Once reluctantly single, former Bridget Joneses spill the beans on finding their Mr Darcy

March 13, 2013

colin firth bridget-jones-the-edge-of-reason-23

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.

FINDING MR RIGHT NEW3

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