Catherine Townsend: Sleeping around

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The Independent Online

I'd steer clear of him, Cat," my friend Amy told me, referring to my sexy, 38-year-old admirer who's just gone through a messy divorce and has two kids. "He's got way too much baggage." Ironically, I got her voicemail on my way back from an evening out with Mr Perfect-on-Paper, the easy-going guy who my girlfriends love because he's the life of every party. Because he made me laugh at dinner and scream in bed, our idyllic six-week courtship seemed too good to be true. Until I asked him why, at age 40, he's never had, or wanted, a serious relationship.

"I think that life is all about fun, and when emotions get involved, things get really heavy," he told me. "Don't you just hate that?"

Not really. I've always admired men with baggage - if Pat Benatar was right and "love is a battlefield", these guys have severed a metaphorical limb in combat and are still brave enough get back out there.

I'm not talking about brooding Heathcliff-types on the verge of throwing themselves off a cliff, like one guy who talked non-stop on a first date about how he cries in the foetal position during his weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. By the time the appetisers arrived he was telling me that "life is a meaningless void", a theory I was beginning to understand after only an hour in his company.

Call me crazy, but there is something unnerving about someone who has never taken a chance on love. I don't understand their logic - I'd much rather regret something I've tried and failed at than something I never had the guts to try at all. Life is meant to be messy, complicated and fantastic.

In the past I've agreed to move in with a man within a week of meeting him, accepted a drunken marriage proposal at Versailles (which was revoked once we sobered up) and learnt French - all for love. Each experience, even the ones that crashed and burned, has given me a valuable lesson.

I wouldn't trade my adventures for anything; not even the time an ex-boyfriend left me stranded in a Venezuelan hospital with no money. I learnt to barter - and the Spanish for "kidney infection".

A good male friend of mine who got divorced last year told me that he believes his failed marriage will make him a better partner. "My wife and I were pretty clueless because we got married so young," he said. "Now I've learned to communicate and fight fair." The emotional maturity he has gained during the journey from his bachelor days is so valuable that it makes any additional "baggage" seem like a mere carry-on.

Over cocktails, I tell Victoria about Mr Perfect-on-Paper's comment that I seem "too intense", and that he wants "some space".

"Someone so immature that he can't handle any type of commitment by his age has more serious emotional problems than someone whose relationship has broken up," she said. "I'd call the divorced guy. At least he was brave enough to give it a shot."

So it looks like time to bid "adios" to Mr Perfect-on-Paper - and pick up the baggage.

c.townsend@independent.co.uk

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