Straight women have the obvious advantage when it comes to recognising a suitable significant other. Men are relatively easy to spot. But the lesbian dreaming of a joint mortgage and shared duvet faces a unique range of challenges.
Lesbians don't go for the clone look. There are none of the strategically placed keys and handkerchiefs favoured by some gay men as a signal to potential partners. The advent of lesbian chic blew the old stereotype of crop-haired dykes in army fatigues and workboots out of the window and finally brought the heterosexual population in on the secret every gay woman has always known: lesbians are just as likely to wear Nicole Fahri as Milletts and to be found sporting waist-length tresses as a number one crop.
So sorting who is from who isn't can be a tricky business. Although most lesbians have finely tuned antennae, the strongest hunches have been known to be wrong. Marie next door might be a dead ringer for Martina, but the chances are she's as straight as a ramrod. At work, many a closet door remains firmly shut, so the possibility of stumbling across Ms Right at the office is remote - unless, of course, you happen to work at Gay Switchboard or in a cafe in Old Compton Street.
It's a different story altogether should you work for a merchant bank or a firm of solicitors. Establishing firm boundaries between personal and professional life becomes a vital survival mechanism if your ambitions include keeping your job, promotion, even, and not becoming the focus of office gossip. Acting on your attraction to Fiona in Accounts is a high-risk venture unless you're 99 per cent certain the feeling is mutual. So where else can you look?
There are lesbian clubs in every major city and even smaller towns tend to boast at least one bar where women who pass on men cluster. Surely the ideal place? Well, yes, if you're between 18 and 25 and you worship Calvin Klein and techno, or if your idea of a good night is dropping a couple of Es, staying out till 4am then crashing for the whole of Sunday. But not if you gave all that up more than a decade ago and are secretly longing for a woman to potter around the garden centre and draw your pension with.
What about friends? Whatever your sexuality, the same rules apply. If you'd fancied them they'd have ceased to be friends years ago. Or your friends are already your ex-lovers. Friend of a friend then? Tricky. Chances are that most of her friends are also her ex-lovers. The lesbian world is a clique-y place. You risk stepping into a mire of jealousy and unfinished business.
Small wonder then that increasing numbers of gay women are opting to part with pounds 50 in the hope that Ms Perfect might materialise on the doormat. A carefully phrased advert in the personal columns of one of the broadsheet newspapers offers both anonymity and a delicious frisson when a heavy brown envelope thuds through your letterbox. Quivering with anticipation, you rip it open. Only to find 30 replies from women you already know, or women you know well enough to know you have no desire to get more closely acquainted with.
At this stage our 30-plus gay woman with a vacancy in her heart may well find herself vacillating between feelings of deep nostalgia for her last relationship and idle speculation as to whether heterosexuality is such anathema after all.
But of course, there's an answer. It just takes one enterprising soul to spot the glaring gap in the market and take action. There are introduction agencies for heterosexuals, for gay men, single parents, disabled people, vegetarians and those whose politics lean left, right or green. Isn't it time to launch one for professional gay women?
Just one request if you're reaching for pen and paper to tell me you solved the girl-meets-girl conundrum long ago. Please, please: no letters giving me the address of that well-known women-only B&B in Devon!
John Lyttle is on holiday.Reuse content