Finding love has no age limit, and that includes love the second time around. As women reach their 40s and 50s, dating can be difficult, especially if a woman has lost a partner through death or if she has gone through a separation.
Single mature women in Ireland now outnumber men by three to one. This means that the Irish dating scene for women who are seeking a second chance at love is particularly fraught.
Cleo (not her real name) lost her beloved husband Mark to cancer in 1991. He was just 31. She was left with two daughters, one aged three and the other just 11 months.
"Mark was just a darling, totally devoted to me and to our adorable kids. His kindness, sincerity, integrity, loyalty and dashing good looks set him apart from other men. He was just the perfect package. He was at the height of his career and life looked good until the nightmare unfolded," she says.
Cleo describes the grief she felt when Mark died. "My world was torn apart and I couldn't function properly for many months. The pain was indescribable; I was in total shock and heartbroken to lose the love of my life, father of my children and my soul mate."
She continues: "The children were so young and vulnerable that I really didn't have much choice but to get on with it. Here I was, a young woman of 31 with two babies and I had to sink or swim. I felt an overwhelming sadness at the fact that the girls would never have a dad but I think now that I am a survivor. I did pull through. It wasn't an easy ride, but the children were a huge comfort and the main focus in my life and still are. I still miss him to this day but can now look back at the wonderful memories that are mine to cherish forever. As they say, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved."
It took Cleo at least 10 years to come to terms with Mark's death. She reflects on her social life in the beginning. "I did go out and about and never turned down a dinner date. It wasn't easy getting out there but with the encouragement of friends and family, I did grasp life again.
"When asked out on a date, you felt like a recycled teenager with all the excitement, trepidation, awkwardness and anxiety that goes with your first dates. I did meet really nice guys and we did go out on a few dates each but really, the memory of Mark always prevented me from going forward. I felt I was betraying his memory."
However, as time passed, Cleo became more open to meeting men but is disillusioned at what seems to be on offer in Ireland.
"The social scene has changed dramatically for women of my age. Guys see you as someone with baggage when you have children, but my reaction is at our age, we all have baggage and it depends on whether you need a porter or not to carry it."
With the rise in divorce and separation, there are definitely more available middle-aged men out there but Cleo is of the opinion that the social scene in Dublin isn't really conducive to meeting them.
"You meet more married men on a night out than you do single guys, usually the former with their ring in their pockets! I love male company and have managed to befriend many on my travels. However, I do think there is a huge market out there to be exploited in setting up places where us recycled teenagers can meet.
"I have gone to dinner parties with decent, nice guys, but they are few and far between. I remember a great dinner party I went to with five single guys and five single girls, all between40 and 50. It was a great night, one widower, four divorcees, three singles and two widows. It went on until the wee hours with numbers exchanged and the promise to all meet again. Lo and behold, a few months later, I see one of the 'divorcees' in a travel show in a foreign country with his beautiful wife of 10 years wrapped around him."
Cleo recalls another time. "On a night out with some friends and my two daughters, my eldest daughter was taking the lead in finding mum a new man and began chatting to one whom she thought would be an acceptable prospective stepdad! The long and the short of it was that after many hours in our company, he sought the telephone number of my daughter, declaring I was too old! The moral is that I am no longer in competition with girls my own age but also those as young as my daughters! But I don't give up, my knight in shining armour is still out there. I await."
Cleo thinks the best way for those in her predicament to meet a nice man is through friends, work or at a function.
She says: "There is nothing like a good romance, regardless of age. Everyone is hoping to meet their George Clooney or Jude Law lookalike man with substance, integrity and sincerity. I think your ideal man doesn't change over the years. I do believe women have become more assertive and perhaps a little more choosy in their prospective lovers.''
One way of meeting people is through a dating agency but so far Cleo has not been tempted. "I know lots of friends who have tried dating agencies and online dating. Some have met and dated men and there have been one or two long-term relationships out of it. I think it is fantastic if it works. With time being the new money, it cuts down on having to go out and find that special someone. For me, I'd be mortified and, knowing my luck, I'd probably end up dating my boss. I think I'd prefer something more natural, but never say never!
"There are many men out there on the look-out, some dying to get into a steady relationship, but I find some Irish men to be too needy and there are those who just want to play the field and have many women on the go. It has to be said that men of a certain age do go through a 'Mini-pause' phase and seek out younger women to boost their morale."
Jenny, 37, separated from her husband after 15 years of marriage. Looking back now, Jenny says: "To be honest, I was so busy getting on with my life and rearing my children that I never intentionally sought any potential partners. I often accepted invitations with male company which I enjoyed but never wanted to make any serious commitment. I think women in their 40s and 50s are at a disadvantage as the men they meet, who are also separated or divorced and in the same age bracket, usually have young children, so the baggage is like a plane's undercarriage and complicates things.
"Also, there are a lot of chancers out there who do not tell you their genuine status. Many are married and pretend otherwise. Also many Irish men are obsessed with body types and looking for females 10 years their junior. Now and again a genuine gentleman appears but they are far and few between. All we mature women are asking for is to be treated like a lady."
Jenny has not tried a dating agency but admires those who have. "If I want to buy a stamp, I go to the post office, if I want petrol, I go to the garage so it makes perfect sense if you are on the lookout for a man, that's the service you check out," she says.
Jill McGrath is managing director of the Irish dating agency, Maybefriends.com. She believes women in this age group have a different set of criteria when it comes to looking for a partner than younger women.
"Women on their second time round are realists. They are looking for someone who is compatible with them, who will accept them for who they are and who will be a good friend. Over the last five years Maybefriends.com has seen a steady increase in the number of women in their 40s and 50s using the service and there are currently about 2,500 women members in this age group. We have seen great success and have had almost 80 weddings to date. The ages vary but many have been in their 40s and 50s."
She adds: "It is hard to find that someone special second time round because as you get older there are fewer opportunities to meet new people. By the time you have reached your 40s, you are less likely to go to clubs and pubs, you've probably met all your friends' 'single friends', and you are settled in a job and less likely to move. All of this means that you do not have the opportunities to meet new people. This is why online dating is so successful. These are people that they would never ordinarily meet.".