The right bloke is out there - somewhere

Now here is a paradox. According to most intelligent young professional women that I meet, there are very few eligible men in their late 20s and early 30s. They just don't exist, and - no - a quick consolatory shag with you after the office party isn't going to make it any better, thanks.

But, at the same time as the ladies make this sad moan, dating agencies are cluttered up with the unrequited applications of single men in precisely this age range; men who have turned - in desperation - to outside intervention to achieve for them what rounds of parties, pubbing, clubbing and thrusting flowers at young ladies on the tube have failed to accomplish.

As reported by my (female) colleagues on our Sunday sister paper this week, the apparent contradiction may be explained by analysing what women mean by the word "eligible". It does not, one gathers, simply mean physically "available", as in "I am eligible to move in with you tonight, expect my unencumbered furniture at five". This, it has to be said, is the male idea of eligibility, and essentially revolves around whether or not you are actually married or living with someone else at the time. Rather - for a woman - the word connotes suitability, qualification if you like, for the role of husband or lover of a particular woman. And as with a PhD or some other advance diploma, it requires quite a lot of intrinsic quality, as well as a fair bit of hard work, to reach the required standard.

Listen, for instance, to Jayne, 36, quoted in the same article. "The men you meet these days are either so desperate that they want to move in after the first date, or they are bastards," she opines. "I haven't found anyone who is emotionally mature - who can communicate on the same level as me." Well of course you haven't Jayne, they're men, and men do reach the "same level" of emotional maturity as women have attained, but only about 15 to 20 years later. That is why you may occasionally see a 40-year-old man on the bus - his temples greying - slap his forehead with enlightenment as a phrase used by a long lost girlfriend makes sudden sense. If it's emotional maturity you're after, gal, spend more time with grandma.

In the same edition of the same newspaper, the letters page carried this sad missive from Karl in Cheshunt. Perplexed by the suggestion that there were too few chaps around, Karl (his own experience clearly in mind) wrote that "the problem is not that there are not enough eligible men, but that many women are way too choosy. If women thought less about arbitrary targets such as age, height, looks, build, job and car and spent more time on the qualities of the person behind it all, they might actually meet someone suitable."

My heart goes out to Karl. In Jayne's terms he is clearly more "desperate" than "bastard". As far as he can tell, the problem is nothing to do with the emotional maturity gap, but rather the other more tangible elements of attraction. These picky women seem to want guys over 6ft tall, under 13st, with buns of steel, called recently to the bar and driving a convertible Merc. And, if they find a man like this, they expect him to be anything other than infantile.

The columnist Lynda Lee-Potter - whom I read whenever I want to understand what's wrong with British women - reveals all in her comments about Di and Dodi (incidentally, what might a child of such a phonetically basic union be named? Dodido? Didodi? Didodo?). Any road, excusing his rather controversial family circle, Ms Lee-Potter comments that "the more important thing, surely, is that Dodi seems to be kind, in love and seriously rich".

Oh surely. Test one: is he kind? Tick. Test two: is he in love? Tick. Test three: is he seriously rich? Tick. If he were simply kind and rich, that wouldn't do. Nor would being in love and being rich. And neither - Karl - would being kind and in love. At which point we may be coming closer to the truth. After all, our grandparents and parents endured two world wars in which millions of young men died, and still managed to propagate the species. How could they pull off this trick, when we - with all our advantages - find it so hard?

Part of it is due to settling down later, I suppose. You can always kid yourself that a 20-year-old man will become more mature, but 10 years on it is obvious that he won't be changing. But I also wonder whether many aren't seduced by the recently released figures that, today, one in 500 men is a millionaire. Which only leaves 499 who seriously aren't.

Miles Kington is on holiday