My first date takes place in London. Mairead phones to tell me about M, who is 46, in wealth management, whatever that is, and a divorced father of two grown-up boys. He lives between London and Oxford. I ask whether he is handsome.
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The next night, he calls me. He sounds young, and is surprisingly open. He says he likes good hotels and restaurants, long walks and log fires. I tell him I live in the middle of Exmoor, have horses, dogs, cats and rescued farm animals, and am recently divorced. We agree to meet the following night in the bar at Claridges. I tell him I have dark hair, and will be wearing purple Burberry platforms. I go to a lot of trouble to prepare for this date. I buy a black lace skirt and silver platforms from Prada, and get my hair done.
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I invest in a Hollywood wax, and an all-over light sheen of fake tan. When I get to the bar I'm so nervous I down a glass of champagne in one go, then text to tell him I've had a 'slight change of shoe: When he arrives I am disappointed: He has nice brown eyes, but is not quite tall enough for me. God, I think, this is awkward. He orders me another glass of champagne, and tells me about his ex-wife.
I find it annoying that, when I tell him I work for a newspaper, he doesn't even ask which one. After precisely one hour he asks for the bill, which immediately tells me he doesn't fancy me. I hobble off into the night on my shoes and text Mairead: He couldn't wait to get shot of me.
I think I looked pretty good. Who are these men expecting, Elle Macpherson? Contrary to popular opinion there are, according to Mairead, a glut of rich, single men in New York. I find this hard to believe, having watched a great many episodes of Sex And The City, but I valiantly call skirt and shoes into service yet again wearing the same outfit acts, I as a sort of scientific control , meet Christie, from Mairead's sister agency, Premier Matchmaking, who is hand to arrange everything.
Our chat reveals straight away how different the dating scene is in the U. She tells me where my prospective date went to school and college, lists his many degrees, tells me he is 6ft 2in, divrced with no children, and is the CEO of a bank. She hopes very much I 'enjoy him'. I agree to meet P at a restaurant on Madison Avenue.
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I sit down at a table. He arrives, and although he is indeed tall and dark, resembling none other than Mr Big, I know in less than five seconds that I will never fancy him.
But, after a few minutes, and much to my surprise, I start to enjoy his company immensely. What do you look for, I ask. He says women in New York are only interested in how much money a man makes. Don't you fancy the over-groomed, immaculate Manhattan type? The test is what they look like straight out of the shower. But I can tell he fancies me, this despite his lack of curiosity about me, and his disconcerting habit of continuing to talk into the remote of his mobile phone.
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He keeps touching my arm and once, instead of saying, 'If I were to have a relationship with you', he says, 'If I were to have sex with you'. He is put off, though, when I tell him about my animals; particularly my anecdote about the fact I've trained my three lambs to kiss me on the mouth. That's a deal breaker. Men like to know they come first. After two hours, he pays for our drinks, apologising that he has to leave for a dinner engagement.
He gives me his card, and asks me to ring him if I'm ever in New York again. We say our goodbyes and I go to freeze in the snow, trying to hail a cab. After about ten minutes, a man asks if I need help.
It doesn't bode well that it's my date, and I don't even recognise him! I think I cover up my amnesia, and he gallantly phones his driver to take me back to my hotel.
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He takes off his overcoat and buttons it around me, which I find presumptuous, as it ruins my outfit. I realise I am not very good at being looked after by a man, and that this comes across as detached frostiness. As I get into his limo, he tries to kiss me and I'm afraid I duck, meaning he gets a mouthful of hair. As I am chauffered through the streets, alone yet again, I comfort myself with the realisation that I could, if I'd really wanted, have landed my very own Mr Big. My final date, back in Britain, is a disaster.
Mairead calls and asks whether I am interested in someone aged 40 who is in politics. She says he is 'charismatic and bright', which I take to mean ' hopelessly ugly'. He calls me, and I don't like his voice, which is on the soprano side.
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We arrange to meet for dinner, but I'm past caring by this point, so I'm afraid my grooming is a little below par, but I think I still look nice - clean, anyway. He is at the table, already sitting down. He stands up; there is little difference. Why are men so short these days? I ask whether he keeps the fact that he uses an upmarket dating agency quiet, but he says no, why not use an expert to help him get what he wants? It turns out he was in a long-term relationship until two years ago, and is only just ready to date again.
He tells me he is 'past dating beauties with fake breasts and blonde hair, the sort who make you look good'. Do men really, in the 21st century, think those sort of women are an asset? He gets nervous when I say this. An hour and 45 minutes later, he asks for the bill. I offer to pay half, and he lets me, which makes me think: As we leave the restaurant, he doesn't even offer to walk me to my car, which, given we are in Soho and it's late, I find quite cavalier.
I learn a lot on my dates. That, despite money and success, men are as clueless and fearful about meeting potential partners as we are. That bankers aren't always boring, and that a lot of the talk about models and eye candy is just their way of ego-boosting. I learn that men and women have become mistrustful of each other but, most importantly, I learn not to be terrified of men, or to try too hard, or to yearn to be in my pyjamas watching telly instead because, you never know, it just might lead to something.
I am quite gratified that I could have pulled a banker. Mr Big's post-date appraisal noted I was beautifully turned out, am not completely over my ex-husband but, even though I have far too many animals, 'if she lived in the U. I'm wondering, might there be a relationship? I learn that men - even powerful ones - probably appreciate a bit of flirting to give them encouragement, something I find impossible to do and which is probably the reason I'm still single.
I call Mairead to tell her she hasn't yet found me the perfect man, and she insists that, even with a dating agency, I have to keep putting myself 'out there'. I tell her I can't be bothered, and am heartened when she says: And you know what? On Christmas Eve, millionaire number one texts to say he found me 'intelligent and, dare I say it, sexy', and that he wants to take me out for dinner 'some time soon, and for a much longer date this time!
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