Dating at 38 Men will run a mile. That's what a lonely-heart agency told Sarah. She vowed to prove them wrong
21:32 GMT, 23 May 2012
The woman at the dating agency was blunt. ‘How old are you’ she asked. ‘Thirty-eight Men will run an absolute mile from you. An absolute mile.’
I started to regret phoning her. It is one thing suspecting that it was impossible to find a boyfriend, quite another having it confirmed by a professional.
‘Men want someone who is fertile but who doesn’t want children just yet,’ she continued. ‘So they want women in their late 20s or early 30s. Why would they like someone who, if she can still have children, would need to have them straight away No, men will run a mile.’ She paused, then added: ‘Sorry, dear.’
Author Sarah Bridge, who has written a book about her quest for love
I went home and burst into tears. My love life had just been given a death-sentence. Because of my age, I was now, officially, destined to remain single for ever.
I’ve never been someone who absolutely has to be in a relationship. Whenever I was between boyfriends in the past, I would just enjoy life until another man came along — through work, mutual friends or our eyes meeting across a crowded room.
But when I phoned a dating agency eight months ago, everything had taken on a new sense of urgency. I realised that since turning 35 three years ago, I hadn’t met anyone I liked romantically, who was also single, straight and interested in me. Where had they all gone
The pressure started to mount. ‘Haven’t you found yourself a husband yet, Bridgey’ one married ex-boyfriend wrote on my Facebook page. Another guy said: ‘You’ve got to get a move on! Time is running out. But don’t look desperate — men hate that.’
It was hard to work out just how to be relaxed about a state of emergency. I never thought I would end up like this. There had always been boyfriends in my teens, 20s, and on into my early 30s.
So it is hardly as if I was a perennial spinster. But, returning to London in 2009 after four years abroad, I discovered that being 30-something and single was very different to being 20-something and single. My whole social life had changed.
Before, I would meet friends every night and every weekend, go to parties, and hang out in pubs and bars. There was a constant merry-go-round of new faces.
Now, though, as almost all my friends had got married and moved to the suburbs, get-togethers involved babysitters, talking rather than dancing and heading home before the last train.
I would have happily waited years to find ‘The One’. But if I wanted to have children, then I knew I had to get a move on. And it wasn’t just about children. I missed having someone special in my life — someone to look forward to seeing at the end of a long day, someone to cuddle up to.
Sarah with a man who was not her “Mr Right”
But I worried that any potential boyfriends would find out how old I was and just hear the sound of ticking ovaries. I vowed to try everything — however embarrassing or excruciating.
I went speed-dating, online-dating, wine-tasting dating, quiz-dating and dinner-dating. I joined running clubs, did acting classes and dance classes, went on skiing holidays and singles holidays and badgered my friends to set me up with their friends.
Some attempts were more successful than others: a singles holiday to Greece made me feel like Elizabeth Taylor due to all the men after me, whereas one evening spent dinner dating with seven single women in their 40s and just two men — one of whom walked out after ten minutes — made me want to give up on the idea altogether.
I turned up a few minutes late for one date to find that the guy had already ordered and eaten dinner without me, and I booked myself on a climbing holiday with 14 fit men, only to discover halfway up the highest mountain in North Africa that they were all married.
While I did meet some really nice men, it was certainly not at the tortuous round of singles events, at which there were always more women than men and everyone had a sad, resigned look in their eyes.
Countless times I left events in despair, thinking: ‘Where have all the men gone’ and would head to the nearest pub for a restorative drink, only to realise: ‘Oh, here they are!’
The solution is to meet them in their own natural habit: coffee shops and pubs, of course, but also sports clubs, evening classes, even the local supermarket. The possibilities are reassuringly endless.
James Preece, who runs dating events, says that although it might be a struggle to find men — who are often happy just hanging out with their mates rather than trying to meet new people — women in their mid-30s shouldn’t give up hope.
‘You are not going to find anyone at home watching the X Factor,’ he says. ‘But coffee shops are great places to start a conversation, or waiting for a bus, or on the train.
‘You will find that there are men everywhere when you start to look for them. The more you practise talking to them, the easier you will find it.’
Thankfully for women who are the far side of 30, James says it is ‘absolute rubbish’ that they have no chance of finding love. ‘There are many men out there who are bored with having meaningless affairs and who want to settle down and have children too,’ he says. ‘If a guy is going out with a woman in her late 30s, it is hardly going to be a surprise that she might also want children.’
With that in mind, I decided to be honest about my desire for marriage and children — with surprising results. I put a classified ad in Private Eye, which read: ‘Fun, attractive female journalist, 38, seeks romantic, sporty, intelligent guy, 30s/40s for adventures and hopefully LTR/marriage/babies/the lot!’
Like film heroine Bridget Jones, Sarah feels under pressure from friends and family to find a husband
Out of a surprisingly large number of replies, Simon’s stood out. He was 41, adventurous and enjoyed travelling — as do I. His emails were fun and witty and when we first met for a lunch date we left the pub at 6pm, always a good sign.
He was kind and chivalrous. My friends liked him and I couldn’t believe I’d found someone at last. But, while we were perfect for each other on paper, the relationship lacked passion. I felt that to continue going out with him would have been unfair to both of us, so I ended our relationship. It was a very difficult decision.
Many people — including my mother and best friend — accused me of being too fussy, and said that I should stick with Simon, as he ticked so many boxes. The unspoken warning was that, because of my age, I might not find anyone else.
But I simply refuse to ‘settle’ for Mr Almost-Right just because I’m approaching 40 — no matter what the dating agencies tell me!
First Catch Your Husband: Adventures On The Dating Front Line by Sarah Bridge is published by Mainstream Publishing 7.99.