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Laura Keynes: Find Mr Almost Right and grab him, girls

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I’m inclined to think maybe women are too picky today. I had a sad conversation recently with a friend in her mid-twenties, going over her break-up with a young man she’d been in a relationship with for around three years. He was a lovely guy, with an interesting job in the civil service; not scintillating, perhaps, but a decent sort. We’d all assumed they’d be married within a few years.

Things had come to a head because they found it difficult commuting between their respective flats in North East London and South West London, so the co-habitation question had reared its head. But she was excited by the prospect of an overseas posting through her job and wasn’t ready to settle. She also thought she could do better; find someone whose conversation sparkled. It was a gamble she was prepared to take. She thought that at 26 she had “plenty of time”.

I listened sympathetically, of course, but as I went home from our meeting I found myself wishing I’d been a bit tougher on her. All the things her mum might have said were going through my head: “A good man is hard to find. When you’re raising children together, sparkling conversation will be the last thing on your mind. There’s no Mr Right, you just make a commitment and get on with it”.

And knowing how hard the dating game is in your late twenties and thirties, I wanted to spare her what I’d experienced; that you suddenly hit your late twenties and discover the pool of decent, sane men has dried up because they’re somehow – how did that happen right under your nose? – all coupled up.

Dating past the age of 28 is a bleak experience. Everyone you meet is a little bit jaded, a little bit cracked – not least yourself. And the whole dating thing is even worse now thanks to the hook-up culture. When single friends tell me their latest dating story I thank God I’m in a relationship and past all of that.

In fact, culture might be the thing to blame. For one thing, women are told they don’t need men except to father children, so men become dispensable, and interchangeable. It relates to what Pope Francis calls the ‘throwaway culture’ – in this culture it’s not just things that get thrown out when they’re of no more use to us, it’s human beings too. The ‘make do and mend’ culture of the past, which supported marriage, no longer applies. Young women, and young men, get the sense that it’s easy to ‘trade up’. How many people get hurt in that process is by-the-by.

A lot of it also has to do with Sex-In-The-City/Cosmo-culture. Cosmo magazine was what we all read at school and it puts an emphasis on sex above anything else, so that girls who were influenced by it were inclined to think that as soon as the spark had gone out the relationship it was time to move on, whereas experience teaches you that it’s when the spark goes that it’s time to start working at it.

That said, it’s good to be picky when looking for a life companion. You’ve got to be sure this is someone solid and trustworthy. It’s tough finding someone who shares your values, who also floats your boat, and who also happens to be single and looking for the same thing at the same time as you.

Now in my mid-thirties I have an awful lot of single girlfriends, all of whom I think are great and I’m left puzzled as to why they’re still single. Where are the men for them? Are these women simply being too picky? I don’t know, I don’t think so. When they tell me their latest awful dating story – the crass propositions, the sloppy dress sense, the downright useless or frankly insane men they’re meeting – it honestly seems to be that there just aren’t enough good men out there. So I think we should be counselling young women to hang on to their good man if they’ve found him, and forget about ‘trading up’. Being picky is a gamble, and sometimes it doesn’t pay off.

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Laura Keynes
Laura Keynes
Dr Keynes is a Cambridge-based academic, writer and critic with two very young children. She writes for Standpoint magazine, the Catholic Herald and The Tablet. Find her on twitter @LMKeynes.

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