By Anna Pasternak
29th July 2009
Recently, I gave a talk to 300 women entitled Hope After Heartbreak. I catalogued my emotionally devastating 30s; getting divorced, having a child with a younger man and being left a single mother.
Then I detailed how I’d overcome my grief and shame to find an unexpected level of contentment in my 40s.
When I was asked, as I knew I would be, had I found love again, my answer was ‘sadly not’. Did I think I would? My honest response was that I hoped so, but that I no longer had any certainty.
Two types of men: The overgrown ‘kidults’ – men who have degenerated into hopeless commitment-phobes and the successful, solvent divorcés who approach dating like a cold business transaction
Because when I look around at my girlfriends – bright, attractive, successful, fabulous women in their 40s who are single – I sincerely begin to wonder: Is there even one solvent, kind, desirable, heterosexual single man in his 40s left in Britain?
My friends and I have a horrible suspicion that the answer is no.
The topic was much debated when I went on a detox holiday in Morocco at Easter with nine single women, ranging in age from mid-30s to late-40s and all looking for love.
At first I thought it would be an oestrogen-infused nightmare, but as I got to know the women, all well-educated and successful (including bankers, a lawyer, a top fashion buyer, a media executive and an art historian), we bonded over our inability to find our male match.
Some of the bankers confessed to resorting to affairs with married men at work, which was depressing, but mostly we concluded we were unable to find what we were looking for because like-minded men of our age didn’t exist.
Why? Because our male counterparts were looking for something completely different.
I have been single for the past four years and have dated a handful of men. As far as I can see, they fall into two distinct camps. There are the overgrown ‘kidults’ – men who have degenerated into hopeless commitment-phobes and just want to have ‘fun’ (ie lots of sex) with taut twenty-somethings. They just seem to seek endless couplings, often facilitated by the internet.
Then there are the successful, solvent divorcés who are so determined to find wife number two pronto that they approach dating like a cold business transaction.
A first date with a corporate-style player is as relaxing as a high-pressure job interview (for a job you’re not sure you want) as they mentally tick boxes and suss your potential worth on the marriage market.
I have been asked before the starter ‘So what is it that you are looking for in a relationship?’ and by pudding I’ve been told in unstinting detail exactly what he wants.
Believe me, in all this it’s not a case of us women being unrealistic or fussy. It’s our male counterparts who are more exacting, arrogant and demanding than we could ever be, and who have this vile presumption that they are some kind of sought-after prize that we would be so lucky to ‘get’.
For once, they feel in a position of power in the sex war – and they are exploiting it for all it’s worth.
One City high-flyer told me over dinner in a slick Mayfair restaurant that he couldn’t contemplate a relationship with a woman with whom he didn’t have compatible skin tone. He ordered me to whip off my watch so we could compare our natural skin colour.
He also boasted that he had a strong awareness of aesthetics and had already clocked my accessories (yuk!). He turned out to be obscenely wealthy – when I asked where he lived, he said ‘on a plane’, meaning his private plane.
I realised, during our evening together, when he rattled off the story of his divorce, proudly announcing that he had left her, that he was one of the many male divorcés stung by handing over huge alimonies and who secretly hate women and are after only unchallenging trophy wives.
These men are so adept at sizing you up – your wealth and your looks – that they don’t bother to see who you really are. And they don’t care that an intelligent forty-something woman like me seeks a spark of recognition, of mutual companionship and respect.
My friend Lizzie, a 43-year-old art director, says it was a real surprise to start dating at 40 after her marriage ended.
‘I’ve always had boyfriends before, but I’ve been single for three years now, as I’m not so attractive a proposition any more. I’ve had a child and have responsibility, which these immature men of our age see as terrifying baggage – which is hypocritical when many of them have ex-wives who are bringing up their kids.’
Her last date was with a freshly divorced executive on the prowl for his second wife.
‘There was very little about him wanting to find out about me, but he wanted to find out if I suited him. It was a straightforward interrogation which left me feeling raw because I was trying to be honest in my answers. And afterwards, when he didn’t call, I felt exposed and rejected, as if I’d failed an audition.’
Another girlfriend of mine, Francesca, 40, who works in advertising and has never married or had children, echoes the exasperation we feel.
‘Of course I’d love to be in a relationship, but I haven’t got the energy to waste with men who can’t commit. I do think there are perfectly well-adjusted men out there, but they are already in relationships.’
Francesca was seeing a man who took her out to dinner often, yet told her he couldn’t have a relationship with her because he was waiting for the woman who would ‘knock his socks off’.
But, as she rightly points out: ‘He doesn’t let any woman close enough to knock his socks off, which is probably why he’s having casual sex with a twenty-something work colleague.’
Francesca believes the problem is far worse in Britain than elsewhere. ‘In Europe, the family is still so important that men do want to embrace being a husband. In America, to have a woman with a ring on her finger gives you status.
‘If you are a straight American man and seen as incapable of having a relationship, you are seen as slightly deficient. Yet these British men in their 40s seem to celebrate playing the field, as though it is a badge of masculinity.
‘Here, we are dysfunctional as a society because the family is not regarded as important any more. Divorce is increasing because it no longer affects your status in society. So these men have no cultural imperative to grow up.’
Relationship counsellor Tom McCabe says: ‘There is a stunting of male emotional growth from about the age of 14, which they cover up with charm, good looks or cleverness as they grow up. If these men are still single in their 40s, or become single again, they look in the mirror and want to be 18, whereas a forty-something woman is more realistic about herself.
‘These men are looking for girls, but women are looking for men. I continually have to say to men who come to me: “Please don’t refer to women as birds, chicks, babes or even girls.”
‘The situation is worse today because more men are becoming single again in their 40s,’ he says. ‘It’s all about recapturing their youth. They need to grow up, change their language and start seeing women for who they are.’
Well, we can’t hold our breath for that, so do we continue searching for that elusive four-leafed clover mature man, or just give up?
Among my friends, we seem to have arrived at a similar place. We’ve stopped actively dating (I haven’t dated for a year) and have learned to rely on ourselves more than ever before. Not in an outdated, strident, man-hating ‘we’re OK on our own’ way, because we’re not really OK.
We genuinely like men and would love affection and a loving relationship. But not at the cost of subjugating ourselves to the whims of a misogynist with his eye on the young girl across the restaurant.
We’ve learned to enrich ourselves, and our female friendships have become our lifeline. And we live in hope of a miracle.