As a newly single mother of four, I thought I would be invisible. So why have I been asked out on seven dates in a fortnight, asks Lucy CavendishIt is not about 'what men will want me' but living your life and saying yes to opportunities
Last week I was asked out by four different men. The week before that I was taken out for dinner by two new male friends and a particularly attentive ex. Next week I am seeing one new person I have recently met and two relatively recent acquaintances. At first, I was taken aback by all this male attention. Aren't I too old for all this? I am 45, nearly 46.
This type of thing doesn't happen to people like me. I am no Kate Winslet or Jerry Hall. I live in a field. I have animals and children. I have hair that is going grey and wrinkles. The bloom of youth has faded.
I am at an age where I thought I would be invisible. The received notion is that I'm one of those 40-something divorcees facing nothing but loneliness, a solitary life, glasses of chardonnay and endless nights in on my own.
And yet, this is not what is going on at all. At a time when all my other divorced 40-plus friends and acquaintances are bemoaning their lack of dates, I seem to be experiencing the opposite.
Take what happened to me a few weekends ago. As I was leaving a lunch party, an extremely good-looking and interesting man asked me for my telephone number. 'I'd like to take you out,' he said.
I felt flattered but I thought it was a one-off. Then, a few days later, the same thing happened with another man. A week after that a male friend-of-a-friend, whom I have met occasionally at social events, asked me out for a drink.
I have been pondering why I have received this level of attention. It has made me wonder what attractiveness is all about. Is it about how we look? How we feel about ourselves? Or is it a combination of the two?
It is certainly true that it is self-propagating: the more you get asked out, the more confident you feel about yourself, the more you get asked out.
There is nothing more powerful than feeling desired, especially at an age when desire might well be considered to be a blessing rather than a right. It is, in a word, wonderful.
I am no beauty. But I do, I think, have a positive attitude to life. I say yes to more things than I say no to. And I am beginning to see that more women need to recognise this. I want to say to the many despairing women I meet, 'Don't give up! Do Not Give Up!' This is a rallying cry. It is not about 'what men will want me?' but about living your life and just saying yes to opportunities.
I find most people interesting. Everyone has something interesting about them, so I genuinely enjoy meeting new people. I do also go out of my way to go to things. It's not possible to meet people – and I mean that generally, not just a future partner – unless you go places you usually don't.
But it's more than that. In many ways, I feel more attractive, more vibrant now than I ever have done. I can't explain what it is about; all I know is that my age has nothing to do with it. Sometimes, though, I feel like a lone voice, a woman advocating living life to the full at a time when many of the women around me are obviously feeling traumatised by what they believe is the loss of their looks.
This makes me feel very sad. In my mirror I see a woman who has had nearly half a century well lived. I feel fit, relatively lithe, able, agile.
I feel I have a lot to offer: bravery, vibrancy, an energy I really didn't possess before. I am pushing myself in a way I didn't know I could, both physically and intellectually.
In fact, I feel in many ways that a new life is starting for me, one that doesn't involve nappies and pushchairs, a life that is interesting, fun and full of other people.
I am doing things I want to do for me. I am learning to dance. I do yoga. I sing. I am letting myself enjoy life in a way I never thought possible. I am, in essence, on a one-woman crusade to show people that we are living in a world full of misconceptions about being an older woman.
Who says older women aren't attractive? Vivacious? Full of brio?
I have energy pouring out of me, coursing through me. I want to continue this well-lived life, not hide away. This, in turn, begs the question: why are we, as a society, not good at celebrating the 'older' woman? In France they don't feel this way.
Think of the women who are held up as beauty role models in France: Isabelle Adjani, Inès de la Fressange, Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Rampling (British, but she has lived in France forever; ditto Jane Birkin), Jeanne Moreau and Carole Bouquet.
Anne Sebba, the author of That Woman, a book about Wallis Simpson, who, at 41, married the Duke of Windsor, says: "I think it is partly about Frenchwomen at any age looking their best . . . There is something very English in the idea that it's classy to look countrified, scrubbed and healthy, wearing no make-up.
"While this may be attractive when you are 20, it is definitely not attractive at 60! . . . It's important not to help time."
According to the PR Lynne Franks, aged 64, attractiveness is down to energy and attitude.
"I am happy with how I am. There was definitely a shift, though, in my 50s. I really did think about how I dressed then – I wasn't so secure about how I came across and about whether I was sexy. But now I'm in my 60s I feel really good about myself, and that's probably rather attractive, isn't it? . . . I don't feel particularly old . . . I am open to new things."
This seems to be vital – the living of life, regardless. I will go to anything. I went to the races in Ireland one weekend, a polo dinner the next. The point is, it is not ageing that makes someone invisible, it's their attitude.
What is attractiveness about, then? Is it just self-confidence? Bronwyn Cosgrave, 46, a former features editor of British Vogue turned author and curator, says that, for her: "attractiveness is about being the best possible you at the age you are . . . Beauty fades, but attractiveness, to me, is something every woman can obtain."
Over a decade ago, this is what the American author Naomi Wolf said about beauty in The Beauty Myth: "More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers."
And yet Wolf missed out something very important: our lust for life; the freedom we now have to choose how to live; the energy we can elect to expend on it. For me, it's about a life well lived, a life full of excitement, saying yes to opportunities, being brave.
As Sebba says, "Some women have it, and you know as soon as they enter a room. I have written biographies of two such women: Wallis Simpson and Winston Churchill's mother, Jennie. Both were American, both strong-minded, witty, intelligent, extravagantly well dressed.
Both women radiated charisma . . . Many people thought Simpson must have bewitched the Duke of Windsor because she was "so old". Jennie was 40 when her first husband, Lord Randolph Churchill, died. She married twice more, each time to men who were 20 years younger than she. I know from the letters that it was a physical attraction, as both men make it clear she was good in the bedroom. Her women friends were jealous as hell of her ability to land younger men."
All I can say to that is: hallelujah!