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Should women really hold out for Mr Perfect? As author Joanna Trollope says she's given up on men


Linda Kelsey, 68, (pictured) says the women who make later-life relationships work are the ones who know their priorities

Linda Kelsey, 68, (pictured) says the women who make later-life relationships work are the ones who know their priorities

NO 

By Linda Kelsey

Bearing in mind my age — 68 — here is a wishlist for my Mr Perfect: he should be 6 ft tall, a consultant doctor in, let’s say, orthopaedics, who combines NHS work with private (more dosh), cooks like Ottolenghi, looks like Sean Connery did when he was in his 60s and is always calm in a crisis.

Here’s what I’ve got: a 5 ft 7 in, well-respected osteopath, who is financially far from flush, can cook one meal (a mean shakshuka) and bears a very passing resemblance to Leonard Cohen in his final decade. Oh, yes, and is often anxious, even when there isn’t a crisis.

If that makes my partner second best, how is it that I count myself to be a very lucky woman? One who is both loving and loved?

When it comes to love, it’s all about priorities — or it should be.

Mr Perfect doesn’t exist outside of romantic novels and our fantasies, and by the time we get to mid-life maturity, we are hopefully experienced enough to know we don’t need him anyway. What we need is a Mr Good Enough.

I can count several of my contemporaries who have held out for Mr Perfect and ended up alone, childless and not at all happy.

For those willing to compromise, priorities can differ. The number one priority for some of my friends who were looking for love in later life was finance.

One told me that she couldn’t even consider a man who had a pension pot of less than £2 million.

Well, at least she was honest about it. And she actually found what she was looking for, while quite prepared to overlook other (to quote novelist Joanna Trollope) ‘substandard’ characteristics. Turns out my friend is really happy with her man and their luxe lifestyle.

Unlike Joanna who, at 76, says she doesn’t need a man in her life, I know absolutely that I do.

If you wait around you’ll end up alone and unhappy 

Living alone doesn’t appeal to me at all. I love all the domestic stuff — eating supper together over a glass of wine, chewing over the day, going for long weekend walks together.

Taller and richer might have been nice, but when I was looking for love again after the end of my marriage more than a decade ago, I chose a man who was short, sweet, often hilarious and who I believed would always be loyal and loving. And, importantly, I fancied him. A lot.

My belief is that the women who make later-life relationships work are the ones who know their priorities but don’t attempt the impossible feat of prioritising everything.

Younger women might do well to follow suit.

Rowan (pictured) argues settling does a terrible disservice to your partner

Rowan (pictured) argues settling does a terrible disservice to your partner

YES

By Rowan  Pelling

Suppose a young person told you: ‘I’ve always dreamed of starting my own business, but it makes better sense to settle for my current job in sales.’ Would you not urge them to follow their dreams?

Strive for the top! Go for the goal! Or as my big brother told me when I was 18 and debating whether to apply to a top university: ‘It’s better to aim high than to aim low and miss.’

So why on earth does anyone tolerate the idea of ‘settling’ in love? How will embarking on a long-term relationship that’s tepid at the start keep you warm in the winter of your old age?

Also, it does a terrible disservice to the person for whom you’ve settled.

Few people I’ve observed in this situation are honest enough to say they don’t return their partner’s devotion in full. As a result, they’re always emotionally cheating the person to whom they should be closest.

I detest the modern urge to mistrust romantic love. Pragmatic types talk instead of best friends and power couples with the same backgrounds, incomes, interests and ambitions, as though that somehow solves the infernal mystery of pairing up. But the truth is, unions rarely last long without sexual chemistry.

I honestly don’t think I would still be with my husband — not even after the deaths of four parents and a step-parent, the loss of a much-wanted first pregnancy, money problems, the vicissitudes of parenting teenagers, work stress and all the traumas that necessarily accompany complex lives — if I hadn’t been struck with love’s thunderbolt at the start of our courtship.

Tepid love won’t keep you warm in old age 

However furious or disappointed we are with one another, there’s something real and golden to cling to. Something that draws us back after arguments to a position of mutual respect.

My mother once described the same level of passionate certainty she felt about my father. She said that at the start of things, they were at a party and she was sitting on one side of a sofa, with Dad on the far side and an interloper sitting in between them.

Mum suddenly had an overwhelming sense she was about to levitate and be carried by a current of love to his side. She said she knew it sounded absurd, but there was an almost supernatural force in the room.

By the time I heard that story, my father was a grumpy 70-year-old publican in an M&S cardie. But we children had the knowledge we were the result of a great passion — something I’ve been able to extend to my own sons.

Whatever the here and now, I can always tell them truthfully: ‘You were born of great love.’ 

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