A date too recent to have been vomited from the memory started in the pub, where I paid for the drinks, and progressed to a restaurant of his choice which had about 103 dishes on the menu, each more disgusting than the last.
My bachelor ‘date’ — a friend of a friend, not an online shark — interrogated the waiter and manager for what seemed like 25 minutes about their ingredients. Out was wheat, dairy, gluten, meat, sugar. He even had an allergy to potatoes, which was a new one on me. We were left with unadorned spinach and chickpeas. The bill came to £26. We went Dutch. I should have aborted then, but we went back to the pub, and each paid for our own drinks. When the subject of sex came up, not entirely verbally, he eventually said he was ‘slightly tempted’. Charming! I really should have pulled the plug at that point, but as a writer constantly in search of new material I was intrigued by the prospect of going to bed with a man so unenthusiastic about sex. And beggars can’t be choosers. Since the end of my marriage, I have only been asked out by men either in their dotage or younger than me — neither exactly long-term prospects — so I thought I should do the right thing by engaging with someone of my own age.
Afterwards, I concluded that the novelist in me should have made do with the imagining. At least it will make for a comically disastrous scene in my next book.
I am divorced, single and quite old. I am the female equivalent of Polyfilla, smeared across a tedious crack in a white wall, blended, all but invisible. And yet not entirely so.
True, for most men of my generation, women like me are surplus to requirements, a dinner-party occupational hazard, as it’s only the 20- to 35-year-olds in their headlights. But there are a few who notice me still. These fall into three categories: much older men, married men and younger men. I am not interested in the over-seventies, who have already grown old with someone else and are now in need of an unpaid nurse who gives blow jobs. The married men are scarcely more appealing. As tradition would have it, they flatter on automatic pilot, trying their luck out of habit, simply because I am not attached. Chance their arm with enough sad, lonely divorcees who are a bit ‘best before’ but still passable, and they might just score once in a while. Some are sleazebags who think they are doing you a favour with their compliments; some are charming, funny, kind, unhappy — but no. To allow oneself to drift into their murky waters would seem to me to be the very definition of self-destruction. Other women are more optimistic than I am, perhaps, and that’s why married men trying it on (and often succeeding) is the oldest story in the book.
It is the younger men who are more of a puzzle. When I first found myself the subject of the unlikely attentions of a young man two decades my junior, I had supposed him to be something of a freak (if a delightful one), and the fling to be a one-off. But then, as more and more age-appropriate men were screwing with my head before sprinting, Bolt-like, as far from me as they could get, more and more of the younger, less complicated and less insulting sort began to emerge, unfathomably.
Why the hell, I wondered, would any of them be interested in a wizened creature like me? Surely young men have a richesse of unspeakably gorgeous girls their own age to choose from? Yet it seems the Mrs Robinson experience — not that I make any claims to possess any of Anne Bancroft’s charms — holds attractions for swaths of younger men for whom one might have thought The Graduate was as obscure a reference as butterscotch Angel Delight. Not so, apparently. The first was the first of several.
Currently, there is one in his thirties, who sends me sincere texts — sexts! — most days. He is tall, dark and handsome, straightforward and honourable, and there is no realistic future. But it passes the time that remains steadfastly under-populated by sensible, joyful dates with people my own age.
In my dreams.