Susan Smith regrets that in a city of eligible females, the thirtysomet hing bachelor is king
ANOTHER conquest! Knocking on my neighbour's door to borrow a tea-bag, I am confronted not by him but by a glamorous woman in a dressing- gown. She strips off her rubber gloves. "I'm just tidying up a bit," she beams.

My neighbour has every possible quality to recommend him to women, and in a city like London, where eligible men are in short supply and there is a surplus of unattached, eminently eligible women, there are plenty of takers. "I get pursued a lot," as he remarks ruefully.

He is in his late thirties, slim attractive, with a certain bachelor boyishness about him. He stirs the potential mother in every broody female breast. In fact, he has not always been a bachelor. He has been through marriage and divorce, has two children whom he sees at weekends, and spends several evenings a month babysitting.

He is a television producer with his own company, and mixes in media circles, where he meets many of the kind of women that appeal to film. He has very exact specifications as to what he likes. "Middle-aged women - late thirties to early forties - 5ft 6 to 5ft 8, slim build, olive skin, brown hair ..." And these are the kind of women that open the door when I go round to borrow sugar or a tea-bag. Besides fitting the physical specifications, they are intelligent, well-dressed, sexy, bright - powerful women who run their own lives and their own careers.

My heart bleeds for them. I know, though they don't, that they will go the way of all the others. They have a maximum of six weeks ahead of them. Then the phone calls will stop. They will spend all day wondering why. It might be because he is so busy. He has a lot of work on at the moment. Then, of course, he has all those extra worries because of his children. He is under a lot of pressure, poor man! Just give him a few days and he'll be calling again.

In fact, of course, he is at a party, meeting someone else who fits the bill.

All this makes him the perfect person to give advice to his spinster neighbour - me. Over several years I have met all too many men who function exactly as he does. First the eyes meeting across a crowded room. Then the fervid pursuit - the phone calls, the erotic faxes, the presents, the persistent invitations. Finally - consummation. Then, just as I am planning our next 50 years together, what to wear on the wedding day and whether we want a boy or a girl first, something strange happens. It may take a day, it may take a month. But the time comes when this erstwhile passionate pursuer fails to ring.

The odds are he hasn't been mown down by a bus. So what should I do? I consult my neighbour. Is the object of my desire merely engrossed in his work, as men tend to be? After what period of time does the silence become significant? "If he hasn't called after five or six days," he advises sagely, "he probably won't." In that case can I take the initiative? Do any of my neighbour's conquests ever call him? He ponders. "They do - but I like the ones that don't better."

So here am I - a liberated woman, independent, self-supporting, accustomed to hustling, selling myself, making aggressive phone calls - forced to sit and wait for the phone to ring. And if it does not, there is nothing I can do about it. In this one respect I am as vulnerable, as much a victim of fate, as a character in a Jane Austen novel.

My neighbour is blithely unconcerned about the unfairness of it all. "There's a male perception there are a lot of women out there desperate to get into some sort of relationship," he grins. "Bachelor men trying to get their leg over but avoid relationships are running scared."

But why should a man want to do this? Why are men first so enthusiastic and then so hard to pin down? Are they simply not interested in a long- term partner?

"By the time you reach your mid-thirties," he explains, "You suddenly discover there's a lot of choice. When you're 17, no one wants to know you. You become a 17-year-old woman, suddenly everybody wants to get inside your knickers. But a 17-year-old man - they just want to recruit you into the Army, get you off the streets."

But around the age of 30 the situation is reversed, he says.While women have to compete with those younger than themselves, men are finally old enough to be attractive; they discover that they can afford to be choosy. "By then most men have already been in love. They're not prepared to settle for anything less. But the hormones are still flowing. I'm definitely not going to live with anyone unless I'm totally besotted with them. But if you get a green light somewhere, testosterone kicks in."

So what can a woman - over the magic age of 30 - do? "Nothing, really," is my neighbour's triumphant conclusion. "Dress well," he suggests as an afterthought, "and be argumentative. Looks may get you into bed with a man but it's a reasonably aggressive intelligence that's going to keep you there."

With that he goes off to prepare for the next party.