Why do women like me still cling to the fantasy of being swept off our feet (… even at the age of 53!)
Deep breath. I am profoundly ashamed of the next few sentences I’m about to type. But at the risk of enraging feminists the world over, here goes. I want a great love. I want to disappear into the sunset with my soulmate. I want to walk down the aisle again wearing an ivory dress into the arms of my knight in shining armour.
There, I’ve said it. The unsayable. Last Friday night, Madonna, of all people, the sort of woman who can crack almonds with one flick of her eyelashes, admitted it, too. ‘Even if we are sophisticated, educated, evolved human beings, we still in the back of our minds think Mr Right is going to sweep us off our feet,’ she admitted in a TV interview. ‘If you have half a brain, you know real love doesn’t exist, but I can see myself walking down the aisle again.’
Now, it could well be that the Material Girl was merely faking a belief in the idea of a great love because she was promoting her film W.E., depicting the affair between Edward and Mrs Simpson. But I think not. I recognise the signs.
A fine romance: Debra Winger and Richard Gere in An Officer And A Gentleman. Liz Jones says she wants a great love and a soul mate
Madonna still feels, at 53 — the same age as me — that she is attractive and has a lot to give a man. She has conquered every career mountain it is possible to assail, and is probably feeling bored. And lonely. She has an amazing lifestyle but is beginning to realise it’s no fun on your own.
She has been wounded and betrayed by men, but is still willing to believe she has not yet met the right one. ‘We keep getting disappointed,’ she said. ‘But we still hold out hope that, next time, he will be The One.’
I, too, know that sense of longing, that hope. Last Wednesday night, I went to a meeting with a young couple who were looking to invest in my ethical food brand. I walked into their gorgeous Hampstead house, and we sat down.
The couple were young, rich, good looking and obviously in love. I left the meeting wailing to my female business partner, who was trying to talk sales projections: ‘I want a husband! I want a man to look after me and pay for things and gaze longingly in my direction! I’m tired of being alone!’
When I divorced in 2007, I swore I would never have anything to do with a man again, let alone get married. My husband was the last in a trio of boyfriends who all (I say ‘all’, but frankly three men in nearly five decades of unrequited longing is downright pathetic) managed to disappoint me, leaving me bitter.
Not one had lived up to the sort of ideal love I’d been led to expect by fiction. Mr Darcy, the man I most desire across the centuries, would never have emitted cabbagey smells, surely Or cheated But still, despite the gaping wounds, I still believe in the happy-ever-after.
Am I a fantasist Does a great love really exist out here in the real world, away from the silver screen or purple pages of romantic fiction It’s the bookish, well-educated, driven career women who, like me, believe it does, which means we are invariably bereft and alone.
Looking for love: Madonna still feels, at 53 that she is attractive and has a lot to give a man
Why do we find it so hard to find the great love we’re still holding out for Well, for one, we are perfectionists. The main thing that scuppered my marriage was my desire for everything to be just so: the far-flung holiday to be full of conversation and wildlife and books and massages and laughter, whereas the reality was my husband would be indoors watching football with the curtains drawn.
Our standards are impossibly high. Endlessly disappointed, like Madonna we never made relationships a priority. We believed that success, money, power and nice things would be enough. Unfortunately, we have discovered they aren’t.
Why is Madonna alone, and Cameron Diaz, and Sandra Bullock, and on and on I think I have the answer. A couple of years ago, I went on a date with a man. On paper, he sounded perfect: half-French, solvent, funny.
In reality, I just didn’t fancy him. A
good sport, he texted me this: ‘I’ve been wondering, Liz, why you are
alone. And it’s because you know most men aren’t worthy of you.’ This is
true: special women hold out for longer, ever hopeful. We believe he is
out there, somewhere, that one-in-a-million man, that white knight.
Career women, as well as being perfectionists, are unable to compromise when it comes to a roast of coffee, let alone a husband. And we are less ruled by the biological clock that makes our more mumsy sisters settle for Mr All Right rather than Mr Perfect, before it’s too late.
I eventually compromised, too, when I got married aged 41, knowing full well there was no sweating of palms, no palpitations. This was my last chance of having a baby, I thought, as I tied the knot with a man who was frankly incapable of loving me, so fraught was his childhood.
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Singletons: Cameron Diaz and Sandra Bullock are also older and on their own
And then last year, like the plot of a romantic fiction, I met a man — a rock star — with whom I’d first fallen in love in the early Eighties, a time before I was disappointed, before I had plastic surgery, when I was young and lovely (though I didn’t believe it at the time).
At that first meeting, I’d been sent to interview him for a magazine: he was married, I was nothing. I remember he dismissed me with the damning: ‘Thank you for your support.’
We met again, a little while later, at a party after one of his concerts. The memory still makes me tingle. Egged on by my best friend, I walked up to him, congratulating him on his performance.
He was still dripping with sweat, and when he turned his head, some of the moisture splattered me. I went weak at the knees, literally, the first and only time this has happened.
So yes, swooning with love and desire can actually happen. I think it spoiled me for the next 30 years.
And then, last year, the rock star got back in touch — he offered me a free holiday via a shy email after he’d read a piece I’d written, moaning about having no money.
He remembered me from that time I’d been sent to interview him, even down to what I’d been wearing: an awful Bodymap jersey outfit with holes. (If I’d asked my husband the colour of my eyes at any point during our marriage, he wouldn’t have known the answer.)
Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Liz Jones says: 'Mr Darcy, the man I most desire across the centuries, would never have emitted cabbagey smells, surely Or cheated'
Now, three decades of disappointment later, we are more or less together, the rock star and me. My knees are still wobbly, every time we speak or text. But will he love me like my dad loved my mum
This is the dilemma: whether or not to let down the drawbridge and risk being hurt again. Which means I’ve been keeping this man, someone who must surely be my soulmate, at arm’s length. What is it that holds me back
I sometimes think modern women are too busy, too jaded for romance. My mum’s love for my dad was stoked by the fact they met as World War II began — their first date was a trip to the cinema, to see The Wizard Of Oz — and were separated for three long years.
We no longer have these great challenges. Life has become too safe. But I’m also worried about letting reality creep into a relationship that, for decades, was built on a fantasy.
Of course, I know there can be no guarantees in love. I also know this: if you really love someone, the bad bits don’t matter.
When my dad, aged 82, got cancer, my mum insisted on sleeping in the bed with him while he was dying, even though he coughed and tossed and turned and cried out with pain.
That is great love. Not romantic gestures, mini-breaks or wild sex but instead stoicism, loyalty, kindness and patience.
My mum would never have called herself a feminist, but she’s the strongest woman I know. As she, too, now lies dying, she still exclaims in moments of clarity that she sees my dad in the room, smart and handsome again in his uniform, waiting for her.
She is lucky. She found her soulmate aged 21. Some of us have to wait a little longer.