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I'm nearly 40, single and alone -- it's great

IT'S Valentine's Day on Thursday and love is in the air; but I don't expect to be receiving anything by way of cards or flowers this year -- because I haven't had a date in nine years!

I'm not looking for sympathy from you, because I have a lovely life and very little to complain about, but it's kind of weird to think that I've been single for the whole of my 30s, which is traditionally when our thoughts turn to settling down.

I like to think I'm self-confident and secure in myself, and would describe myself as a happy singleton, but as I turn 40 this year, I'd be lying if I didn't say I sometimes wonder why I've never met anyone. I had a couple of relationships in my 20s, but my 30s have been less than fruitful on the old romance front.

I usually presume it's due to my weight, because most men don't go for fat chicks; but I've seen bigger women than me sailing up the aisle, so I can only presume it must be the hideous personality flaws that are to blame.

Having said that, I know of several vibrant, intelligent, attractive women my age who have never had a date in their lives, and it's a mystery to me why they're still single -- just as 52,678 other women and 42,645 men aged between 35 and 39 were at the last census.

As nobody was beating a path to my door, I decided to try internet dating for a while last year, but didn't end up going on a single date.

What shocked me most was the number of much younger guys who wanted to hook up with me, one of whom was a 20-year-old student. Now, I've never seen myself as the Mrs Robinson type, but while there might be some obvious advantages to the older woman/younger man scenario, the prospect of going out with someone so young threw up some tricky scenarios.

Like, would he be able to get time off from his part-time supermarket job to bring me away for the weekend? And as someone whose taste in music is more Frances Black than the Black Rebel Motorbike Club, how disgusted would he be at my refusal to wade around a muddy field at Oxegen, or sleep in a tent.

Thankfully, we've come a long way from the days where unmarried women of a certain age were written off as bitter old spinsters. Marriage and motherhood was really the only option for women in previous generations, so it was considered to be quite shameful to have been left on the shelf.

When I was a child, several of my friends had maiden aunts who were divvied up among their married siblings in terms of Christmas, Sunday lunch and holidays. Whether these women were actually bitter about their lot is another thing, because after several hours in the company of squabbling nieces and nephews and boorish brother-in-laws, I'd imagine they were relieved to return to the peace of their own homes.

And I suspect many of them were actually laughing up their sleeves at the specimens some of their friends and sisters married, simply to avoid being left behind.

Luckily for me, we're living in more enlightened times, where the options available to us single gals are limitless. Far from being the joyless, sex-less, miserable existence some might imagine it to be, being single can be a positive and enriching experience.

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We can, more or less, do what we like, and go where we want, with whomever we choose -- heck, we don't even need a man to make us pregnant any more -- and nobody would dare prevent us from doing something simply because we were unattached.

Leaving aside all the emotional aspects for a moment, being single in a world designed for two is definitely a financial challenge. As Jane Austen put it: "Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor. Which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony."

I'm not advocating a trip up the aisle as a safeguard against financial destitution, but from single supplements on hotel rooms, to having to pay the same mortgage and utility bills on one salary as a couple does on two, being single can be a most precarious state of affairs. As someone with a very volatile income stream, being a freelance journalist and music publicist, I never have the safety net of a partner with a steady salary to cover the essentials; and but for the assistance of my parents and MABS, the Money and Budgeting Service, I would have lost my house during a difficult financial spell a few years ago.

I live in an estate and am the only single and childless person on my road. I also work from home and have a menagerie of cats and dogs, which makes me even odder -- or eccentric, as I've been called on occasions.

I have loads of lovely friends, and go out a couple of nights every week, but there were several days over the winter where I didn't have to go out for any particular reason, apart from walking the dogs, and consequently didn't actually speak to a single person for the entire day. I talk to my family and closest friends by phone every day, of course, but what I mean is that there were days when I didn't have as much as a friendly conversation with a neighbour.

This, it occurs to me, is probably why I never stop talking when I meet up with friends -- I have several hours' worth of conversation built up in my head. I really don't mind living by myself, and get great enjoyment out of my little pet family, who are brilliant company, but sometimes it would be nice to have someone there to share the ups and downs of daily life.

My mother is the closest person in my life, and an amazingly supportive and wonderful one at that; but parents get older, and I can't bear the thought that she and my dad won't be around forever. They're on a cruise at the moment and I really miss them.

My job keeps me in constant contact with people, so it strikes me that older, single people must get quite lonely -- particularly in isolated, rural areas. When you've retired, your parents have passed on, you're childless, and your siblings and friends are busy or living elsewhere, you could end up spending a lot of time by yourself, possibly without even a phone conversation to keep you going.

According to the latest census, 329,450 people live alone in private households in this country, which is why I think it's vital to be strong and happy in yourself and your own company, without relying on any other person.

Having said that, I'm a great believer in true love and ironically, get to do the 'Bondings' interview for this paper where I talk to couples about their relationship. I'd love to meet someone special one day; but if I don't, I've learned to be happy with myself and thankful for all the positive things in my life. It's lovely to be loved, but it's also a great life being single!

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