I MET MY BOYFRIEND in cyberspace. He sent a message to my computer saying: "Have you seen The Lion King?" Call me a sentimental old fool, but it seemed like a sure thing to me. I assumed it would only be a matter of days before he asked me out, but over a month went by in computerised prevarication.

Finally I invited him over for dinner; he refused. A week later I lured him into my flat; he drank a glass of tap water and wouldn't take his coat off. My friends had their theories about his reticence. He had a girlfriend, he didn't find me attractive, he was gay or, and this was the scary one, he wasn't sure of my intentions. He was afraid I might just be after him for the sex.

It's not so much that the age of chivalry is dead, but now it seems it's the damsels who are required to ride white horses, kill dragons and bring back trophies while the princes languish indecisive in their forbidding fortresses.

Perhaps the anti-feminists have got it right after all: the damsels have created the problem because they just don't need princes any more. Not for financial support, physical protection, or child-rearing at any rate. Are sensitive men so frightened they might end up another jousting trophy in our showcase that they have started to feel too wallflowerish to make the first move? (A role reversal epitomised by ineffectual man Hugh Grant and experienced woman Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral).

Dr David Nias, a lecturer in clinical psychology at London University is a keen supporter of this theory. "Surveys around the world have shown that the basis of sex appeal is ultra femininity and submission," he declares. "So women in the Western world who are taking on traditionally male roles in the workplace and at home are causing real dilemmas for themselves and their mates. It is a real battle against nature. Sociologically it is going to be a hell of a problem."

Ron Eastman, an estate agent, is already finding it a hell of a problem. "I find it impossible asking the women I meet out. I don't want to seem pushy and I don't want to seem wet, so I just wait and see what they do. I figure if they want to go out with me they'll tell me, right?"

So are women just too intimidating these days? Not at all, says social psychologist Dr Maryon Tysoe citing a study of American students published in The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in June 1994. "The male students were all given questionnaires filled in by different women and they were told to decide which women they found most attractive," she says. "They did not prefer the more feminine ones. The most desirable overall was someone who was `psychologically androgynous' - emotional, devoted, gentle, kind and understanding but simultaneously independent, active, competitive, decisive, coped well under pressure and was confident. Men are learning to like the new woman," says Dr Tysoe.

Well, they may like them but they seem slightly reticent about getting into bed with them; a surprising 23 per cent of single men in America remained celibate between 1993 and 1994 and it looks as though Britons are following suit. But while our prince is waiting for the right woman, our maiden is practising for the right man.

Elsbeth Carney, 25, a graphic designer, had trouble persuading her colleague of choice that she was looking for something longer term than a quickie after work. "James and I did a few jobs together and he seemed terrified I was going to leap on him. I'd stay late and make him give me a lift home. One night we were sitting in his car and I leant over to kiss him. It was three months after that he agreed to have sex. The first few nights we shared a bed he actually kept his jeans on as though he was frightened I would rape him. My final ploy was to take him to Paris for the weekend and he eventually relented. He says he wanted to make sure I was nice before he did anything."

Lawyer Jonathan Cheng, 29, always expects to be the seduced rather than the seducer. "When I was at school the girls used to hang around the outside the gates and drag the blokes they fancied off into the park. It's still like that really. I'd feel weird making the first move. It's all too scary and you know they'll get to you if they want to."

So what is it about us that is so scary? Having a job, a car and a diary full of exes doesn't actually make you the psycho-killer from The Last Seduction - a product of a terror-stricken male imagination - and yet men seem to feel threatened. Feminist writer Naomi Wolf sees this as part of the ongoing sex war: "If women want men to continue the journey into the Egalitarian Era, they will have to establish that it is safe for men to divest themselves of the traditional armour of dominance."

Writer Walter Ellis does not feel safe yet: "There is a residual feeling that men ought to be in control - brighter and more on the ball. If your girlfriend is demonstrably brighter than you it means she is not only beautiful but probably earns more. You think, what good am I to her? Women can assume all the roles traditionally fulfilled by men, but we cannot assume the female ones so we are left with nothing." It is this feeling of helplessness that has sent many American men off into the mountains howling at the moon on courses about how to nurture the essence of manhood.

If it is a sense of general inadequacy that has created our wallflower men, how can we help them feel confident enough to trust us? Dr Nias thinks he may have the solution: "There is plenty of flexibility in role reversal," he explains. "The romantic and sexual arena is very different from that of work and every day life." So although we may have stolen their daily lives, there is no need to steal their nocturnal ones. Aid worker Pauline Goldin favours the age-old, agony-aunt's remedy: "Make them feel masterful in bed and they won't care if you dominate them out of it. I thought Chris was never going to sleep with me because he kept suddenly going home in the middle of the night," she says. "I think he thought I might issue a written proposal beforehand. Once we had done it I think he realised I wasn't such a macho monster."

Publishing executive Jessica Tarbert has been finding it impossible to adapt: "Men think I'm going to eat them alive. The ones I like tend to be sensitive and I haven't got time to court someone and treat them like a Victorian lady. If I did, they would immediately think I wanted to marry them and I'd never be able to get rid of them. You basically have to have a macho thug or a whimpering lap dog. Take your pick."

This pick-taking stage, however, comes after the seduction stage - the difficult bit. In my case I spend months pretending to be a sweet, caring girlie instead of the cynical old witch I really am. It involved a lot of sitting around writing poetry. On our third date he made his move and suddenly forgot about what kind of boy I might think he was. It was well worth the wait.