He was waiting for me in my local London pub, The Bells, in his tight jeans, T-shirt and trainers, looking a little apprehensive. He offered to buy me a drink but that didn’t seem right, so I went to the bar and got my own glass of wine.
As he warmed to our conversation about his work (in accountancy) and his family (from Lancaster), and I told him something of my own life, his shyness began to fade and he smiled more.
I liked his informal yet respectful manner. He was bright, thoughtful and knowledgeable. By and large he wasn’t interested in girls of his own age. ‘All they want to talk about is The X Factor and the latest celebrity gossip. After a couple of dates they start putting on the pressure. They want a proper relationship and commitment.’
I could see the attraction for him of the older woman; he didn’t have to spell it out. We strolled back to my place. I wondered what the next step in this unfamiliar scenario might be. ‘What would you like to do now?’ I asked, not meeting his eyes. ‘We’ll do whatever you want to do,’ he said.
Many would say the age gap between us was absurd, but I don’t think either of us thought about it for a second. And I found his healthy, strong body very appealing. He stayed over that night and fell asleep with his head nestling on my shoulder. And the next morning he left. From then on we saw one another every three weeks or so. I always called him Pup and he generally referred to me as Miss. I loved the vaguely Benny Hill sauciness of it.
My partner and I had split up the previous year, after a 13-year relationship. And not long after that, in July 2012, I had woken up to the depressing realisation that it was my 60th birthday. Now I was single and 60 and feeling on the scrap heap. It seemed as if it was all over for me – the love and passion, the sex and sensuality.
Perhaps from now on I would focus on my relationships with my family. And no matriarch is more devoted than me. My sons were then aged 35 and 29, and my grandchildren were two and five. Time to move into a granny annex, maybe?
But I decided it wasn’t yet time for the scrap heap. Over the coming months, I would discover an army of males in their 20s and early 30s all harbouring fantasies about being with older women.
And on the internet and through mobile phone apps, they had found an easy way of making these fantasies come true.
By the end of the year, I had slept with 15 men, 11 of whom were in their 20s or 30s.
My experiment took me down some shadowy and chancy, not always wholesome, but always thoroughly invigorating rabbit holes.
When I got divorced for the first time, at the age of 40 after a 17-year marriage, I emerged blinking into the glare of a dating scene radically different from that of my youth.
After my second long-term relationship ended exactly 20 years later, the scene had spectacularly moved on yet again, thanks to the internet and an array of new technologies.
It was a bewildering landscape, but I was glad to see how free of stigma online dating had become. It seemed pretty much everyone was doing it. By this stage of my life, I was too battle-scarred to believe in knights on white chargers. But uncomplicated enjoyment? Bring it on. I would pack in as much as I could while I still had the face, the body and the desire for it.
‘He had a fit young body. I was going to enjoy this’
On the advice of a friend, I chose a dating site and gave my age as 54. For my profile photo I chose a black-and-white portrait in which I wore an enigmatic smile.
The previous week I had written an article about my favourite poet, Edgar Allan Poe, centring on his most famous poem, The Raven. And so it was that I adopted the username ‘Raven’.
I wrote: ‘After a lot of disappointments in love, I now realise that all men are rascals, so I’m just looking to have a nice time with people I like.’
Then I sat back to see how Raven got on.
One Saturday morning, I saw a young face among the site’s profiles. Dark blond hair and blue eyes, a shy-yet-cheeky grin, a friendly boy-next-door. He was 23, just a baby.
I’d forgotten that people on the site can tell when someone inspects their profile. Three minutes later a message pinged into my inbox.
‘Hi Miss Raven. I hope you don’t mind me messaging but I noticed you had been looking at my profile so thought I would say hello. And I love women who are older than me.’
Surprised and pleased, I wrote back saying I thought he was cute and that I was all in favour of younger men. ‘Are you busy this weekend?,’ he asked. ‘Maybe we could get to know each other a bit better…’ And so my liaison with Pup was arranged.
Another new young friend, Simon, was 25, slim, sweet-faced and boyish, a little shy. He was an internet entrepreneur and passionate about digital technology. When he mentioned that he still lived at home, I felt a wicked frisson shoot down my cradle-snatching spine.
We got on to the subject of relationships. ‘I’ve never had a serious girlfriend,’ he admitted. ‘It’s so hard to meet people. That’s why we all use dating sites.’ ‘What would your friends say about you being out on a date with an older woman?’ ‘It would be a big mark in my favour,’ he grinned.
Later that evening, Simon came home with me. We had a cup of tea (so English) then went up to bed.
Increasingly I felt that the big-bellied, baggage-laden oldsters on the dating site couldn’t compete with these tempting young men. It was like looking into a cake shop and seeing all the scrumptious little cupcakes with their colourful swirly tops. Why on earth would you choose the boring old Victoria sponge?
But I was about to learn how weird online dating could be. A few weeks later, I was sitting on a bar stool in my local when Max walked in. He was 30 and 6ft. A graphic designer living in the East End. Tall and cool, wearing jeans and a tight-fitting hoodie that showed off his fit young body. I was going to enjoy this date.
I gave him what I hoped was an alluring smile. ‘So… wanna come up and see my etchings?’
He looked confused. Obviously he had never heard the phrase. Wrong generation. ‘What I mean is, fancy some coffee at my place?’
We walked back to my house and it wasn’t long before we headed upstairs. In bed, he looked into my eyes and asked: ‘Are you enjoying this, Mummy?’ ‘Don’t say that.’ He put his hand around my throat and squeezed hard. I was finding it hard to breathe. At long last he let go of me.
In future I would have to be more cautious.
Meeting desirable young men had proved to be surprisingly easy online. But it was to become a whole lot easier. Leafing through the paper, my attention was grabbed by an article about Tinder, a quick, simple and free mobile-phone app which matched potentially compatible people within a specified radius. In reality, Tinder is a facilitator of casual sexual encounters between individuals who fancy each other… or think they might.
I downloaded it and within a few days I had a small stable of fledgling studs ready and willing to play.
Most were not long out of university, but they couldn’t wait to tell me that older women were their fantasy.
My first Tinder tryst was with Tom, a tall, dark and dishy northern boy of 21 who had recently graduated and was working as an intern in the City. After 45 minutes, we decided not to order a second round at The Bells but have a drink back at mine.
Tom left at 9pm. I, meanwhile, had flopped on to the sofa to watch TV when I got a Tinder message from another of my matches, 28-year-old Jon. According to the app he lived only a mile away.
‘I’d like to come over,’ he messaged. ‘You up for that?’ I thought for a moment. What the hell. This is the Raven we’re talking about. And his photos were captivating. Jon left sometime after midnight.
Not all my men were young. Charles was a man in his mid-fifties with classic good looks. Swept-back brown hair, hazel eyes, chiselled face and a gleaming white Hollywood smile.
I clicked on his picture and learned that, unsurprisingly, he was an American expat. He looked every bit the business executive that he said he was.
So it was with a gleeful squeal that I found a message from him one morning: ‘Hi “Raven”, thank you for looking at my profile and sending a wink. I am flattered!’ (He’s flattered?) He explained that he had divorced his wife the previous year and was attempting to open a new chapter in his life.
Charles and I met in the swish bar at Claridge’s. He had texted me to say that he would get there a few minutes early, ‘so that you won’t have to wait and have people wonder what an attractive woman is doing alone in a hotel bar’. Exceptionally considerate.
‘I felt a frisson shoot down my cradle-snatching spine’
He sent another text moments before I arrived, saying he was sitting by the window in a darkblue blazer and light-blue shirt. As if I wouldn’t recognise him! I spotted him right away; he was even more handsome than in his photos, and exuded a collegiate air.
We had three cocktails apiece and I had little recollection of how we got to my house, only a dim sense of having ridden up and down some Tube escalators.
Then all of a sudden I found myself unlocking the door, climbing up the stairs and dropping down on to my bed, with Charles gently pulling off my shoes. A second date followed a similar pattern, ending at his apartment in Marylebone.
The next morning, we got dressed and he said he would walk me to the Tube station.
We sat outdoors at a cafe in the morning sun and ordered cappuccinos. Stirring his coffee, Charles told me there was something on his mind: ‘I’ve spoken to my ex-wife a couple of times lately.’ I looked up at him.
‘We still have matters to sort out. Usually we do it by email but I thought I’d call instead. Guess I felt like hearing her voice… and I still have feelings for her.
‘It was like I was betraying her, that last time I saw you… could we see each other without the sex for a while?’ he asked. ‘See how it goes?’
He grinned and added: ‘The sex was great, by the way.’
‘You want us just to be friends,’ I sighed. Charles gave a weak smile. ‘I guess so.’
He gave me a brisk kiss outside the Tube station and I waved him goodbye.
My next encounter was with Jake, a 6ft 3in, blond, rugby-playing 22-year-old who lived with his family in South Kensington. He was so well-constructed that I would defy any red-blooded woman not to drool over the Tinder photo of him in his swimming trunks.
Then there was Sam, who for me spelled the endgame. Our introductory e-conversation, late one night, turned quite ugly. He soon began to doubt my identity, demanding to know what I ‘really looked like’. Then he became insulting about my age. ‘Shouldn’t you be making jam or something?’
In the morning, I scrapped my Tinder account. It had not been designed for the likes of me.
He asked: ‘Are you enjoying this, Mummy?‘
I had grown strangely restless over my months of internet dating. I felt an almost constant urge to be looking to see who had been viewing or messaging me; to be checking the mobile for something from my conquests (I use that word with irony) and, if possible, indulge in lengthy, risqué texting sessions, sometimes into the small hours, with any who were around.
I had finally twigged how the virtual dating system worked. New connections were constantly forming, leaving earlier ones to dissolve. The hapless were dropped while other options were explored.
Everything was built on shifting sand, nothing was solid or reliable or entirely real. The more you wanted to believe in the emotional value of a particular connection, the more likely it was to be merely a mirage.
Normal responses to other human beings – involving sentiments such as hope and trust – were de-activated. If you couldn’t play this pitiless game, you were in the wrong place.
I felt my internet-dating exploits edging towards some sort of culmination. I hadn’t expected to find love, I hadn’t been searching for it, I wasn’t even sure I wanted it. But I felt a vague dissatisfaction because something was not right. I realised I didn’t actually care about any of these men. Had all these human beings, even the good and likeable ones, become disposable, mere off-the-shelf products? I didn’t want to feel like that.
It would only be when I crossed paths with someone who was genuinely special to me, and for whom I was special, that I could learn to care more profoundly again. And perhaps that day would never come.
Then my grand project was brought to a juddering halt by the arrival of an email from my ex-partner, who announced that he would be moving back in with me, thereby wrecking my proud new independence.
The decision was taken ‘regrettably’, for purely financial reasons, because our jointly-owned house was still on the market 18 months after he moved out.
As the day of my ex’s return neared, I began to mourn the approaching loss of my liberty.
My adventures in dating-land had been the perfect counterpoint to the other side of me, the side that comprised the softness and unsparing love which I have for my children and grandchildren.
But before he arrived, there was time for one last night with one of my erstwhile Tinder boys, who contacted me out of the blue. ‘Come on over, Jake,’ I texted. ‘I’d love to see you.’