‘There aren’t that many fish in the sea’
Claudia Connell, 45, is single and lives in London. She says: “The expression: ‘There are plenty more fish in the sea’ is one you get used to hearing from the moment you start seriously dating men. And, for the most part, it’s absolutely true. If things don’t work out with one guy then there are thousands of others just waiting around the corner.
If you’re lucky they can be like buses and three will come along at once!
‘Plenty more fish’ was a mantra that I lived by in my late teens, 20s and early 30s. It didn’t make any difference if I was the one who’d been cruelly dumped, or if I was the heartless cow finishing things with some poor, unsuspecting lad – knowing that the next guy was out there somewhere was a comforting thought.
What I never stopped to think about for a minute was that one day, aged 36 and newly single, I’d cast my line out… and reel it back in empty.
As any older singleton will tell you, once you get past the age of 35 the decent, sane, available men are pretty thin on the ground.
Most of the good ones have been snapped up, and those who haven’t? Well, there’s normally a good reason they remain in the ocean – they’re commitment phobes, mummy’s boys or just plain weirdos. Men of your own age are often looking for women under 30 and the ones who are interested are probably married.
If I had known then what I know now I wouldn’t have been so quick to end things with my first-ever boyfriend when I was 19, because I couldn’t imagine him ever being rich, as I felt he lacked ambition.
When the sexy and adoring guy I was seeing aged 28 asked me to move to America with him, I would have given it serious thought rather than laughing and dismissing it out of hand.
And I definitely would have at least tried to stay in touch with the fun chef I met on holiday in Spain when I was 34, rather than writing him off as a holiday fling and giving him a wrong number. So, my message to young single girls is this: yes, there are plenty of fish in the sea – but one day they’ll stop nibbling.”
‘Mr Right will be nothing like you imagined’
Kathryn Knight, 40, lives in London with her husband Duncan, 30. She says: “As a teenager I had some firm ideas about my version of Mr Right. I wanted to meet – sorry, make that, ‘I would definitely meet’ – a soigné silver fox from a grand family dynasty, who would sweep me from my humble working-class home and open up a glittering new vista of glamorous experiences.
He would preferably be Italian or French, with a large and attractive extended family with whom I would enjoy lovely lunches under the shady olive trees in the garden of their Tuscan villa/Provençal farmhouse. As an only child raised in a small Bolton terrace, this last bit was especially important.
So fixed was I on this idea that, it shames me to say, I rejected a number of potential suitors – nice, keen, genuine guys – because I had this notion that they weren’t the right ‘fit’.
Yet fast-forward a couple of decades, and I’m married to a Brummie boy 10 years younger than me and whose family background, save for a couple of siblings, is pretty similar to my own. And guess what? It’s grand. Lesson one: welcome all-comers, because unless you are some mad, all-controlling fembot or latter-day gold-digger, love will likely happen to you whatever your preconceptions.
Lesson two: A bitter pill this, but you don’t, sadly, get to control how a man feels. Like many young women, I was repeatedly a slave to the notion that if only I was prettier/funnier/cleverer then that guy I was mooning over, who had no interest in me, would fancy me back. The one thing it took me years to suss is that, save for the most dreadfully shallow of men, if someone’s into you he’s going to be into you whatever you do, whether or not you’ve taken to flashing your cleavage in his face daily or laughing loudly at his jokes. And if he’s not, then very little you do will alter that. By and large the rules of attraction are ungovernable, and the sooner you work that out, the happier you will be.”
‘Jealousy will ruin your relationship and drive you mad’
Rachel Halliwell, 43, lives in Cheshire with her husband of 20 years Carl, 48, and their three children, Bronte, 17, Merrily, 14, and Bridie, six. She says: “Trusting your partner, rather than wasting hours, if not days, fretting over whether they’re going to cheat on you, is hard to master, but it’s by far the easier option where relationships are concerned.
I should know. I still shake my head at the memory of my younger self, awake all night tormented by images of my bloke in bed with another girl. And all because he’d gone on a boys’ night out without me.
Chances were that while I was picturing him locked in a pornographic embrace, the poor lad was actually asleep on his mate’s sofa after a night drinking beer and talking football. What a waste of energy on my part.
But by the morning, I’d have convinced myself that he was a two-timing scumbag. Next time I saw him I’d give him such a hard time he probably wished he had fooled around. I ruined a number of relationships because of my constant interrogations, or because I dumped the poor guy as I couldn’t handle the stress.
Now I have three daughters of my own – two of them teenagers. My eldest and her friends agonise over whether their boyfriends will stay faithful, just like I did, and it makes me sad.
I tell them what I wish I’d realised sooner – that they are the masters of their self-esteem, not their boyfriends. And I urge them to question why they are giving themselves the task of policing whether he will cheat or not, when in reality it’s out of their hands. What’s the point in worrying about something that you have no control over?
I used to allow jealousy, suspicion and mistrust to eat away at me. That was until I married my husband, Carl, in 1992 after two years together, when I made a conscious decision to stop. By then I’d realised it was a terrible waste of energy, and discovered that it was easier to trust him when he’s away than not.
Now, 20 years later, I still feel that way, even though Carl in his job as a broadcast journalist is surrounded by lovely-looking women on a daily basis and often works away. I figure that it’s much better to live in the moment than fret over what the future might or might not bring.
And if he does cheat? Well, then he’s the fool – not me.”
‘You get what you give when it comes to love’
Nick Harding, 42, is a divorced dad of two. He lives in Surrey with his girlfriend of one year, Stephanie Davies, 33, a behavioural psychologist. He says: “When I was 18, Mother Harding sat me down and read me the relationship riot act. ‘Take your time,’ she counselled. ‘Don’t just jump into bed with anyone. Only commit when you are sure.’ I nodded and with my soppy teen naivety, accepted her advice.
I spent the next miserable years watching on as my pals s*****d their way through early adulthood, while I got messed around by a series of frustrated girlfriends. Love lesson number one: girls actually like sex and if you snooze, you lose.
Today, as a divorced father of two, I have my speech to my son ready (he is five and my daughter is 10). I’d tell him: ‘Son, don’t purposely hurt people, that’s wrong. Treat people how you’d expect to be treated, but if you reckon a girl is giving off the right signals don’t be afraid to act on instinct.’
I’m now in a wonderful relationship and I feel I’ve finally got what was owed to me.However, if I could build a time machine and visit 1989 Nick, I’d slap him out of his slack-jawed sexual apathy and offer him the benefit of hindsight.
Rule number one: ply a girl with booze. Hear me out. If you want to know a girl, knock back tequilas with her. ‘Sorry about last night, I’m not really psychologically imbalanced/laden down with emotional baggage, it was the wine talking,’ is a platitude I’ve heard too often. Inevitably, a few dates later I’d find they actually were imbalanced/laden down with baggage. Booze is a bringer of truth.
Thanks to one date – let’s call her Astrid – rule two would be to steer clear of anyone with more than a passing interest in astrology. Astrid did our charts and we were destined to be together forever. After a month she was warned off with the threat of legal action.
Finally, rule number three: check the armpits. In my late teens I thought hairy pits were exotic.They’re not, they are sign of a girl who has given up trying.
There you go 19-year-old Nick. Now pack your jeans with condoms and get to Cinderella Rockerfeller in Purley, opportunity’s knocking!”