relationship.  Women seem to interpret this fear as playing hard-to-get, and my ‘shyness’, as one 38-year-old put it, ‘is my most attractive quality.’  One-night stands fulfil a physical need, but I’m not in my twenties anymore, and there is something a bit grubby about just being in it for the sex.

‘This relationship thing does blight my life.  I feel hunted.  The more freedom I have, the more intense the hunt.  I’m not like other guys, and I hate the feeling that I have to do so much rejecting and create so much disappointment after just a few months.’

Asked what would be his advice to women who are hoping to get married when they come across an eligible bachelor, who is proactively single, like himself, Tom replied:  ‘Believe him if he is adamant he doesn’t want commitment.  He will be very clear about this. True, there may be stringers out there who lead a merry dance but a large proportion of the blame must be attributed to women who have left it too late.  These women are hell-bent on getting a wedding and a baby, and like some bonkers evangelist they set about trying to ‘convert’ male ‘candidates’ into husband material.

‘Single women in their late thirties and early forties who don’t want to be single are rapacious and scary.  They come across as predatory and calculating, and try to get what they want through stealth.  If a woman does find someone and the prospects for her look good, I would say, don’t force it.  Don’t imagine a glorious summer wedding under silk-lined canvas when you’ve only just met.  Guys may not be as intuitive as women, but they will read your mind on this one, you can be sure.  Don’t sacrifice everything you have achieved so you can rush headlong into a relationship.  What about being a bit aloof – make him curious about you?  If you’re the right person and he thinks he might lose you, he’ll commit.  If he lets you go, then it was never going to work anyway.’

I asked Tom if he thought the time would ever come when he would decide that he might like to settle down and have a family.  Would he still be happy and fulfilled in twenty years’ time if he was on his own?  ‘Who knows?  I know I don’t!’ was his reply.

Two of Tom’s old flames from the 1980s (both now married with children), give their responses to this interview:

Rosie:  ‘Oh Tom, what a wanker you have obviously become!  You used to be such a dashing, gorgeous hunk and I really thought you loved women!  You were always so bold and innovative in everything you did; you pursued the things you were passionate about.  Now, you just sound like a narcissistic nutcase!  I think you just want to hang onto all your money and keep away those gold-diggers and would-be yummy mummies itching to lay their hands on your cash and bear your children.  Chill out, Tommy!’

Jessy:  ‘Tom, you are so wrong!  Wrong about women in general, and wrong about kids. .You obviously crave a lifestyle where you are served by other people in restaurants, as tenants, in your business – other people’s children in fact, yet you are blinkered to the joy that having your own children could bring.  Ask any guy who’s a parent whether he would have preferred to be single, without a woman in his life and without his kids – I think you know the answer.  Poor old Tom!  You appear to be consumed by selfishness.  So on second thoughts perhaps you would be a lousy dad and husband after all.  Pity, back in 1986 you were quite a catch.’

Louise, who has never met Tom before, but read this interview, says:  ‘I feel rather sorry for Tom.  He has obviously been deeply traumatised by something in his life.  As with women who become fixated on getting a man, Tom should relax a little and try not to be alarmed by every encounter he has.’

©  Text Annie Harrison

Extracted from Finding Mr Right by Annie Harrison.






In compiling my book, Finding Mr Right, book I researched an abundance of literature, trawled the Internet and continuously interviewed.  I have also gleaned snippets and vital pieces of information from many helpful people encountered along the way.

Throughout my research, I became, almost to the point of obsession, fascinated by how men and women who marry select each other.  Today, microscopically small proportion marry the first person they meet: most play the dating field to a greater or lesser extent, and when the time is right, settle down with one person.  OK, not everyone makes the right choice when they marry, and divorce statistics bear this out, but generally, there is an acknowledgement that ‘this person is the one for me’ and the question is popped.

For those women who have never been on the receiving end of a marriage proposal or who may have turned one or more down and are now unhappy about their single status, there are inevitable questions.  As she lies alone, blinking into the darkness, the single woman audits the status of all close friends:  who’s married, who’s engaged or co-habiting?  Who’s got children or has a baby on the way?  Invariably this is closely followed by ‘but what about me?’ moments.

Even in the 21st century, chivalry still decrees it is the man who asks and the woman who accepts.  Through discussions with married men and a little help from the Internet, I have gleaned the following reasons why men choose their life partners.  These observations aren’t based on any formal research on my part, but are backed up by the findings in John T Molloy’s fascinating work, Why Men Marry Some Women But Not Others.

Fundamental to a woman’s quest to find a husband is that she seeks out and gets close to the marrying kind.  So who is the marrying kind of man?

• Many men in their early twenties adopt a promiscuous and peripatetic approach to women.  There is a gradual transition to monogamy and stability as they progress into, and through their thirtysomething years.

• This nomadic relationship life phase wears off after a few years when men tire of the single life and their friends begin to stabilise in their relationships.  The influence of peers is strong.

• Men working in the professional sector aged between the ages of 30 and 38 are the age group most likely to settle down, either through co-habiting or marrying.  Before such a time frame, men in this category rarely consider permanency in their relationships.

• After 38, male levels of commitment diminish, plummeting after 43.

• When a man’s friends, colleagues and siblings start to get married, this triggers a domino effect.  He doesn’t want to be left behind and is more likely to leap onto the marriage bandwagon than watch it roll past.

• Men’s lives are also governed by biological clocks that start to tick in their late thirties and early forties.  They aren’t worried about being able to father a child, but they do want to be young enough to play actively with their children and encourage sport, adventure and fun.  Men invariably imagine having sons with whom they can bond as fellow males, play football, go camping, ride bikes, etc.  Therefore, men in this age bracket who say they want a family are ideal candidates for marriage.

• His own family life as child has a bearing on a man’s attitude to marriage later in life.  A happy, stable childhood provides a firm foundation. I f his parents fought, bickered and divorced when he was young, then he may hesitate before formalising commitment.

• It’s obviously true that opposites attract, but statistically, marriages have a better chance of survival if the man and woman have similar backgrounds (socio-economic, religious and political) and are matched psychologically, professionally and spiritually with shared personal tastes and values.

• Don’t dismiss a good man out of court if he doesn’t initially impress you with his physical presence or mannerisms.  You might not notice him at first because he has been dismissed many times in the past for his perceived failings.  He might well be hiding a number of good points or they might get overlooked because you are not seeing him as he is.  Many women I’ve interviewed have ‘discovered’ wonderful things about their partners as their relationships progressed.  Be open-minded because these unpolished jewels are usually keeping the most attractive aspects of their personalities under wraps.  Such men are often strong candidates for marriage.  How many of your married friends’ husbands, in your opinion, are beyond perfection?

• Divorcees and widowers over the age of 40 are more likely to marry than their 40-year-old single counterparts.

So, to enhance your chances of finding a life partner, find and flirt with the marrying type.  Meanwhile, steer well clear of the following:

Stringers or serial monogamists

Check out his track record and examine his state of independence.  Does he value his own space too much and apart from the sex, how close does he get to the real you?  Does he give off any commitment signals?  Take his emotional temperature and if it’s cold, find someone else to warm the cockles of your heart.

Married men

If you are dating a married man, who still lives with his wife and family but promises to leave them, then you are being lied to:  he won’t leave and he won’t set up home with you.  If you do manage to marry him, beware.  The excitement from the days of your clandestine assignations is likely to vanish because the chase and the secrecy will be over.  How long will it be before he eschews monogamy and seeks sexual comfort elsewhere?

Mummies’ boys

It probably goes without saying, but try and avoid a man who still lives at home with mum.  Men who have their own homes and have lived as self-supporting, independent adults are more likely to marry.  And you wouldn’t want a mother-in-law moving in as part of the marriage deal, would you?  Avoid a man with an Oedipus complex.  No matter how wonderful you are, you won’t even come close to receiving the level of adulation he has for his mother.


Men who regard the institution of marriage as some kind of financial coup for women and a fiscal disaster for themselves are unlikely to marry, and don’t make good prospects either.  Meanness is an unpleasant streak in anyone and marrying someone who regards his hard-earned fortune as ‘all mine’, protected with a lengthy pre-nup is unlikely to mellow or start to share.  Run!

Extracted from Finding Mr Right – The Real Woman’s Guide to Landing That Man by Annie Harrison.  Read the book to find out EXACTLY how hundreds of women in their late thirties finally ended up with their Mr Rights.



Finding Mr Right is not a book about dating.  In fact, a trawl through Amazon identifies nearly 1,500 books under the search for ‘dating’, each of them promising to unlock the secrets to attracting and capturing the heart of a potential lover.  Invariably these books are aimed at women and are stuffed full of rules, checklists, body language interpretations, makeover tips plus do’s and don’ts.

There’s no doubt that a businesslike approach to getting into dating shape might help, but I’m not offering that sort of information here.  However, I feel this book would be incomplete if I didn’t include reference to where people meet.  The vast majority of the couples interviewed for this book met in a non-contrived way, through happenstance, serendipity or purely by chance.  The special person you end up with is not some kind of wild animal to be stalked, tracked and ensnared.  Love is elusive and it will find you when and where you least expect it.  But if you don’t want to wait and see what happens and prefer to help your chances of finding a life partner along, then I am happy to share with you the places and events where contributors to this book and others found success. In no particular order and with some overlap:

Travelling:  It’s a volume thing. Trains, ferries, planes… all modes of transport carrying large numbers of people.  Then there’s the places themselves – wherever you travel in the world, you will meet people.  So get yourself out and about.

Activity holidays likely to attract men include cultural pursuits, cookery, hiking, climbing, trekking, walking, windsurfing, skiing, scuba diving, sailing, tennis, golf, kayaking, mountain biking, diving, wildlife watching, creative writing and photography. Are you up for caving or pot holing, or taking flying lessons – almost exclusively male pursuits?  What about dogsledding in Lapland, another manly exploit?

Recreational pursuits:  Anything that involves being with people with common interests such as amateur dramatics, a cycling club or a walking group, hang-gliding, gliding, sailing, horseracing, off-roading or playing in a squash or tennis league.  How about a book group, regatta, choir, cricket matches, hockey team, wine appreciation, ballroom or Latin dancing?  Can you sing or play a musical instrument well?  Find out about auditions.

Quirky.  Sometimes the right man is there when you least expect him –in the checkout queue at the supermarket, during a prolonged motorway hold-up, at a fun run, in the dentist’s waiting room, garden centre, airport lounge, book signing, etc.  Anywhere.  And of course, when you’re looking your absolute worst that’s the most likely time you’ll meet someone special.  Or why not join associations or discussion groups, round tables or livery companies to come across people who share your interests.

Courses.  Whatever you are passionate about, again, you will be united by similar experiences or understanding.  This could be an evening class, course, university or independently-run classes or courses, business courses or attending college as a mature student.

Events.  The numbers thing crops up again, combined with common interests:  TV audience, classical music concerts, exhibitions, country shows and festivals (arts, literary, pop and film). Get out.  Don’t stay in.  Being cultural is the same as travelling – you will come across all sorts of people.

Parties.  In these credit crunch times, people might be partying less, but try and get yourself on the invitation list to house parties, dinner parties, drinks parties, Christmas parties, office parties, charity balls, launch parties, fundraising parties, barbecues, weddings, christenings and bar mitzvahs.

The Arts.  Attend book groups and launches, wine tastings, gallery private views, museums, previews and premières, art galleries, open-air concerts/ theatre and poetry readings.

Divorced dads.  Remember, a lot of divorced fathers take their kids to the zoo or swimming at weekends.

Friends.  For blind dates, set-ups, straightforward introductions, friends of friends, friends of colleagues and brothers/ cousins of friends.  Tell people (discretely – don’t use a megaphone) that you’re looking to meet someone – you never know  from which direction the help might come.

Work. A significant number of relationships germinate at, or through work.  This is hardly surprising as it takes up so much of our lives and brings us into continuous contact with people in the working environment, on courses and at social and corporate events.  You can get to know someone quite well at work before your crush turns to romance, although they might distract you from your work.  Jealous or disapproving colleagues or management may suddenly spring from no-where to foil a discrete fledgling relationship.  But the most obvious reason for treading carefully regarding a work-related romance is coping with the emotional turmoil if it doesn’t work out.

Dating ads.  On-line dating, dating agencies or lonely-hearts advertisements.  But I’m told by British ‘women of a certain age’ who have tried cruises, speed dating, bar pick-ups and singles holidays that the chances of finding your perfect life partner there are virtually zero on.  Avoid.

Apparent misfortune.  At a funeral, during a rail strike or missed flight, when bookings become muddled up, in A&E…  Cally Lowe crashed her car into one driven by Michael Taylor:  the ensuing legal, insurance and garage visits eventually led to marriage.

Holidays.  From the hundreds of communications I have received from women who did meet their life partner during their late thirties and early forties, a significant proportion first set eyes on each other while on holiday.  Two overwhelming factors became apparent here:  (i) the type of holiday and (ii) absolutely not taking a vacation with the intention of meeting someone.

For the single woman, there’s a wealth of holidays out there but you need to be completely open-minded, prepared to enjoy your freedom and have fun, not dwell on the angst of being single.  Things are more likely to happen as a result of avoiding family resorts or activity holidays aimed predominantly at women (yoga, for example) or singles.

Katy was 38 when she went on a charity trek in Peru.  She met another single woman, Cindy, there and they became firm friends.  Although Cindy lived in two hundred miles away, they met up a few months after the trip. Cindy introduced Katy to her divorced brother Vince where they made an immediate impression on each other.  A year later, they were married and they now have two children.

Claudia, then 40 (and in her own words ‘horribly single’), met her husband Andrew, then 38, on a sailing holiday in Turkey.  After trying and failing to book a flotilla yacht in Greece and then Croatia, she accepted a place with a group of people (even older than herself), none of whom she had met before, on a chartered yacht in Turkey.  They sailed to towns and remote areas along the Anatolian coastline.  Claudia had an inspiring holiday although she had little in common with the people on the yacht.  On the penultimate day of the voyage, they found a tiny cove on a small island, where just one yacht was moored.  Claudia met Andrew sitting on a rock. They talked, swam, laughed and exchanged email addresses before departing on their separate yachts… they are now married.

Internet dating  Everything can be found on the Internet and the opportunity to trawl for cyber flirtations is vast.  Dating websites have burgeoned to cater for a culturally diverse and geographically spread client base and sites exist for every interest and taste.  Away from the larger, conventional dating sites is a plethora of sites targeting specific and wide ranging love interests from millionaires to large people, wine lovers, dog lovers and music lovers.  There are sites catering for people from particular faiths or ethnic origins, with a common purpose politically, ethically, sexually or culturally; also for people within certain age brackets, for widowers, and for single parents.  If on-line dating is the route you select, then there should be something or somebody to suit you, but go cautiously.

Alternatively respond or reply to a lonely-hearts ad in your preferred newspaper.  Remember, you are more likely to find someone with a similar outlook to yourself if you start from common ground.

Singles organisations  From what I have gleaned in compiling this book, singles clubs, organisations and groups are not really the best places to meet a significant other.  Carol-Anne, 44, is a member of a singles club in Wiltshire. She says:  ‘Our club has about 100 members and we undertake many activities and adventures as a group.  The purpose of the group is not primarily to meet a soul mate, lover or potential spouse, but to have fun as a group.

‘We are single for a variety of reasons – widowed, divorced, unmarried or out of a long-term relationship.  The club provides friendship, companionship, laughter and a network of people to do a range of activities with, either on a one-to-one basis, or as a group.  We might yomp ten miles across the Downs, ending up at a pub for dinner, or go to the theatre in London or play poker at someone’s house late into the night.  We’ve had picnics at the races, visited Barcelona for the weekend and been go-karting. All terrific fun.  We’re not a bunch of lovelorn, lonely misfits.  Being single actually suits most of us and the club provides a close network of supportive friends.  If you were married or in a close committed relationship, you’d be hard pressed to have as much variety in your life as we do.’

Dating/ introduction agencies  You might use an estate agent to find a house and a recruitment consultant to find the perfect job, so why not employ the best people in the business to find you the perfect partner?  Adverts for dating or introduction agencies are listed aplenty in the national and regional press.  If your budget permits, take a closer look.  But go ahead  with an open mind.

The book, Finding Mr Right, includes the advice of two dating gurus from the elite end of the introduction agency world, Mary Balfour and Mairead Molloy.  Pay attention to their combined wisdom for they have met hundreds of hopefuls.  Over the years they have witnessed many, many successes, but they have also seen dreams crushed through misadventure.  A good matchmaker is never off-duty:  she attends exclusive events, private members’ clubs and charity balls, scouring the room for exact matches for her client list.  ‘Are you single?  Great!  Here’s my card.  Give me a call because I know someone you must meet.’  Their rigorous selection criteria and commitment to success means the calibre of candidates on their books is high, thus ensuring an excellent strike rate and lots of happy clients.

In conclusion  Speak to an adventurer or someone who travels and he or she will always be able to regale you with so many stories about things that happened to them on their way and the people they met.  I think it’s true to say that no one returning from a voyage of discovery would ever complain that they had not come across interesting people on their travels (unless they were trekking solo across the Arctic).  It’s human nature to socialise and interact; we like to feel some kind of connection with a place, usually through its history, culture or the people living there.

So, while it’s easy to bemoan the fact that ‘all the decent men have been snapped up’, the reality is actually the opposite.  There are plenty of good and interesting men out there.  It’s down to you to find or stumble across them, wherever they might be hiding.  Proactivity, a sense of adventure and serendipity all have their roles to play, but you must be the catalyst.  If romance isn’t happening in your life, tinker with your routine and focus your interests on a new project or revive former interests.  Make the time too – don’t let commuting, long hours or domestic routines stand in your way, get out and start doing something you enjoy, something that brings you into contact with other people.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the new connections and opportunities you can discover or create.

Extracted from Finding Mr Right – The Real Woman’s Guide to Landing That Man by Annie Harrison.  Read the book to find out EXACTLY how hundreds of women in their late thirties finally ended up with their Mr Rights.


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Fateful attraction

Cheryl met Roger at 42 and is now mother to Emily and Rory, and stepmother to four.

‘In my late twenties and thirties I was always a great believer in serendipity.  Whenever I met a man, invariably I felt the hand of fate pushing me towards him.  Our meeting might have been by chance, but this was ‘meant to be’.  Consequently, everyone I met was ‘the one’ and I threw myself headlong into relationships determined to make them work.  As I got older, my friends became exasperated – I was known for saying on several occasions, ‘I have just met the most wonderful, and perfect man.  We sat up talking till 4am, putting the world to rights.  We’ve mapped out our future and we’re moving in together…’

‘Early on in a relationship, most of us are in the thrall of new love.  As we progress through our thirties, some of us close our ears, eyes and minds to any warning signs that might call for us to reign in on our enthusiasm for a new man and acknowledge any unpleasant truths.  I know I did.

‘I refused to see faults, impracticalities, bad signals and straightforward incompatibility.  I was caught up in serendipity every time – and I always got it wrong.  I was prepared to compromise on everything, just so I could feel good about ‘having a relationship.’  I believe I had a low sense of self-esteem, stemming from childhood.  I was not a high achiever and in my family we had an ethos of ‘making do’ – not a great neighbourhood, not a good school, selfish parents…

‘By the time I reached 40, I woke up to the fact that hurling myself at a man ‘because it was fate’ was not the answer.  I realised that I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  It wasn’t fate at all – it was desperation.  My blinkered determination was so strong that I dreamed of being able to prove everyone wrong and say, ‘I told you so!’

‘I had always hoped for a family, but by the time I was 40 and still single, I had resigned myself to singledom and certain childlessness.  I put all my effort into my job and some charity fundraising and got a cat.  Plainly, relationships were not for me.

‘I met Roger on a cookery holiday in Italy.  He was the only man there – and at 57, the oldest too.  Because I wasn’t under any fateful (or fatal) pressure to ‘get a relationship’, I was far more natural.  We cooked some wonderful food together, explored the heavenly Tuscan countryside and sat talking, drinking wine and watching the sunset over the sunflower fields and vineyards.  Now, that was romantic.  We met up after the holiday to share photographs over a home-cooked Italian meal and took it from there.  As a widower, Roger was reluctant to begin another relationship too quickly.  My hesitancy also helped us to take it just one step at a time.

‘We married when I was 42 and I found out that I was expecting twins.  I had given up on relationships and on the prospect of having a child.  Now I have both in spades, plus an unexpected, and sometimes challenging role as a stepmother.’

Cheryl’s advice:  ‘You cannot force fate – fate will work for you when you least expect it.  Don’t go looking for it:  let it come to you.  Don’t be blinded by love or compromise totally when you meet someone.  Take note of the warning signals and never resolve to change someone to suit you, or change yourself to suit them.  There is someone out there for you.  Relax, chill out and look the other way.  If fate determines it, he will tap on your shoulder and say, ‘I have been looking for you.’’

Desperate and delusional

Sophie, 42, is a consultant oncologist, now married to Nick, who runs a printing business.  She has been married a year and a half and has just had baby Joshua.  Here, Sophie recalls (with horror) her delusions and inability in the past to accept when a relationship had ended.

‘Professionally, I have always been smart – I have to be, but I cringe when I think of how dreadfully inept and pathetic I was on the dating front.  I have spent most of my adult life studying and working in hospitals.  With very few exceptions, I always dated men from the medical profession.  I was once compared to the crazy hospital administrator, Joanna Clore, from Channel 4’s The Green Wing.  I had many problems on the man front – I tried too hard, dated people too close to home (professionally speaking) and I was generally full on.

‘My one big problem was that I found the ending of a relationship impossible to accept, even if I’d instigated it – I always wanted to remain friends.  The usual chain of events meant that I would meet my ex for an occasional drink, I would invite him over for dinner and one thing would lead to another.  In my mind I had cured myself of being a former girlfriend and had instead tempted him back into my life again.  A relationship that had been off was quickly converted back to one that was on again.  I didn’t do this just once but over the years, more times than I care to admit.  My friends all castigated and lectured me about ‘over meaning over, and when you’re dumped, find someone else,’ but it was like a kind of addiction to me.  Finally, at the age of 38, one incident terminated once and for all my delusional aspirations to inveigle my way back in to a relationship that had irretrievably broken down.

‘I had been going out with Callum, a doctor junior to me in age and rank, for about six months.  We’d had a lot of fun and the relationship was quite relaxed.  I admit, I’d even been mentally ‘making plans’ for the future so I was devastated when he announced that he’d met someone else and that we were finished.  I found it impossible to accept and began my ‘let’s be good friends routine’.  Callum seemed to accept this, and it wasn’t long before we were occasionally falling back into bed with each other, although he was adamant we were not a couple.

‘One morning over breakfast at my apartment, Callum asked if I could lend him £3,000.  He said he still had loans that needed paying off but he was expecting some money from his grandmother’s legacy soon.  Naturally, I was delighted to help, and felt that this financial arrangement bound us even closer together.  So I paid up.  About a week later a colleague took me to one side after surgery and told me that Callum had used the £3,000 I’d loaned him to buy a diamond engagement ring for the ‘someone else’ he’d alluded to.  And no, of course I didn’t get the money back.  In one fell swoop I had been dumped (again), humiliated, conned and passed over for a younger nurse.  Furthermore these details about my personal life were all public knowledge within the hospital, from the porters up to the chief executive.  Oh, the shame!

‘When I met Nick a year later he found my reticence and caution quite alluring.  And he bought me an engagement ring with his own money.’

Sophie says:  ‘My advice to anyone suffering from delusions about relationships, similar to mine is never, ever, ever go back – even if it’s just for an old times’ sake fling.  If he wants you back, he would have to beg on his knees and do everything in his power to win you over again.  And still you must say no.  Men enjoy the hunt and the chase.  If you’re presenting yourself on a plate, even for a new relationship, there will be no challenge.  And never, ever, lend money to an ex-boyfriend.’

A clean start

Claire was 37 when she met Craig (after a lifetime of disastrous dating, of which the longest relationship was four months).  She’s now married and mother to Eliza.

‘In recent years the word ‘toxic’ has been used to describe the poisoning of emotions and relationships.  It is a powerful word and as a writer, I feel that it’s an apt description of my life prior to meeting Craig.  A lake filled with toxic chemicals kills living things and causes stagnation, and I believe the same is true of emotions.  Bad experiences, like battle scars, are left behind and take a long time to heal.  If we move from one bad relationship without purging the toxicity left behind or allowing the wounds to heal then we’re simply creating more pollution with which to taint and destroy the next fledgling relationship.

‘For reasons I won’t go into here, I had a catalogue of bad dating and relationship experiences going right back to my teens.  By my mid-thirties, I was such a cynical and resentful individual that one man walked out of a restaurant via the kitchens on our first date.

‘I took the advice of a friend and started seeing a therapist, who helped me to clear the dross from my past.  Together we wiped my slate clean and erased all the one-night stands, arguments, bad experiences and feelings of low self-esteem.  We swept away all the poison and worked on my self-image. I was also encouraged to help others in order to avoid becoming too self-absorbed, so I helped out at a hostel for the homeless.  I saw for myself the effects bad experiences had on others, physically and mentally.

‘Away from my therapist I rewrote my ‘rules’ for dating men and resolved to be in control of my destiny.  I was a lake, pure and fresh, and would not allow myself or anyone else to pollute its clear waters.  I know it sounds weird but visualisation is a great therapy and good way to achieve goals.

‘I met Craig while skiing in Austria.  He found me ‘enigmatic and mysterious.  I didn’t harp on about all the bad relationships I’d had or put him off with a twisted attitude to men – I was the new me and a better person for it.  A good relationship had been so difficult in the past.  Now, it seemed straightforward, natural and totally uplifting.  Having Eliza completed the picture.’

Claire says:  ‘My advice would be:  If you have had bad relationships or still have issues to work through, take a break from looking for a man and sort yourself out.  Get help, if you need it.  Try and find someone who can help you visualise the breaking of ties and the removal of bad or harmful things that might be holding you back now.  When you are ready, start afresh and keep some form of spiritual or religious insight in your head every day and commune with it.’

Irritatingly independent

Mary met Peter at 38 and married at 40.  She had Poppy at 42 and another baby a month after her 45th birthday.

‘My problem was that I was unbelievably independent.  I was a commercial lawyer and thought most men were beneath me – intellectually and in terms of their success.  This was a good excuse but in reality, I was completely married to my career and my own success.

‘One morning I experienced a thunderbolt moment and decided that the emphasis in my life had to change:  I had a nasty habit of scaring men off with my power dressing, power thinking, female empowerment and supersonic-lawyer-thing.  It all became abundantly clear when I took a good look at myself in a full-length mirror.  I was dressed in my dark tailored business suit and observed my neat bleached hair and bright red lipstick.  Standing tall in my heels and black stockings, I resembled a dominatrix.  All that was missing was the whip.  I realised then that I was coming across as threatening.  Men need to feel they are protecting women, that they are the hunter-gatherers.

‘I discussed this one evening with a male colleague who clarified the situation for me. He said that men like to compete with other men, not with women.  Outside the work environment, high-powered women are scary to just about all men.  They’re definitely not a turn-on.  Men have a basic need to be needed.  Without being superior, they want to be able to do things that women can’t.  The guys want someone with whom they can grow, who can teach them how to be more sensitive.

‘I met Peter when I went to stay one weekend with some married friends, John and Minty, at their farmhouse.  Peter was John’s brother, and was a fruit farmer.  Not my type at all.  But during that winter weekend, he impressed me.  I had a puncture on my BMW convertible, and he changed the wheel in the pouring rain and fixed a faulty electric window.  He then came in, dripping wet, and prepared a magnificent roast for twelve people, single-handedly.  Later, he iced a Christmas cake for the village raffle.  Not only was he manly, practical, resilient, kind and a good cook; over dinner I found him witty, intriguing and attractive.  He was also six years younger than me.  I softened in his company and he was able to bring out an inner gentleness I never knew I possessed.

‘After a successful career I was fortunate to have my family late in life, without any problems.  I almost feel that I don’t deserve this.  Peter’s humility, contentment, kindness and energy made me see how hardened I had become.  I am humbled and deeply honoured to marry him and have his children.’

Mary advises:  ‘Don’t let your job or career dominate you.  Switch off the power woman thing if you meet a good man.  Don’t compete with men – they can do that with other men.  Men want someone they can grow with, someone they feel they can protect.  If he feels you can fend for yourself, then he may feel redundant and leave.  Don’t treat him as inferior to you.  Men are not that difficult to figure out.  He will have lots to offer.  Make sure you don’t trump him at every turn and that you can offer a contrasting feminine side.  You don’t have to give up your career – just tone down its dominance on you and your lives together.’

Escape the ‘single girl syndrome’

Cara, 43, married Simon when they were both 40.  Over 20 years, Cara had had 12 ‘steady’ relationships, but was always looking out for someone better.  After ten months on her own, she met Simon at the funeral of a work colleague.

‘I suffered from what the Americans call ‘Single Girl Syndrome’.  I was so busy having fun and could never find anyone right for me.  Consequently, I was never in a ‘real’ relationship.  I always found faults – he wasn’t the handsomest man in the room, he wasn’t quite tall enough, he wasn’t as successful as I would like, he wasn’t fit enough – the list was never-ending.

‘Whenever the initial romance in a relationship began to transform into attachment, I felt it was curbing my lifestyle.  Snuggling down on the sofa with my man to watch a TV drama series or ironing his shirts just wasn’t what I had in mind when it came to relationships.  I would far rather be out clubbing, having a good time with my girlfriends or be down at the gym getting toned.  One relationship also really hurt me and it took years to shake off the pain.  I visited a psychologist who revealed that I had a problem loving myself and had barriers to break down before I could love anyone else.  I also realised that I had never in my whole life been in a relationship with someone who loved me.  No one had ever said, ‘I love you’.  I never stayed long enough for love to grow.

‘I met Simon when I was at a very low ebb and I think, that for the first time, I was able to be the real me.  Neither of us intended for our meeting to turn into friendship, and for friendship to blossom into love and marriage, but it did.  Loving someone and being loved is the best feeling in the world.  Or maybe it’s having two babies to love when I thought my time was up.  Both are utterly wonderful.’

Cara says:  ‘I would advise women in their thirties not to flit about and act like they’re still in their twenties.  Grow up and get in touch with your own feelings (or lack of them).  In a man, see if his good qualities outweigh the bad.  At the same time, take a close look at yourself and do the same exercise.  Don’t fear attachment to someone, embrace it.  And improve your sense of self-esteem:  if you can’t respect yourself, how can you expect someone else to?’


Dismiss the Hollywood image of ‘Mr Right’.  Go and find ‘Mr Right for you’

Nita, 45, married Rick when she was 39.  They have two children, Felix and Barney.

‘Ever since I was a small girl, I was captivated by films and entertainment.  So I fulfilled my dream to work in the industry, becoming a make-up artist.  I came into contact with A-list celebrities and spent most of my working life off set transforming people’s faces.  Not surprisingly, I began to confuse my real world with the unattainable heights of beauty, romance and love portrayed in the movies.  Again, unsurprisingly, my target for Mr Right was exceedingly high – I wanted a dashingly handsome, ruggedly strong, powerhouse of lust and romance.  George Clooney would have been ideal.  Hardly surprising then that he didn’t live in my neck of the woods.

‘I think a lot of women have become brainwashed by the media and the culture of celebrity.  Most men are normal, and so are most women.  I also learned that things are never what they seem and the Hollywood ending is so utterly unlikely that it would never, ever happen, let alone to me.  It would make sense to give a regular guy a chance.  So that’s what I did.

‘Rick would kill me for describing him as a regular guy, but he is a million miles from the Tom Cruise Action Man type I’d envisaged.  He’s nice looking (not a lot of hair, mind), smiles a lot, is handy about the house with his Black & Decker, makes me laugh and is completely ensconced in the responsibilities of fatherhood.  And he loves me, and I love him.  Rick works in films too, and our paths had crossed for years.  It was only when we shared a car travelling to a film shoot on a Scottish mountain that we really got talking.  I knew within ten minutes that we were right for each other.  I was 38 and Rick was my Mr Right.’

Nita says:  ‘My advice would be stopping looking for Mr Right – he doesn’t exist.  Instead, dispense with any ideal you hold in your head.  You will have been influenced by all different kinds of things, including your friends, the media and other role models in your life (what about your father?).  Instead, be very open-minded.  Have no preconceptions.  Are you a Hollywood goddess?  No?  I’m not saying lower your standards:  just accept that most men are average, everyday people just like you.  You don’t have to settle for the first man that comes along, so be prepared to kiss a few frogs along the way.  Come down from fantasyland and be prepared to take a chance.  Remember, you won’t find Mr Right, but you might just find Mr Right for you.’

Just be yourself

Vicky was 38 when she met Nigel.  She was still 38 when they got married.

‘I have spent most of my adult life pretending.  I have always tried to fit into groups or cliques by being like the people in them, although I am naturally more solitary by nature.  I just wanted to be liked.  I used to boast a lot about my achievements and even made things up to impress people.  During my twenties, if I was ever on my own, I was miserable in my own company.  I mellowed as I went through my thirties, but I realised that I was copying my friends or people I admired.  I copied people’s clothes and even entered a career I didn’t particular like, just so I could be like my friends.  I bought a particular model of car because my friend had one; I went on holidays I didn’t enjoy because that’s what the group had decided, and I even went out with someone because he was a friend of my friend’s boyfriend.  (It really depresses me writing this when I think back to what I was like!)

‘I didn’t really decide to be me – it just happened.  I was sent to work in France for a couple of months, although my French was very shaky.  Whilst there I met Nigel, who was also British.  We soon teamed up socially as we couldn’t get along in French.  At first neither of us was physically attracted to each other (after all, he didn’t fit my friends’ ‘ideal types’), but we developed a sparking fusion on a completely new level – it was all in the head and so exciting and stimulating.  I was also away from home in a different environment so I had to be myself, not some invention.

‘Nigel was the complete opposite of the stereotypes I had always gone for in the past, just to fit in.  With him, I also found a new me – someone who could express an independent view, develop her style and taste.  We realised the sheer depth of our feelings for each other when his assignment ended and he returned from Paris to London.  We ached to be together, and for the first time in my life I knew what love was.

‘It was great being able to plan my wedding all by myself.  My two closest friends were surprised not be bridesmaids (I didn’t have any) and I loved being able to do things my way.’

Vicky’s advice:  ‘Just be yourself.  Don’t do things to please others or earn their respect.  A man will love you for being you, not some kind of other person impressionist.’

Choose normal, not someone you want to change to fit your ideal

Kathryn was 39 when she met Martin.  Now 49, they have three children together.

‘After years of disastrous dating I met Martin.  I had always been attracted to the wrong kind of men for me.  I probably had a self-destruct button when it came to man selection.  I learned nothing from my disasters and kept believing I could mould or even ‘cure’ men to suit me.  I think it stemmed from a low sense of self-esteem, with throwbacks to my relationships with my parents and being bullied at boarding school.

‘I met Martin through mysinglefriend.com.  My sister, Elspeth, thought I needed a fresh approach to dating and put my details forward.  After some initial reticence, I became hooked.  It seemed such an obvious way to meet people and it was great fun.  I came into cyber contact with some interesting men, and found the whole process intriguing and inspirational.   I was drawn to Martin and we began a relationship over the phone, because he lived 150 miles away.   We discussed everything, and I couldn’t wait until the allotted time every night when we would speak.   The anticipation and nerves before our first date were huge.   I wanted it all to work out and for me not to mess it up.   I also hoped he wouldn’t find me too old looking.

‘Martin was the first normal man I think I had ever met.  He runs a successful mail order company, and he wanted to settle down and have a family.  He is practical, popular, kind, friendly and funny.  I was blown away by how he fell in love with me – he was completely smitten.  He told a friend of mine that he would do ANYTHING, absolutely ANYTHING to get me.  I found my reserved attitude to commitment eradicated by his unashamed love, and reciprocated fully.  I had finally stopped wishing for, or trying to change a man to fit in with my preconceptions.  Because we were unable to spend a lot of time together, we made the absolute most of our weekends.  As they say, ‘absence really does make the heart grow fonder.’  He wasn’t what I had envisaged but he was perfect and I didn’t want to change him one jot.’

Kathryn says:  ‘Give the guys a break.  Men are just as confused about women as women are about men.  Don’t try and change someone because he doesn’t suit you.  Accept it:  he doesn’t suit you.  Internet dating is a great way to widen your potential market.  There are lots of men out there and there is someone right for you.  Go with the flow, relax and be yourself.’

Be the hunted, not the hunter

Carolyn, 43, has been living with Alastair for the last four years.

‘Right across the animal kingdom and in all cultures and civilisations since man inhabited the planet, in courtship the male of the species has chased and caught the female.  True, there might be a few exceptions to this rule but by and large, it’s the boys pursuing the girls.

‘So I don’t know why I wasted about five years of my adult life pursuing any man who took my fancy and then bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t meet a man who was right for me.  At the age of 35 I decided that I would ‘take action’ and become a ‘dating activist’.  I answered adverts in the paper, tried to pick up men up in pubs and at clubs. I flirted outrageously with colleagues and pursued relentlessly those who didn’t appear to be returning my affections.  I had a lot going for me – I was attractive and bright, with a good sense of humour.  I had travelled throughout the world in my job as an IT consultant, and I had a cool home and a flashy car.

‘Looking back on the way I behaved, I’m appalled.  Men were like prey and I hunted them down.  It all became about the capture and making a conquest.  I didn’t know what I wanted once I had them, so moved on to the next one.

‘I am ashamed to admit it, but the turning point came one morning in the office.  The night before, I’d slept with a man I’d met while out with colleagues after work.  He was rather gorgeous, but hadn’t asked if he could see me again.  So I deliberately left one of my rings on his bedside table, using it as the perfect excuse to engineer another meeting.

‘I found his office number in the phone book and rang him at work.  I told him that I had left my grandmother’s engagement ring at his house and asked if I could come over and pick it up.  He said that he had it with him at his office and would arrange for a courier to deliver it to my workplace.  When it arrived, there was a slip of paper in the envelope saying, ‘You’re a slut and your grandfather was obviously a cheapskate.’  Harsh words when you are desperate to find someone to love and be loved by.

‘You should always expect the unexpected, but forget all this ‘seek and ye shall find’ malarkey because it just doesn’t apply to lifelong partners.  Yes, you can throw your heart and soul into finding the right house, job, car and outfit, but the harder you look for the perfect man the more he will elude you.

‘So, I laid off the hunting and chasing, and explored more cultural interests.  I went to literary festivals and art galleries and began attending a wine appreciation class, where I met Alastair, a fellow oenophile.  Each week we sat next to each other.  After class, we started going out for dinner at a nearby restaurant and over an extended period of time became friends, soul mates and then lovers.’

Carolyn’s advice:  ‘Let the men come to you.  Men prefer to do the chasing –they’ll be put off by a woman who’s way too keen and relentless in her pursuit.  I’ve even heard men discussing women who try to corner them, describing them as mad, unstable, desperate or aggressive.  Difficult it may seem, but try to play a bit hard-to-get.  It adds a bit of mystery.  Be your own person:  independent and confident.  This is far more attractive to the male of the species than being a determined predator.’

Desperate cows’ lives

And now for a male perspective…  Patrick was 39 when he met Nicky (then 37), two years ago.

‘I met and married Nicky very quickly, finally, after a long and generally unsuccessful series of romances.  I found that as I got older, the women I was attracted to were also older.  But the older they were, the more desperate they appeared to be.  In many cases, I was surprised by how much crap they took in a relationship.  I admit, I could be a real tosser and utterly selfish with it.

‘I had a girlfriend a couple of years back who was a year older than me and desperate to ‘make it work.’  I behaved appallingly because I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with her.  I was always late and sometimes didn’t show up at all.  I openly flirted with other women, ‘forgot’ my wallet on several occasions and even though I could, never shopped, cooked, put the washing machine on or did any other domestic chores.  She did it all for me.  Even though she enjoyed a drink, she always stayed sober to drive me home after parties.  That was great.  The more I behaved badly, the more of a doormat she became.  I even tried to end the relationship, but she always came back accepting the blame and grovelling for me to stay.

‘When I met Nicky, she was not desperate at all.  She felt important, had high standards and a strong sense of self-worth.  She was so sexy, too – she just oozed head-turning sex appeal and confidence.  I had to chase her and impress her to get her to notice me.  She was a prize definitely worth working for and the more elusive she appeared, the more I wanted her.  I was stunned when she went on a holiday with a girlfriend to Italy and when she began considering a job offer in the States.  I knew that if I wasn’t careful then she would slip out of my hands, so I proposed.  She is the only woman I have ever loved and even now we are married her energy, originality, sexiness and independence ensure that I am in a constant ‘keen-as-mustard’ state.’

Patrick says:  ‘Don’t think or act in a desperate way.  Think what you want out of life and go and get it.  If you compromise your life to accommodate a love interest, he won’t thank you for it.  Men enjoy the thrill of pursuit and always want something they can’t have.  Have high standards – you wouldn’t accept bad behaviour from your friends or colleagues.  Don’t put up with being given the run-around by a dickhead who’s never going to commit.’

Extracted from Finding Mr Right by Annie Harrison.  Available in paperback and on Kindle.


Birth mothers, not

March 11, 2013


Here, three single women share their own experiences of childlessness.

Camilla, 46

For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted was a husband and children of my own. I witnessed my sisters’ and friends’ weddings and a rapid succession of nephews and nieces.  As my sisters and most of my friends settled down into routines of domesticity and child rearing, I climbed the corporate ladder at a pharmaceutical company and dated a string of eligible, but wholly unsuitable men.

I endured my share of heartbreak and disappointment on the dating front and stoically attended a batch of weddings every summer that passed. I admit that I cried a lot and felt sorry for myself.  I wallowed in self-pity, resented the happiness of others and longed for my prince to rescue me, the damsel in distress, the hopeful lady-in-waiting…  My only consolation was music – I play the piano – and it became an outpouring for my bitterness.  But there came a point when I glanced up from resentment and saw that my nieces and nephews were growing into wonderful little kids.

I had always been close to my sisters, particularly my twin, but backed off when they got married.  In a typically English way, I thought that nobody would want a spinster sister sticking her oar into family life.  But I was wrong.

On the morning of my 42nd birthday, I had what some might call an epiphany.  Since it was now extremely unlikely that I would have a family of my own, the only way I could combat my isolation was to get involved with the families closest to me.  So I got over myself and my perpetual state of singledom – and became a yummy auntie instead.

I relished Christmas with my families, lent a helping hand at children’s parties and became hoarse with shouting at school sports days.  I got involved with one of my nephew’s schools and played the piano in the school play when the music teacher was ill.  Suddenly, my network of friends expanded and I found a renewed passion within my humdrum life.

I am always there for my sisters and their families, and wherever possible, for my godchildren and friends’ children.  I can offer my support, and when my hectic work life permits, take great pleasure arranging outings for the kids or having them to stay the weekend.  We camp in the garden, go to the cinema or the ballet, have barbecues, hunt for fossils in the cliffs and take long, muddy bike rides in the countryside.  I occasionally baby-sit, but limit this to a few times a year – I don’t want my good-natured availability to be taken for granted.

Since music is my passion, I have taken ownership of piano lessons for Chloe and Emily, two of my nieces.  I bought them a Bechstein piano and have funded their lessons right up to Grade 6, swelling with pride and wiping tears away when they have played in concerts.

I have carved a role as friend and confidante to these children, as musical sugar-auntie to two of them, and as an unencumbered extra pair of hands at family events.  It’s wonderful to love and be loved, and to admire their youth and vitality.  And do you know what?  It’s not such an odd role in this family – this is the way of life for large Italian families.

And just as soon as having my own children was off my radar, something in me changed and I met Andrew – a handsome divorcé with four grown-up daughters.  We live about 100 miles apart and both of us are unwilling to compromise our current lifestyles, but I suppose you could say, I do have a love interest there.  He doesn’t want commitment, and neither do I – that would mean giving up on my children and my extended family.

So, I didn’t get what I envisaged in life, but I took the next best thing and it has fulfilled me.  I had the option to be bitter and twisted with my lot, but I chose not to take it.  And right now, I wouldn’t have my life any other way.

Rowena, 45

When I was 33, I made an assumption that the man I had dated for three years, the man who proposed to me, who married me and carried me over the threshold wanted to have children.  But I was wrong.  Our viewpoints were completely polarised, and in just two years, our happy marriage was feeling the strain.  To make matters worse, I became ill and needed a hysterectomy.  My wretchedness at being denied parenthood by my husband was compounded by the surgeon’s knife.  Six months later, our short marriage finally broke down for good and we divorced.

I experienced pain, regret, resentment, bitterness, overwhelming sadness and a kind of black void.  It took a long time to shake off and I have to confess to recoiling at the sight of a new baby, or feeling like I had been punched whenever a pregnancy was announced by a friend or colleague.

I had a good counsellor, and between us we worked through this and other issues I had.  A few years later I met Rod, who was divorced with three children:  Paddy, Hamish and Annabel.  Shortly after his divorce, cancer claimed the children’s mother and he took custody of his brood.

The children, who were all under 14 at the time, regarded me with suspicion and resentment.  They felt I was muscling in on their father and trying to resume the role of their mother.  I understood this, but it was still very hard.  If they weren’t ignoring me, they were rude or sullen.  I could do nothing right and I felt them mocking me when my back was turned.  It brought to the surface my barren and childless state – I couldn’t have children of my own, and I couldn’t relate to other people’s children either.  That hurt.  But I was crazy about Rod and finally understood what falling in love was about.  He proposed and I accepted – with some trepidation, I must confess.

It was at this point that the children had a sort of pow-wow in deciding how to treat this woman who was to become their stepmother and an integral part of their family.  They voted in my favour and wrote me a long letter (unprompted by their father), welcoming me into their lives.

They were true to their word and I am now a fulfilled stepmother.  We have been through so much together – good and bad:  exams, sporting competitions, teenage crushes, a dalliance with drugs, plus all their young adult achievements.  I am their mother – they call me Row, but I am their mother.

When I look back over my own life, and the inevitability of my childlessness, this is an outcome which I could barely have dared to wish.’

Jayne, 46

Rummaging through an old storage box at my mother’s house, I came across a photograph of me, taken when I was about three.  I was standing outside a Wendy house in our garden with the little boy from next door – Jeremy, I think he was called.  I was holding my favourite dolly, Polly.  We looked like a miniature married couple proudly showing off our new baby.

The photograph triggered in my mind a recollection that as a child I always wanted to have a family.   Right up to adulthood, this recollection became an assumption.  So, from an early age I aspired to have a family, yet decades later I had failed to live up to this blueprint for life.  Although there has been a man in my life most of the time, this is always a transient arrangement.  A permanent fixture is the house and car, but somewhere down the line I missed my chance to acquire the husband and the children – and love.

I wasn’t a bad person.  I wasn’t unstable or selfish.  I didn’t look or act weird – I was just nice and normal.  And passive.

I didn’t miss out on having a family because I was infertile (although I will never actually know), nor because I postponed pregnancy to concentrate on my career.  Along my romantic journeys I never actually met anyone who mutually agreed that we should make babies together.  I just navigated the maze of serial monogamy, each boyfriend buying a few years of my fertility timeframe.  We had fun, some great holidays and everyday companionship, but each relationship eventually hit a dead end and I would start the unbreakable pattern all over again.

Because I was ‘nice’, I was never the sort of person to trick a man into making me pregnant, nor was it in my nature to bludgeon a man into becoming a parent with me.  I wasn’t brave or selfish enough to seek sperm donation, so I just waited in vain for my dreams to come true, and looked on as my friends hitched and hatched.

I am so angry with myself that I didn’t dump the ditherers and wasted my most precious years.  I indulged myself for the moment and hoped that the future would work out fine.  I yearned for a nuclear family, quietly and to myself.  I lived in fear of a relationship breaking up – I couldn’t bear the prospect of being alone, and I hoped that things would change.  But they didn’t.

Looking back, my life was completely without drama – no ultimatum-fuelled rows, no fraught Christmases, no probing fertility specialists, no mourned miscarriages.  And without defining moments – no breath-catching declarations of love, no blushing bride, no shared ownership, no screaming labour pains or trials of motherhood.  It was a kind of neutral, joyless, middle-of-the-road existence.  I wasn’t prepared to say what I wanted, or to go after the things I desired most.  I didn’t even get angry.  At night, lying awake and alone in the darkness, I imagined that I could hear my unborn children in the distance, crying, ‘Come and get us, Mummy, come and get us!’  And as the years rolled by, their cries became quieter and quieter.   Now there is just silence.

Yes, it is a kind of bereavement and a regret.  I try not to make judgements on cigarette smoking teenage mothers as they stroll past me in the street, pushing a buggy, a phone clamped over an ear with a bawling toddler in tow.  I do get a pang when I see older mothers with babies or small children in a clutch at the school gates.  How did they manage to cross the line when their time was almost up and I didn’t?  And I do wonder how fate conspires to ignore some people’s dreams and lavish on others things that, by rights we’re all entitled to.

I have made my bed and I must lie on it.  There are no children in my life, but I have my health and my (modest) wealth.   I have resolved to find passion, colour, interest and opinion in many new fields and to shake off the beige passivity that has hung over me like a cloud for so long.  I will find a new vibrancy, purpose and happiness and will stop wallowing in the ‘what might have been.’  My horizon is already looking brighter.’

Extracted from Finding Mr Right by Annie Harrison.


21st-century singledom is a baffling realm of non-date dates, non-relationship relationships, crossed wires and failed semantics. Rebecca Holman, a possibly single 29-year-old, reports.

The difficulties of 21st-century dating, by Rebecca Holman

The difficulties of 21st-century dating, by Rebecca Holman Photo: LAURA HYND

By Rebecca Holman, published in The Daily Telegraph, February 13, 2013

I have called myself single for the past decade. Strange then, I realised recently, that I have rarely been properly on my own. I haven’t lived with a boyfriend, introduced anyone to my parents, or been on a mini-break. Yet even without an official ‘boyfriend’ there are normally several text conversations with potential beaus buzzing away on my phone.

I also tend to have a few guys on a low-level stalk on Facebook, and there’s always that frisson of excitement when an attractive man retweets one of my ‘LOLz-ier’ status updates. I might be missing out on love, but I’m never short of intrigue, and right now intrigue seems more fun.

Some of this intrigue even becomes actual, real-life, human interaction and perhaps… more. But mostly I’ve found myself in a perpetual state of limbo – stuck somewhere between first encounter, a hook-up and a full-blown relationship. It’s thanks in part to social media. Twitter, Facebook and Google have turned the dating world upside-down, changing how we meet people, what we know about them before we do – and introducing a new layer of ambiguity into single life that generations before us never had to contend with.

I am not in a relationship – or in what someone 20 years older than me would consider a relationship – yet rarely am I definitively single. There is not quite a word for what I am. Our vocabulary is straining as much as we are to encompass the world of modern dating.

Take the word ‘date’ itself. Recently The New York Times questioned whether traditional courtship was over, and whether ‘hanging out’ had replaced ‘dating’. Sounds familiar. Last Friday night I met four girlfriends for drinks after work. I was hoping also to hear from Paul. We’d met at a mutual friend’s party around Christmas, and had seen each other a couple of times since with friends. All week we’d been texting, messaging and emailing. We’d made vague plans to see each other that night. But by 7pm he still hadn’t texted.

Finally, at 8pm, my phone buzzed. ‘What are you up to?’ ‘Not much,’ I replied. ‘Drinks with the girls.’ ‘Want to meet us at my local?’ Reader, I went. I schlepped all the way across the city – only to spend the next three hours with Paul and about six of his friends. Dinner and drinks à deux it wasn’t.

Traditional ‘dating’? My generation doesn’t know how. I wasn’t the only one of my girlfriends to leave early that night. In fact, I can’t remember the last night out with my single friends where we all stayed until the end, or where we weren’t joined by a special guest at some point. And it isn’t simply a case of women being on the receiving end of the latest incarnation of male dating fecklessness. We follow the new rules as assiduously as they do, are just as uneasy about being pinned down, just as likely to be the texter as the textee.

If, like me, you’re a ‘millennial’ (born between 1983 and 2000) you will have never known adulthood – or adult relationships – without a mobile phone. Like me, you are probably so used to keeping your options open – and not deciding what you’re doing on a Friday night until about 6.59pm that evening – that the idea of ‘dating’ seems pretty foreign. Actually phone someone up to ask them out and agree on a date at some point in the future and put it in my diary? Unthinkable. What if I get a better offer? Instead, millennials like to keep it vague. Instead of dating (an American term anyway) we might be ‘seeing someone’, ‘having a thing’, ‘hooking up’. Increasingly, we ‘hang out’ – and not necessarily as a twosome.

Ours is a generation of contradictions. We bravely (recklessly?) let the rest of the world into our online world with gay abandon: you’d like to see 50 pictures of me on a bikini on the beach? Go ahead! Want to know how I’m feeling at this exact moment? Here you are! But in the world of endless options, where nothing seems permanent, and you never have to interact with anyone face to face if you don’t want to, me actually picking up the phone, telling someone how I feel about them, or even asking them out for dinner seems like too big a risk. Why make a phone-call or suggest a date when you can send a non-committal text that merely dangles the possibility of meeting? If they’re keen, you’ll see each other; if not, they’ll plead prior plans. No one’s feelings get hurt.

But at least one of you can end up feeling confused. The social psychologist Ben Voyer warns that while texting and online messaging are perceived to be easier than face-to-face contact or a telephone conversation, in the medium to long term they can make things more difficult. (Was last Friday a ‘date’? Your guess is as good as mine.)

‘Face-to-face contact is much richer. We have more visual and audio cues to help us form an impression of someone.’ Of course endless texting will never offer the same insight into someone’s personality as even a single face-to-face conversation. The I-don’t-know-what-is-going-on phase of a proto-relationship can continue far longer now. You can become vastly experienced in the heady yet confusing dance of Early Days – I have had years of it, and know all the steps – yet remain an ignoramus about the mysterious state of proper Girlfriend and Boyfriend.

Yet it’s so easy to get carried away with texting or instant messaging. Having just counselled a friend through an ambiguous ‘relationship’ characterised by furious text conversations and the occasional meet-up, I then found myself helping another friend decide what to wear when she met up with a man whose activities she’d been obsessively following on Facebook for months. So, how did it go? ‘It wasn’t as thrilling as I’d hoped it would be…’ admitted my friend afterwards. ‘I think he was a little tired.’

Such disappointment shouldn’t come as a surprise, says Emma Weighill-Baskerville, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist. ‘The person may not fulfil the fantasy created through literary communication alone – this is only one piece of an individual. With texts, you are allowing a large space for fantasy to take over.’

The common business of ‘researching’ potential dates on Facebook, Twitter and Google can lead to similar disappointment – especially for a generation like mine, who curate their Facebook pages to PR-worthy standards. One friend furiously edits her Facebook page when a man she likes accepts her friend request. ‘I don’t bother to use Facebook the rest of the time, but when someone interesting pops up I’m all over it, uploading flattering pictures, subjecting my friends to a barrage of witty status updates.’

As Voyer explains, ‘People are increasingly constructing two identities – their online identity, and their offline identity.’ He points to Twitter in particular, saying that ‘new ways of interacting have widened the gap between our actual selves – who we actually are – and our “ought” selves – who we think other people want us to be.’

So, proper, honest, face-to-face communication is key. Unfortunately, for a generation practically weaned on telecommunication devices, person-to-person communication is not exactly our strong suit – as evidenced by a stand-up argument I recently had with a man I was seeing. We were having a drink in the pub when I referred to him, to his face, as my boyfriend.

‘I’m not your boyfriend – I never said I was!’ he exclaimed, panic rising in his voice.

‘Well, what are we then?’

‘We’re friends – you’re my friend.’

At this point, I’d been sleeping with this man for… well, far longer than I care to admit; yet most of our communication was via text message or drunken conversations at the end of the night. In retrospect, it was clear that our ‘relationship’ was no such thing, that he wasn’t willing to give me what I wanted and deserved.

But I’d missed this fact entirely because I’d read what I wanted to into his messages – and because we were in constant communication. To my mind, I was never that pitiful caricature of a desperate woman, waiting by the telephone for him to call; we texted, Facebooked or emailed every day. He always seemed available, even when he wasn’t.

It’s not all bad, of course. Plenty of couples owe their entire relationships to technology. Anna Williams, a 29-year-old writer, met her boyfriend on Twitter. ‘I’ve met a few guys that way – it’s much easier to take a risk because you can pass it off as banter if you get rejected. I met my boyfriend when he started “following” me. We started messaging each other and, eventually, I invited him to a night out I was already going to.’

For Anna, the constant tweeting and messaging took the stress out of the first date. ‘It felt more like fourth-date territory when we met. I’m not sure we’d have got together if we’d met randomly in a bar – if I hadn’t already known he was a nice guy, there would have been nothing to separate him from some random bloke trying it on.’

My current problem is less about the new men in my life and more about the men who just won’t leave it. Occasionally, I’ll see someone once or twice, then decide they’re not for me. But instead of politely disappearing off the edge of the earth and never being seen again as in the Olde Days (1996), these men are now my Facebook friends. And their numbers are saved on my phone and in my iCloud and probably engraved on my spleen until the end of time. In a world where we can stay in touch with anyone we ever meet, indefinitely, it’s easy for quality control to go. If I’m bored or lonely, there’s always a temptation to reconnect.

Perhaps among all those frogs there was actually a prince? Some experts worry that technology and the ‘hook-up’ culture it supports are producing a generation that doesn’t know how to form proper relationships. I’m finding it hard to get too worked up about this just yet.

At 29, I’m very happy with my life – it’s fun and fulfilling and I rarely feel lonely. But I do wonder why my relationships (or whatever we’re calling them this week), fizzle out so easily.

I’m definitely as much to blame as any of the men I meet – I’m often unwilling to make the space in my life a relationship needs inorder to thrive. Maybe this will all change when I meet the right man (after all, chemistry’s got to count for something), or maybe my brain has just been rewired to expect every interaction I have to come with minimum effort and no real depth.

Emma Weighill-Baskerville believes we risk becoming emotionally stunted by our reliance on texting and instant messaging. ‘As a nation we’re learning that it’s better to dismiss uncomfortable feelings and take an avoidant approach. Whereas learning to deal with uncomfortable conversations and not avoid them are fundamental parts of growth and emotional maturity.’

Which is partly why I decided this week to stop all text communication with the man I’m sort-of seeing, unless it was to arrange a date. And it seems to have worked. As soon as I finish writing this, we’re meeting for dinner. Just the two of us.


Find out more about dating for thirtysomethings in Finding Mr Right:  The Real Woman’s Guide to Landing That Man by Annie Harrison.


A father rants at late thirtysomething women who opt to have a child without a partner.  Extracted from Finding Mr Right by Annie Harrison.

I’ll tell you who needs dads, children do!  Our increasingly feminised society has undermined the status of men for a number of years.  Medical advances, political correctness and legislation have conspired to make men’s roles as fathers obsolete.  Sure, plenty of women raise children as single mothers, and many children are caught in the cross fire of divorce, but this doesn’t make it the best option for the kids involved – they are the casualties.  Numerous studies show an association between fatherlessness and a wide range of social pathologies, including drug abuse, promiscuity and delinquency.  Who wants to add to these statistics?  Raising children in a nuclear family is difficult enough with two parents as we try, bloody hard, to do a good job.  Bringing up kids with just one parent must be nigh-on impossible.

So, for whatever reason, a 38-year-old woman has left it too late to find a partner to make a baby with – it must hurt being childless and seeing families all about.  But wait! There’s a quick-fix solution to this problem: donor insemination.  This solo operator, this one half of the genetic code, doesn’t need to form a relationship with anyone (she’s already failed thus far), and she doesn’t even have to have sex in order to procreate.  She won’t need to cook any meals for someone coming in late, or turn outside-in dirty socks, or put the toilet seat down, or tolerate Sky Sports on TV.  No, like the latest consumer must-have she can have a baby without a dad in sight!

Just you wait:  Parenthood is not something you train for – in its magnitude it’s the biggest responsibility of your life.  Until you become a parent, unless you have qualified as a nanny or nursery teacher you will have no understanding of what it’s like to bring a baby home and raise that little person into a child, a teenager and an adult.  At work we are sent on courses; if we do sports, we train.  If we play a musical instrument, we practice…  We rehearse and there are people there to support us.  If we stop liking these things, we can jack it all in and do something else instead.  Not so with parenting.  Your real work is cut out for you the day your first child is born, and we busk this parenting lark from the outset.

And still the feminists say a father doesn’t matter.  Tell that to the pregnant soldier’s widow, tell it to those adults whose fathers died when they were just children, tell it to the little boy who dreams of one day being a great dad; tell it to the girl whose single mother has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  And tell it to the millions of hardworking fathers out there who are striving to protect and provide for their families.

I have two sons and a daughter.  From the moment their lungs first screamed their resentment at arriving in this crazy world, I have been as involved in their lives as much as is humanly possible, given that I have a full-time job. When they were little I changed, bathed and burped them and read them stories. I did rocket launches with the babies, pushed the buggy and took them swimming; I clowned about at birthday parties, built a wooden fort in the garden and soothed them when they had fevers. Now they are older, I help out on the school run, oversee homework and stand on the touchlines at football, yelling encouragement at my boys. I idle away an hour a week at the riding stables when my daughter has her lesson and I ferry them all back and forth to sleepovers, parties and play days.

I am a parent and a team member: the team comprises me and Claire, my wife.  Team Hampson works flat out.  I honestly don’t know how single parents manage 24/7, year after year.  How does a single mother manage to do all the domestic drudgery – laundry, cleaning, shopping while simultaneously working and managing the complicated and demanding role of parenting?  How des she do any of this if she or her child is sick?  How does she simultaneously take one child to a swimming lesson and the other to a friend’s house to play ten miles away, fit in the MOT on the car, do a big shop at Sainsbury’s and wait for the gas man to come and fix the boiler?

How often does she rugby tackle or wrestle with her sons, or kick a football about or take them to the tank museum?  How does a single person alone make important decisions about education, particularly if one of her kids is falling behind? How does she deal single-handedly with issues like bullying or shyness or genius?  How does she manage to give her time, the very best opportunities and unconditional love if she is doing ten million other things at the same time?  And when does she take a break or integrate a love interest into her life?

We haven’t got there yet, as our children are all under ten, but when they hit their teens, there will be a whole raft of new issues to contend with.  Surely even the most hard-nosed, devoutly single mother would agree that fatherly influence during this critical, emotional, hormonal and peer-pressured time would be just a teensy bit useful?

Yes, single parenthood can strike at any time – through separation, divorce or widowhood.  It’s a tough world out there and even the most rock-solid partnership or marriage feels the strain at times.  Often, there’s no choice for the single parent other than to soldier on bravely, calling on the goodwill of friends and family for support while buying in childcare, but to deliberately conceive a child through artificial means for one’s own personal gratification seems to me to be an act of wanton selfishness.

Children don’t need dads?  My arse!

Steve Hampson is a 44-year old husband and father of three.

Lighten up a bit and see how important dads really are.  I’m a daddy and I know it.

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