I’ve been dating for 20 years. Why am I still single? – The Times
I’m 38 next month. Not a particularly significant birthday. Not a big one. A perineum age, if you will, between the age at which a woman’s ovaries supposedly fall off a cliff (35) and the age at which the rest of her might as well too (40), since after that we’re no good for anything except cribbage and playing the incontinent grandmother in films.
Although it does mark an anniversary of sorts, I realised recently, with a combination of horror and fascination: it’s 20 years since I started dating. Twenty years! Two decades of shaving my legs, rubbing in posh body moisturiser, putting on nice knickers and heading out with that adorable optimism, only to return home that night, or the next morning, or 6 months later, or 18 months later, with a sad hole in my chest because it didn’t work out.
Two decades and what do I have to show for it? A few Facebook photos of me with more buoyant breasts and men I barely recognise. A few handwritten letters. Emails, if I dig through my inbox, featuring terms of endearment that make me gurn with embarrassment. Did I really call that man “baby”? Why? He was an adult with facial hair. I have an old football mug, a University of California sweatshirt so old the cuffs are coming off, several ancient tubes of Canesten that should probably be thrown away, and an aversion to hearing a couple of their names because they still hurt a bit, like old bruises.
The dating landscape was very different 20 years ago when I embarked on this odyssey. We had tiny Nokia phones but no apps. Twee dating concepts – orbiting, breadcrumbing, eclipsing – were yet to be inflicted upon us. There was no obsessing over WhatsApp ticks. (“He read it THREE HOURS ago. Why hasn’t he replied? Do you think he’s died? I hope he’s died.”) It was physically much more demanding to stalk an ex because you had to do it by trailing them instead of just tapping their name into Instagram. They were simpler times, in many ways. (Although not, perhaps, as simple as the Seventies, when my twentysomething mother would rush into her flat every evening and press the landline telephone to her cheek, believing that if the plastic was warm her suitors had been ringing all day.)
Attitudes have changed since, along with our phones. In 2003 the average British woman skipped down the aisle aged 32. Now she’s 36. Increasingly we don’t bother with marriage at all. In the past 25 years the number of cohabiting couples has grown 144 per cent and last year the think tank Civitas predicted that marriage rates in Britain will fall by 70 per cent over the next 50 years. As a result I’ve had the odd moment of confusion about the best way forward over the past two decades. My generation of women was, I think, still sold the fairytale, albeit a faintly more contemporary version: we …….