According to the 1991 census report, men left alone - whether as a result of divorce or death - are twice as likely as women to look for another permanent partner. What is more, a recent study conducted by Edinburgh University discovered that solitude can literally make men sick, whereas the 'deterioration of the immune system' they often suffer rarely affects single women. Why? Sexual need, domestic ineptitude or something more complicated?

Three men who cannot bear to be alone talk to Elizabeth Udall


Michael Parker, 39, is a private detective from Essex. He was divorced after six years of marriage.

Most of the time when I was married I was able to keep my sexual urges under control. I would get someone's phone number at a disco and throw it out of the car window on the way home. Knowing I could have had that person was enough of a kick. But a couple of times a girl came along and I thought that one date wouldn't do any harm. Before I knew it, things had got out of hand.

I'm not saying it's right, but all men want to have their cake and eat it, don't they? You might have an adoring wife who is a brilliant housekeeper, totally faithful and a good mother - like I did - but part of you also wants the bubbly blonde to show off to the boys.

When I was a kid my dad left us and my mum had to go out to work. Being the eldest, it fell to me to help bring up my brothers and sisters - changing nappies, making bottles, the lot. I was tied down by that responsibility. I think that's why I like my freedom now.

I've been a flirt since my schooldays. As I got older, I loved being the centre of attention in a group of women.

The girl I was seeing when my wife and I split up had everything going for her - she was well-spoken, well-dressed - so when I found out she was interested in me it really boosted my ego and it was hard to say no, although my wife was equally as lovely. All my mates were talking about this girl - but it was me who won the race to get her. It gave me a real sense of achievement.

I'd always thought I should stay a bachelor because of my ways but I went out with my ex-wife for 18 months before we got engaged and then it was 18 months before we married . . . I was convinced I'd changed. Now the only way I think I'd be OK would be if I wore blinkers for the rest of my life. I'd love my wife to come back, but I must admit I'd also like a girlfriend on the side.

I cannot do without women. I suppose I need a kick in the rear. God help anyone who thinks they can trust me - I can't trust myself.


For nine years Ted Walker, a retired university lecturer from Chichester, watched his wife, Lorna, suffer from cancer. When she died in 1987, they had been married for 31 years. Just over a year later, Ted, now 60, married his wife's best friend, Audrey. He has four children in their twenties and thirties.

I dreaded the prospect of Lorna dying. We had known each other since we were 14 years old. Then, after nine years of going to the hospital three times a day, suddenly I was no longer needed. I went into a black depression because I realised that if you couldn't have the one thing you really wanted, the rest meant nothing.

I wanted to get away from our house, with its associations and its proximity to the hospital and the cemetery. So I took up a friend's offer of his apartment in southern Spain and fled.

Just before I left I heard from Lorna's oldest friend, Audrey, who had shown great concern and sympathy for her over those last years. Now, sadly and very suddenly, Audrey's husband John had died of a heart attack.

While I was in Spain, Audrey and I wrote to each other. We had losing our partners in common and we were able to offer each other sympathy and support. I suppose because it was on paper we were able to confess our deepest thoughts. In retrospect I can see there was a subtext to those letters - one of affection and need.

After three months I returned refreshed and feeling able to cope. But as soon as I walked through the front door I was hit with a sense of utter isolation. I write poetry and I suppose I had this romantic idea about seeking solitude. But it is different when you have no choice.

I started to see more of Audrey. We found we shared many interests. It was the saving of us both, a cure for the loneliness and self-pity. Fifteen months after Lorna's death, Audrey and I decided to get married.

We were extremely nervous about other people's reactions, but our children took the news very well. I heard afterwards that my lot had been a bit worried about what to do with the old chap so I think they were relieved when the old chap worked it out for himself.

Friends would never have been enough for me. It's the companionship 24 hours a day I need. In the last years with Lorna, she always told me I ought to marry again. She knew I needed that.

Being with someone was an essential part of my life, like having a cup of tea in the morning.


Christopher Ambury's marriage broke up in 1986, after 12 years. A former export director, Chris, 46, now runs his own office- letting business. He has three children between the ages of 10 and 16 and has been living near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, with his partner, Roger, for five years.

My mother was a single parent and very over-protective. She smothered me with attention. I certainly think that was a strong factor in my deciding to marry - even though I had previously been gay it seemed the best way to escape.

The irony is that I think my upbringing left me with a need to have people around that I will never really get away from. As the years passed I became increasingly aware that I was not putting into my marriage what it deserved. In retrospect I think part of me was prepared to be in an unhappy relationship simply to have someone around. With the noise of a family there is a sense of security even if you don't feel particularly good about it.

Eventually, though, I did leave. The children stayed with my wife and initially I didn't worry about being on my own. There were too many practicalities to iron out. But I soon realised that there is a difference between being lonely - for example, in your marriage - and really alone. I would walk into my empty house and just crumble. Late evenings and early mornings were the worst: going to bed alone, waking in the middle of the night alone and getting up alone. It gave me this terrible sense of dread.

Finally I put an ad in a magazine. Roger was the first person I met and we've been together ever since. With someone else around, a sense of well-being has returned to my life, a feeling of contentment.

With Roger I am blissfully happy. But there is still a part of me that envies those with the security and depth of a marriage.

(Photographs omitted)