Twenty years on… still true? Most of my girlfriends, my age and older, have found partners, so perhaps I’m just an outlier. I hate the idea of fearmongering, and yet I could be Janet:
Mary Balfour, director of Drawing Down the Moon, one of Britain’s most reputable introduction agencies, deals daily with this discrepancy between the sexes. At any time she has 15-20 per cent more women than men on her books. She has difficulty making introductions for women over 43, though she will accept men up to their late 50s.
‘I can’t find partners for older women and no agency can,’ she says. ‘It’s a tragedy. There are fewer men in their forties and they tend to go for younger women. The older they are, the bigger the age gap they are looking for.’
It seems such a cliche: men looking for casual relationships, for youth and beauty; women seeking maturity and companionship. Can it really be true? But as I was talking to single men and women in their thirties and forties, again and again I heard from the men the sense of optimism and excitement at the prospect of a rich new social life, of the opportunity to have children after their careers have been established or start a second family in their forties. Talking to women, the conversations were soon circling around pain, fear of loneliness, panic as the child-bearing years slip by, outrage at being treated as a down-valued commodity on the marriage market, and a sense of betrayal at a sexual revolution which seemed to guarantee orgasms but not the partners with which to have them.
Single women will ask you, with bewilderment, why all the men they meet are married or gay. Yet men seem to find little difficulty in meeting women. ‘I’m aware that women say it’s hard to meet men,’ says Simon Bell, 41, a book designer who lives in west London. ‘Since my marriage ended two years ago, I’ve been out with a number of women and I haven’t found it difficult meeting them. I haven’t really tried.’
‘I have no trouble acquiring new girlfriends’ says Charles Foster-Taylor, a 32-year-old surveyor. ‘I have more trouble getting rid of them.’ David, 35, a graphic designer who works from home and therefore met few new people, joined Drawing Down the Moon when he separated from his wife six months ago after a 10-year marriage. He has been inundated with offers: ‘It sounds arrogant and cruel but there have been a number of meetings with women where I’ve known that the person would very much like to meet again, they’ve said so, and I’ve said yes, ok, knowing I wouldn’t phone them.’
But for women, especially those who work in predominantly female sectors, there are fewer opportunities. Janet Owen, 39, a teacher, has been single since her marriage ended in 1980 (though she has since had two long live-in relationships and other shorter ones). Two years ago she moved from Liverpool to London in a positive attempt to break out of the limits of her social network. Her ideal partner could be about 10 years older: ‘I don’t meet many men and it’s still quite hard to proposition them. I manage to have a good time socially by going out to films and exhibitions on my own, but the lack of sex is the big issue.’