Wanted: Mr Wonderful

Last week, we asked where have all the single men gone? In fact, there is a surplus. So where are they hiding? ask Hester Lacey and Glenda Cooper

CAROLINE is attractive, successful, solvent - and single. And she expects to remain all those things. At the age of only 29, she has nearly given up on her chances of finding a suitable man. "The good ones have all been bagged already," she says ruefully.

Men in their thirties, she believes, would rather be with younger women. "It buys them time," she says. "If a man is going out with someone who's 22, he doesn't have to worry about settling down or thinking about having a family. With an older woman, if that's what she wants, it comes through very quickly.

My last boyfriend was eight years older than me and had always had younger partners. When I asked him why, he said 'Younger women are a lot easier to manage. They don't have any history, and they are a lot less demanding'. Once I stopped being like that, we split up."

Suzanne, also 29, has taken to casting an eye over the small ads. "It makes me horrified and depressed," she says. "The men in the age bracket I'm interested in don't want women of my age. They want someone who's, say, between 22 and 27 - yes, they are that specific about age. The men who are interested in me are likely to be 40-plus, but I don't want to go out with a 40 year old."

Jayne, 36, says, "The men you meet these days are either so desperate they want to move in after the first date, or they are bastards. If you've got a reasonable career, you don't need someone to support you, and lots of men find that threatening. You need someone who will be more of a partner, and I haven't found anyone who is emotionally mature - who can communicate on the same level as me."

Caroline, Suzanne and Jayne are by no means alone. "My friends and I are attractive and intelligent, with good jobs," says Caroline. "On paper, we're fantastic catches. But we're not even dating - we are all just permanently single."

Caroline, Suzanne and Jayne were all surprised to hear that, in fact, there is a large pool of single men floating around. The perception is that single, available chaps are as rare as hens' teeth. It's true that both sexes are choosing to stay single for longer (and six out of ten said in a recent Mintel survey that they enjoy the increased freedom it brings). But in Britain, at every stage in life, a man is more likely to be single than a woman. The last national census showed that between the ages of 30 and 44 men are 50 per cent more likely to be single than women and in any five-year cohort there are always at least 100,000 more single men than single women.

There is a similar situation in the US. Susan Faludi, the feminist writer, in her book Backlash, takes issue with the notion of the "man shortage". She takes the example of the famous 1986 Harvard and Yale study that purported to "prove" that single women have a 20 per cent chance of marrying at age 30, a five per cent chance at age 35, and at 40 no more than a 1.3 per cent chance. In a well-documented argument, she shows that the methodology used was deeply flawed - for one thing, it completely ignored those women who choose to live with their partners. And, she points out, as in Britain, the American census shows there are far more single males than females.

And these same single men are complaining that they can't meet women. A recent article in the Evening Standard, where a number of women were interviewed about their sad-singleton status, provoked an enormous response from desperate single men. Men are signing on at dating agencies in droves. Mary Balfour, director of Drawing Down the Moon ("the introduction agency for thinking people") says that while in the past men might have scorned introduction agencies, now around half her members are men. "By the time men reach the age of 30 they realise there are very few women available," she says.

So, if all these single, eligible, ready-willing-and-able men are out there, why is the cry "Where are all the single men?" such a perennial one? For one thing, quantity does not equal quality, says Jayne."There are lots of single men out there, but the ones in their mid-thirties are either embittered by divorce, impoverished or have something congenitally wrong with them. A surprising number are still living with their mothers."

Faludi takes the feminist viewpoint that the myth of the man shortage is propagated to frighten women back into full-time marriage and motherhood. "Under the backlash, statistics become predictions for expected female behaviour, cultural marching orders to women describing only how they should act - and how they would be punished if they failed to heed the call," she suggests.

Beleaguered men, unable to hook a compliant partner, put the blame squarely on the women themselves. Andrew Marshall of the British Men' s Counselling Association, says that women's standards are simply too high. "You have to look at the type of women who are saying this. They are often very discriminating in their requirements," he says. "Although they pay lip service to an equal relationship you often find they are looking for men who are more financially successful than they are. Women say they want someone sensitive who's not obsessive about football, who doesn't belch and fart. And then, if they do get a nice guy, they complain he's a wimp."

Susan Quilliam, relationships psychologist and author, believes that what's lacking is good communication. "Very often, two people go into a relationship with a different timescale. A man who is actually ready to settle down might meet a woman who is more than ready, and whose biological clock is ticking. Or the man will want to settle and the woman will be thinking, 'You must be sad if you're this desperate.' Someone who wants a relationship very quickly is unattractive because they do come across as desperate. You have to try to sense when your partner is ready to move on - often in relationships there is a window of opportunity where a move to the next stage will be accepted and you won't be seen as going too fast or too slowly."

Or you can embrace your singledom and love it. Suzanne says, "I'm sure if I really wanted to I could get a man next week but God knows what kind of specimen he would be. I'd like to be in a relationship, but I'd rather be happy and single than unhappy and with someone for the sake of it."

"I know a lot of singles who just aren't very good at long-term relationships and have decided to give up on them," says Jayne. "We all get on well together and have decided to leave it at that."

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