At 53, Tessa thought she'd never find love again. Her daughter, dad and best friend had
21:36 GMT, 18 July 2012
Looking for love: Tessa trusted her nearest and dearest to find her Mr Right
For any woman who hasn’t dated in years, the first step towards choosing a suitor is a terrifying leap into the unknown.
After divorcing my husband three years ago, the mere prospect of lunch with a single man left me sick with dread.
How would I know what to wear, how to act or what to do And who on earth should I date Like any woman in her 50s recovering from a failed marriage, I was wary about getting my heart broken again.
You may have read in these pages earlier this year about how my husband had an affair while I was being treated for breast cancer. We’d been married for 11 years, and I felt so betrayed I wasn’t sure I could ever allow myself to trust again.
So for the past three years I have turned my back on any thought of romance. Instead, I threw myself into work, raising my two teenage daughters and caring for my 97-year-old father, who lives with me.
But suddenly, like so many women of my age, I’m faced with a rapidly emptying house; my younger daughter leaves for university in September.
So, at the age of 53, it really is time for me to think about my future. But where to start I’m too shy to join a dating agency and too nervous for internet dating. Then I read that billionaire’s daughter Tamara Ecclestone had vowed to find her mother Slavica, 54, a suitor after her parents’ divorce, and I had a brainwave. Could this be the way forward
Certainly, enlisting the help of my nearest and dearest seemed far less scary than hunting for a man myself. But would it actually work
I asked my best friend, daughter and father to come up with a potential suitor for me. What happened next astounded me — and may just end up changing my life for ever…
THE FRIEND'S CHOICE
Rachel Marcus, 41, is single, and an events organiser from Winchester.
RACHEL SAYS: Tessa and I belong to the same book club. I know her well and I think I know her taste in men. She’s so self-confident some men might find her intimidating. She needs a man who’s successful, dynamic and self-assured. Malcolm is that in spades. He’s good-looking, gregarious and kind, with a fantastic sense of humour.
At a dinner party, you can rely on Malcolm to put everyone at their ease, pour the wine and carve the meat. I met him through my ex-boyfriend and we’ve been friends ever since. Fingers crossed, they hit it off. Whatever happens, Tessa will have a terrific time.
Almost perfect: Rachel set Tessa up with Malcolm Lee but his love of sport was a turn off
THE DATE: Tessa had dinner with Malcolm Lee, 56, a divorced businessman from Winchester, with two grown-up sons.
TESSA SAYS: When Malcolm calls to arrange our date, he instantly takes charge. I’m impressed, as I like men who know their own minds.
‘Let me book the table,’ he says. It seems like an omen when he chooses my favourite, The Green Man, a trendy Winchester pub with a fantastic dining room.
‘See. Lots in common already,’ Malcolm texts. I like his confidence. Nevertheless, I’m very nervous — this is my first date in 16 years.
I’m not the fresh-faced, slim-hipped yummy mummy with two tiny daughters I was back in 1996, when I met my husband Richard. I’m middle‑aged with two teenage daughters, a dependent nonagenarian father and enough baggage to fill the lost luggage department at King’s Cross.
Walking to the pub, I check my reflection in virtually every car wing mirror I pass. /07/18/article-2175539-13D8D0E2000005DC-933_306x458.jpg” width=”306″ height=”458″ alt=”Just friends: Daughter Elise chose Chris Roberts as her mother's date but there was no spark” class=”blkBorder” />
Just friends: Daughter Elise chose Chris Roberts as her mother's date but there was no spark
He’s passionate about sailing, plays golf and goes circuit-training. He also reads — Mum’s a tremendous bookworm — and enjoys the theatre, so they’ll have loads to talk about.
Mum was a bit surprised I’d chosen someone ten years older than her. So I used her favourite line: ‘Age is just a number.’ That shut her up. And when I told her he looks like Clint Eastwood, she changed her tune completely.
THE DATE: Tessa had a drink with Chris Roberts, 63, a retired businessman from Compton, Hampshire. Chris, who has two grown-up sons, has been divorced for a year.
TESSA SAYS: Elise’s own taste in men seems to run to skeletal-looking artistic types with long hair and torn jeans, so I half expect to be meeting a Ronnie-Wood-alike.
Instead, I walk into Brasserie Blanc to find a tall, good-looking man with silver hair. I clock the casual linen jacket, smart shirt and loafers and — to my shock — I realise that my daughter has my taste spot-on.
And Chris does look a little like Clint Eastwood. He’s tall, rangy and so relaxed he’s almost horizontal.
As I sip the glass of white wine he’s ordered for me, the conversation flows effortlessly. It’s refreshing not to be the one doing all the talking.
Chris talks about his life, setting up his own business and tells me he is now a man of leisure after selling up when he was 49.
'As I would love to spend more time with him, I don't see the prospect of romance'
We compare mobiles. I’ve just acquired my first iPhone and am struggling to understand it. Chris, an engineer, is an old hand. ‘But my last one died when I was thrown into a swimming pool,’ he laughs.
Not your typical sixtysomething, then. Chris is also extremely modest. I’m enjoying his company so much, I happily agree when he suggests we have a meal. Spookily, without conferring, we both order fresh crab and French fries.
To finish we order a chocolate pudding with two spoons. ‘Show me how,’ Chris smiles and doesn’t demur when I take far more than my fair share. What a gentleman!
We’ve been together three hours when Chris chivalrously orders me a taxi. I’m disappointed the evening is ending — we’ve still got so much to talk about. However, as the taxi whisks me home I realise that much as I would love to spend more time with him, I don’t see the prospect of romance.
There’s just no spark. Besides, Chris has only been divorced a year and it’s far too early for him to be launching into another relationship.
CHRIS SAYS: This was a first. I’ve never been on a blind date before and I must admit I was nervous.
It might have been faltering, but Tessa made conversation so easy. We chatted all night long.
We hit it off pretty well. I enjoyed the experience enormously and really hope our paths cross again.
THE FATHER'S CHOICE
Tessa’s father Jim Cunningham, 97, is a retired school teacher who moved in with her two years ago after breaking his hip.
JIM SAYS: Tessa’s my little girl and I worry about her. I won’t be here for ever and I would love to see her with a nice, steady chap who will look after her. Tessa takes after her mum, who died in 1995. She’s outspoken and self-confident, but she can also be very scatty.
It's a match: Tessa's dad, Jim, left, came up trumps when he match-made her with Derek Cooper
I despair every time I see her chasing the binmen up the road in her dressing gown because she’s forgotten to put the rubbish out the night before. She needs a partner who’s dependable and practical.
I first met Derek 15 years ago when he came to mend a leaking tap. A plumber by trade, he can lend his hand to anything.
He’s the expert, but always makes me feel I know more than him. That’s the sort of kind, generous man he is. Tessa won’t want to talk U‑bends and plungers, but I reckon Derek has hidden depths.
THE DATE: Tessa had a Sunday pub lunch with Derek Cooper, 59, from Horton Heath, Hampshire. Derek is divorced and runs a home maintenance and gardening business.
TESSA SAYS: My heart sinks when Dad announces he’s found me the perfect chap in Derek, whom I’ve known for years. He’s seen me in every possible state of disarray — no make-up, curlers, face-pack on — when he’s arrived to sort out one emergency or another.
I feel so comfortable with Derek that the thought of romance has never entered my head. Still, to humour Dad, I reluctantly agree to give a date a go, as does Derek. ‘Otherwise, we’ll never hear the end of it from your Dad,’ says Derek sweetly.
He books a table for Sunday lunch at a local country pub. I put on my glad rags and prepare to while away a few hours talking leaking taps.
Nearly half of over-50s say they don’t date for sex, but to have someone to talk to
Instead, I walk in, clock a fit-looking guy wearing a smart designer shirt with blue jumper casually thrown over his shoulders and almost walk straight past him. I’ve never seen Derek in anything but T-shirt and jeans. Heaven help me, he’s actually hot!
Derek appears equally stunned to see me in a dress and heels. ‘I thought you were sewn into jeans,’ he jokes. Cheeky.
We know each other so well, there’s no ice to break and not a flicker of nerves. It’s a gorgeous summer’s afternoon, and as we settle at our table in the sunshine, the conversation flows.
To my amazement, Derek has depths I’ve never plumbed. We have a lively debate about Hilary Mantel’s historical novel Bring Up The Bodies, which we’re both reading. It turns out Derek has studied Tudor politics and knows almost as much as David Starkey — and is equally amusing.
He’s also knowledgeable about art. He loves Banksy and Tracey Emin. I never imagined he was so cutting-edge. We talk about exhibitions we’ve both visited. I’m amazed to discover how much we have in common and can’t understand why we’ve never talked like this before.
Most of Derek’s clients are women, and he’s comfortable in female company. He listens attentively, asks all the right questions and is very open.
We’ve both had our hearts broken. Derek, who has a daughter of 30, has been divorced for almost 20 years. His last long-term relationship ended eight years ago and he’s been single ever since. When Derek goes to the bar, I find myself whipping out my mirror to check my make-up is OK. What’s come over me
As he drives me home, I’m still in a whirl. I know that if Derek suggests another date, I won’t say no.
DEREK SAYS: I reckon Jim knows me better than I know myself. I’ve always liked Tessa and enjoyed our chats over the kitchen table. But I’d schooled myself not to take it any further, sensing she felt the same.
Although I have many female clients, I never go beyond harmless flirtation. And despite feeling lonely at times, I’d kind of given up on the thought of romance.
I was apprehensive when Jim stepped in. I realised that in all the years we’ve known each other, Tessa and I had rarely been alone. I’d never spent time with her outside her home. How would we get on
Then she walked into the pub and my heart flipped. She looked fantastic. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t deny there was definite chemistry. Our time together went in a flash. I don’t want to rush things, but I’m making plans to take Tessa to an art exhibition.
IN CONCLUSION, DAD KNOWS BEST
TESSA SAYS: This dating adventure has been a revelation and all the men I met were lovely. I was confident that my friend Rachel would be so fine-tuned to my taste that she would find me Mr Perfect. Sadly, Rachel ignored the one thing I despise: football.
And Elise, in her rush to find me a chivalrous companion, ignored the lack of chemistry. Incredibly, the last person I’d have expected to play Cupid — my dear old Dad — was the one who came up trumps. He uncovered a great guy right under my nose. Watch this space…
Take Me Home, by Tessa Cunningham, is published by Sidgwick and Jackson, at 12.99