Cristina Odone

Journalist, novelist and broadcaster

How to meet and marry a man after 40

January 21, 2009 @ 8:00 am

It got me thinking about all the attractive, successful single women I've met
over the years – and Shane, whom I knew back in the Eighties, was one of
them – and how they seemed to have it all; their professional status, their
own homes (and mortgages), their own Mastercard (sometimes gold-plated),
their own teeth (sometimes capped and bleached). What in the world did they
need a man for? If ever you watched them in a room full of people at a
party, you'd see them refuse to go out of their way to meet the one
available man who, usually, had been invited by the hostess with good
intentions, especially for them to meet. When they were dragged over to meet
him eventually, they wouldn't flirt or flatter him or express any interest
at all. And when they left they wouldn't slip him their number unless he
asked for it, and even then they might demur. Everything about them, even
their body language, is saying: "You can try all you want, but I'm not
yet so desperate that I'm ready to compromise."

According to Shane Watson, men give these single women a wide berth – or
rather the marrying kind of men do. Married men, serial monogamists or
homosexual men can't get enough of them. The challenge of keeping this woman
on her toes, and of letting her keep you on yours is great fun. It makes for
sexual frisson, or deliciously bitchy sessions. She's a breath of fresh air,
a free spirit in a conformist society, a one-off. But for the man looking
for a lifetime commitment, this one-off is no-go. He reads in her vaunted
independence an adversarial attitude.

Standing on your own two feet is great, but make a show of it and you come
across as chippy or at the very least untouchable. He's looking for The One,
and seeks a woman who, if not instantly available, is easily accessible.

I know because I was one of those women who had reached their forties looking
so resolutely and contentedly single that no man could ever seriously think
I'd be interested. I loved my job, loved my friends, loved my social whirl.
Yes, I wanted to marry and live happily ever after – but only once certain
boxes were ticked. I compiled a list of all the pre-requisites: he must be
single or a widower (I'm Catholic and don't do divorcees); moneyed (why wait
20 years for a leech?); faithful (why wait 20 years for a lech?). And I
compiled a list of what Shane Watson dubs the Guaranteed Deal Breakers:
sandals and socks, a shaved head, a bicycle, sleeveless pullovers, ankle
skimming trousers.

And I waited... and waited.

If I'd read How to Meet a Man After Forty I would have known that this
was wrong, wrong, wrong!

Take the wish list: it's the kiss of death. You are so bent on ticking off the
right boxes, you don't look up to see Mr Right in front of you. The list of
non-negotiables is just as blinding; you obsess about the sandals and can't
see the wit, the charm and the twinkly eyes. As for waiting around: why is a
go-getter who holds down a demanding job, holidays in the Andes or the Gobi
desert and manages a high-octane social life so ridiculously passive when it
comes to the most important decision of her life? Fatalism has no place in
your career: why should it in your love life?

I was saved by a statistic. At 42, while researching female fertility for a Newsnight
report I was to present, I discovered I had only a two per cent chance of
conceiving naturally. I also interviewed several women who had failed in
their attempts at IVF, and I knew that I was not prepared to undergo that
physical and emotional ordeal. Suddenly, I relaxed. If I was too old to have
children, there was no rush. I tore up the checklists, I stopped waiting for
Mr Right to spot me. I got on with my life. I felt as if I'd stepped down
from some perilously high ladder, where I'd been balanced for far too long,
and now had found my footing. I felt relatively safe and at ease.

Which is, of course, when I met him. The journalist Anne Applebaum, a mutual
friend, told me not to even think of Edward as a potential husband. He was
going through a divorce, was broke, and had two sons whom he adored and
would never risk upsetting with a new woman in his life. She didn't warn me
that he also had a folding bicycle, shaved his head and wore sandals. Faint
memories of a non-negotiables list stirred at our first encounter. I ignored
them. I listened to Edward, looked into his eyes, and showed him I was
charmed. He was, too. In April, together with our daughter Isabella, 5, we
will celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary. So, reader, take your cue from How
to Meet a Man after Forty
and tear up that list. On meeting Available
Man, engage, rather than pretend aloofness. Show your emotions even if that
means he'll know you like him. You've nothing to lose.

The Dilemmas of Harriet Carew by Cristina Odone (Harper
Perennial), which is based on The Daily Telegraph's Posh but Poor
column, is available from Telegraph Books for £6.99 + 99p PP. Call
0844 871 1515 or go to books.telegraph.co.uk

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