Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

Increasingly it's women who won't commit

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Somewhere between my third tequila and a dance with my septuagenarian family dentist at my friend Beth's wedding, the bride's mum cornered me at the bar. After pointing out that most of my girlfriends were married, she asked what I had been up to for the past five years. So I told her about interviewing celebrities for a New York gossip column, moving to London, buying a flat, and my marathon training. "That's nice, dear," she said. But have you gotten serious with a man yet? You don't have forever to start a family, you know."

Somewhere between my third tequila and a dance with my septuagenarian family dentist at my friend Beth's wedding, the bride's mum cornered me at the bar. After pointing out that most of my girlfriends were married, she asked what I had been up to for the past five years. So I told her about interviewing celebrities for a New York gossip column, moving to London, buying a flat, and my marathon training. "That's nice, dear," she said. But have you gotten serious with a man yet? You don't have forever to start a family, you know."

In my view, a functioning uterus and a wedding dress will never be my most important assets, but I suppose her attitude isn't that surprising. Her logic explains why Jack Nicholson is still considered a "catch", and why single women in their late twenties and thirties are viewed with suspicion.

Of course, some women meet the love of their lives at an early age. And there are some who are desperate to hold on to a man because a relationship gives them the validation they crave. But increasingly, it's women, not men, who are afraid to commit. And I'm one of them. I've been single for the best part of eight years and I am having a blast. I prefer short love affairs to monogamy. I crave the rush of the first three months. And while I'm not expecting a billionaire version of Brad Pitt to show up on my doorstep, I admit I am extremely picky and want someone who is sexy, funny, successful and who challenges me.

Personally, I would rather sleep alone than settle for a tepid relationship. I have always believed that someone amazingly fantastic could be right around the corner.

Until I find him, I think I'm choosing high-drama relationships on purpose because part of me is not ready to make a lifetime commitment. So I tend to gravitate toward men who are totally inappropriate. Either they live on another continent, are older, involved with someone else or are permanently between jobs.

My first love was all four. I met Jean-Claude, the gorgeous Frenchman with piercing green eyes, when I spent a year studying in Paris at age 17. He told me he had a job with the government, which was all that kept him going after his wife died. We dated for 18 months before I figured out that his entire persona -including his marriage - had been a fabrication. He broke my heart. But despite the pain and his duplicity, I learned a lot, and I am thankful I'm not preparing boudin blanc in the suburbs waiting for him to come home.

I'm thinking about high expectations during my drink with the Australian banker, who I met after dropping a shoe on the tracks at Earl's Court tube station. Over beers near Liverpool Street, he says he recently split with his girlfriend of two years, and explains his theory that men have a more realistic expectation of commitment than women. "I get the feeling that women expect the guy to constantly bring them flowers and keep everything exciting. Men just want a pretty girl who is happy to see him most of the time."

But although men have no problem respecting a girl who fights for a promotion at work or scores the perfect Christian Loubotin shoes, they sometimes take offence at the idea that women may be selective about who we settle down with - especially when they are ready to marry, like the photographer I saw in Manhattan.

Although he was charming, cute and funny, I was turned off after he spent several hours discussing his inner child regression therapy, then asking pointed questions about how I would raise children. When I tried to let him down gently, he seemed genuinely shocked. "I know why you are doing this - it's because of your parents' divorce, isn't it?" The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, but I know it ended with him grabbing my shoulders and bellowing, "You can't run from your emotions, Catherine!" Actually, I was running from him. Men who want instant intimacy is not hot, it's desperate. Possibly, one day I will meet someone who makes me want to commit to something more than good conversation. Until then, I'm enjoying the ride.

c.townsend@independent.co.uk

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