The age-old question

diary of a single woman : One man, who stayed the night after a dinner-party, had to leave at 6am for couple- counselling in Bournemouth
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Indy Lifestyle Online
One advantage of dating a man of one's own age is that you have the same familiar reference points. You don't have to keep censoring your conversation. While I was in my short-lived younger man phase, I had to forgo all mentions of my early life, for fear of pinpointing my advanced years. Even so, cultural landmarks such as the Bob Dylan concert on the Isle of Wight or Kennedy's assassination kept popping into my mouth. With someone of one's own generation, these embarrassments cannot occur. With luck, one should be able to sink into a warm bath of mutual past experiences.

But there are other problems; at least,with divorced men - children, theirs and mine. The responsibilities which these involve ensure that one's time together as adults is halved and I do not want to end up a stepmother. There's also the male menopause; men in their 40s and 50s can be unstable. But, worst of all, is the nagging worry about why these men are available at all, given the amount of driven females who, according to my 85-year-old aunt, will stop at nothing to get another woman's husband. (My aunt, worried about her daughter's spouse being occasionally alone in London, spoke darkly from her sheltered accommodation in Wallingford after Christmas, like a witch in Macbeth.)

One does worry about the few middle-aged men who are free. Either they're closet gays who sneak off to saunas, or they're in a state of pre- or post-divorce trauma - one, who stayed the night after a dinner-party, had to leave at 6am for couple-counselling in Bournemouth - or, worse, they have sinister vices, such as only liking teenage girls in satin or being tied up in dungeons. (I met one such man at a Chinese meal in Hampstead recently. He looked normal.)

Soon after New Year, I was telephoned unexpectedly by a handsome man two years younger than me, on his own in London for the night. He wanted to take me out - at once. Over soup, he confessed that he was "in a crisis of sex, work and political beliefs", and was undergoing a life-change. He and his partner, although they had children together, had an open marriage. It was surprising, he added, how his taste in women had matured over the years. In his twenties, he had liked blonde skinny girls; now, he liked mature dark-haired women.

Already excited, I perked up. My hair is dark. Perhaps I could be included in his life-change? I had always found him attractive. I love energetic men and don't notice, often for years, if they're egocentric. However, when we reached our main course - he had insisted on steak - he revealed that he was in love with a woman whom he had met in Tierra del Fuego earlier in the year, who was flying in next week to visit him. Did I want to accompany him to a meeting about the death penalty in two day's time? Confused by this double message, I said no.

Where were the other available men of my age? Next day, I thought I had found out. (Overnight, I had decided to embark on a life-change myself and sell the place where I had lived with my children and ex-husband since 1985, so I rang round the estate agents.)

Within hours, hordes of apparently heterosexual men poured in. One, who talked of fly-fishing as a metaphor for potential property buyers, I found particularly charming and relaxed. What on earth was I doing mixing with unstable journalists and intellectuals, when there must be men like this all over London, obviously working in property? However, it sadly became clear, from the way this adorable man chatted about his children's Christmas holidays and his wife, that he was happily married.

Another more maverick and intriguing figure was the freelancer who turned up to show me a new flat. He arrived late, having being involved in a road-rage chase with a BT van. He was obviously a man of action - and good-looking. After he left, doubtless to show another of his flats to another desperate lone woman, I tried to find out his circumstances. I casually asked the first agent where he lived and how long he had been freelance. I couldn't bring myself to ask straight out if he was married, however, and, two days later, I met him in the street, on his way to the opera with his wife.

I was then telephoned by a bald philanthropist from Wales, who used to run a club for stutterers and has now turned his home into a refuge for ex-prisoners. He has never been married. Over a lunchtime snack, he charmed me with his originality and I found myself agreeing that he should stay that night, after he had attended a birthday party in Lambeth for a retired boxer. At l1pm, my door-bell rang as arranged. It was not him but a Soho restaurateur in whose wine-bar I had left a wet bathing-suit soon after New Year. He had it in a supermarket bag, still wet. I felt obliged, out of gratitude, to ask him in for a drink, so that when my eccentric suitor arrived, the restaurateur was still there drinking vodka. The two men then had a one-and-a-half-hour conversation about burglar alarms and I went to bed.

My 13-year-old son is also on the hunt for a mate. He says: "You know what I wouldn't mind? A good, attractive, generous, older girlfriend."

He suggests that he and I go clubbing together and see what happens.

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