Melissa Kite on finding Mr Right at 39
I've found happiness with a guy who drives a pick-up truck, fixes the boiler and puts air in my tyres when they're running low
When I look back at my chaotic dating life, the professions of my ex-boyfriends strike me as the oddest thing of all.
I could sum up my long-term relationships thus: army officer, journalist, barrister, politician, stockbroker, international businessman, roofer.
The last one -- my current amour -- stands out rather, doesn't it?
We met late last year, when I was least expecting it, and when I had all but given up on ever finding Mr Right. In fact, I was so jaded I had taken a vow -- never again.
Aged 39, I had just come out of the worst relationship of my life. It was a car-crash of an affair, lasting three roller-coaster years and involving countless break-ups and reconciliations.
When I finally got out, I felt as if I had been run over by a bus.
Scott -- as I will call him, to protect his modesty -- had done everything possible to lead me to the conclusion that he was a lunatic, including throwing me out of his house in my pyjamas one night (for not turning off my phone), throwing me out of his car at a motorway service station (for trying to play a Britney Spears CD) and pointing a fake gun at my head (for a laugh).
A broker by profession, he had wooed me with flowers and diamonds, expensive dinners and trips abroad. He was fun, charming and exciting. But only a few months into the relationship, it was clear he was also unstable.
A typical, high-octane city type, he would be sparkling company one minute and dangerously depressed the next.
His mood swings seemed to correlate directly to the state of the markets. He was an Asia-Pacific trader, under unspeakable stress, and when the Nikkei closed down, he couldn't help taking it out on me.
Our rows were legendary. Our presence at any event would guarantee unscheduled dramas. We could empty a room if people heard we were coming. Or we might never get there, if we had an argument on the way.
I had stayed with him through thick and thin because I was coming to the end of my 30s and was panicking about the possibility that I might never have children.
A wealthy, public-school educated mover and shaker in the finance world seemed to me a reasonable prospect as, like many women nowadays, I neared the end of my child-bearing years having failed to settle down.
Really, I should not have tried to start a game of canasta with Scott, never mind start a family.
But, as I neared 40, I was getting desperate. And as I got more desperate, my choices were getting worse.
In truth, I have always had a blind spot when it comes to men. Like many career women of my generation who find themselves still single at 40, I have to accept some of the blame for the hiccups in my private life.
With hindsight, I realise that I am as much a commitment-phobe as some of the men I have blamed for not coming up to scratch.
I have had my chances, but have not always made the most of them.
For example, I got my first marriage proposal at the age of 16 from a nice boy called David, whom I met on a campsite in France.
Looking back, I reckon David could well have been The One. He was kind, generous and level-headed. But I assumed I had a lifetime ahead of fabulous men proposing to me, so I said no and immediately became fixated with an obnoxious young buck at the local tennis club called Glen.
Glen was famous for two things: he was the best-looking boy in town and he only had nine fingers. A spoilt rich kid, he had faked an accident at his father's timber yard to get compensation, but, when it came to it, had only managed to slice off half of his little finger, which really wasn't worth the trouble.
I thought he was the best thing since sliced bread --or maybe I should say sliced fingers. He dumped me in due course and I was devastated.
You see, this much I know: I am emotionally illiterate. Give me a nice boy called David who wants to make me happy, and an idiot who mangles his own body for cash, and I will go for nine-and-a-half-fingered Glen every time.
Fast forward quite a few years and I managed to get myself proposed to again. This time I was aged 34, and the guy concerned -- let's call him Jim, for legal reasons -- had a bright future as a lawyer.
He was kind, caring, generous, patient and laid-back, although possibly a bit too laid-back.
He didn't so much propose as agree to marry me when, after five years of living together, I pretty much frog-marched him to the jewellers, where I picked out a medium-sized, reasonably priced diamond ring and made him pay for it.
Everything about it said compromise. But it was full steam ahead until I got as far as ordering the dress.
I was standing in the gown shop about to buy a huge, white affair with Italian lace when I suddenly got cold feet. As my pen hovered over the cheque, I heard the words come out of my mouth, "Er, actually, can I get back to you. I've just got to, er, do a thing ... "
And I got up, walked out and cancelled my wedding. Poor Jim. All I can say is that getting married suddenly seemed to me to be about a) buying a dress I did not much like, b) changing my name to a name I did not much like and c) moving to a starter home on a joint mortgage.
I'm not sure what a starter home on a joint mortgage is exactly, but it scares the bejesus out of me.
Friends said I was brave to call it off, that I was following my inner voice, refusing to compromise, continuing the search for my soulmate. But I don't think it was anything that high-minded.
"Oh, but if it's not right, it's not right," they said.
Yes, I thought, but I have no idea if it's not right, or not not right. I thought I ought to get married because it's what people do.
But I couldn't tell you if I really wanted to marry this particular man or not if you rendered me to Guantanamo and had me thoroughly waterboarded.
All I know is that when it comes to love, I am clueless. I am incapable of making a rational decision.
It's almost as if I have a faulty internal sat nav that keeps sending me the wrong way.
When I should have taken the exit and married David, or Jim, the romantic TomTom barked "turn around where possible".
Then, by the time I realised I should have taken the exit, it was too late. I had to keep going to prove that I had made the right decision.
"I will get there by going this way if it's the last thing I do," I thought for the whole of my 30s, as I drove my romantic juggernaut down a country lane into someone's back garden.
As well as David and Jim, there were other attempts to make an honest woman of me, but none of them came to much.
There was even an affair with a top international businessman whose identity I will have to take to my grave, because when he told me he was getting divorced he wasn't quite being honest.
And after Jim, I ended up so desperate that I went out with the stockbroker who was so controlling he insisted I only wear flat shoes, and dresses that reminded him of his mother. Seriously, the more I think about it, the more I realise he was not good news.
So, at the age of 39, I threw my hand in. Dating, I concluded, was like chronic alcoholism. You start off quite enjoying it, and for a while you can handle it, but if you don't get it under control as you approach middle age it starts to wipe the floor with you.
You grow less and less capable of holding it down, until you wake up one morning and say "never again".
Which is where I was when Will walked into my life.
I was a few months away from turning 40 and totally resigned to spending the rest of my life alone -- a mad old woman with dogs, cats and horses -- when I met him.
It happened in a strange, almost supernatural way.
My friend Ingrid was out shopping when she bumped into a man wearing jodhpurs. They got chatting about horses and it transpired that he was having a spot of bother at the stable yard where he kept his thoroughbred.
She convinced him to move his horse to the yard where she, and I, keep our horses.
Then she got on the phone to me. "Quick!" she said. "Get yourself to the yard. A man will be turning up soon with his horse. He's perfect for you."
And so, when a handsome, 36-year-old blonde guy led his big white horse down the ramp of a lorry, I was standing at the bottom to welcome him with my best riding breeches on.
Unfortunately, so were a dozen teenage girls who keep their ponies there, and so I didn't get a look in as they mobbed him.
It was months later when he asked me out, confessing that he had been wanting to from the first moment he met me but he assumed I was not interested. When I asked why, he said: "You give off awful vibes. 'Stay away from me' vibes."
We have now been dating for eight months, and all I can say is he is the best boyfriend I have ever had.
I also realise he's the first skilled, non-professional man I have dated. He does not earn big money, he never went to college. In fact, he played truant so much as a kid that he never really went to school.
But he is self-made, having come up the hard way to run his own roofing firm. He's hands-on, unpretentious and strong.
He's also a bit of a male chauvinist. When I fuss, he says "yeah yeah" and doesn't even listen to me, which means that no argument can get out of hand. He couldn't give a stuff what shoes I'm wearing.
Best of all, though, he can fix things. When he turned up at my house one day and unceremoniously installed new cupboard doors to my tired old kitchen, I realised how sexy a man who can fix things really is.
I had long suspected that what I wanted was a practical man, but the full potential of this had not hit me until Will lifted the bonnet of my Fiat, took the engine to pieces in minutes, fixed a filter, put it back together, slammed the bonnet back down and said, "start her up, she'll go fine now".
All of which has led me to develop the following theory. More women than ever are 'marrying down', according to statistics.
But I don't think it's because we want someone we can keep in their place. I think it's quite the opposite. It's because we want someone tough and old-fashioned, a real man.
I've dated the intellectuals and the professionals, the high-flyers and the city slickers.
But I've found happiness with a guy who drives a pick-up truck, fixes the boiler and puts air in my tyres when they're running low.
Finally, I've got my act together and worked out what's important. Better late than never.
Melissa Kite's book 'Real Life: One Woman's guide to love. Men and Other Everyday Disasters' is out now
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