Magazine article The Spectator

Waiting for the Call

Magazine article The Spectator

Waiting for the Call

Article excerpt

THERE are curiously few of them in the back pages of The Spectator, but the world outside is awash with lonely hearts advertisements. The Daily Telegraph carries twothirds of a page of densely written type every Friday, with initials like WLTM, GSOH, N/S or LTR, each a vignette of a single life wondering wistfully about the alternative. There are millions of us alliteratively dubbed `Sad Singles'. We must mind our language here. We are not unhappy (any more than we are gay), but sad in the modern meaning that teenagers have ascribed to it, to be pitied. Have a care, the alternative state is `Smug Marrieds', which is not obviously an improvement.

Many of us have chosen to be single, having tried marriage, or at least live-in lovers. While we may not consider the state permanent, there is plenty to be said for it, and little reason to rush to pair off with a vaguely suitable partner -- which brings me to the Katherine Allen Marriage Bureau. It brought me to Penrose Halson and I would recommend Penrose to anyone; a fee of 20 buys you a cosy hour in her snug first-floor drawing-room in Thayer Street, and even if you do not join (600) it is better for the ego than lunch at the Savoy (80 for two), and I should know.

Penrose plays the role of a kindly aunt, using her social connections to suggest introductions to women she considers suitable. There are no photographs provided, which is slightly unnerving in such a visually driven society, but does allow her to make her proposals sound intriguing. But Penrose has a problem. The number of women on her books far outnumbers that of men, an imbalance for which she blames Bridget Jones's Diary. The eponymous Bridget, says Penrose, made all men seem like bumbling fools or heartless bounders, although in truth Miss Jones has done no more than exaggerate the hopeless male stereotypes passing across television screens in sitcoms every day.

The image of the sassy, successful, thirty-something female executive who is completely in charge of her own life and wants a man only marginally more than she wants another garment from Voyage is pretty daunting to many males. For all the macho posturing the world expects from men of almost any age, rejection still hurts, and nobody brags to his mates about joining a marriage agency for fear of being seen as a failure.

When they have finished jeering, they will admit that it makes sense. Those of us lucky enough to have jobs we enjoy work hard, and have neither the time to meet likely partners nor the inclination to go to clubs where the music is both impenetrable and overwhelming. Besides, set against the sweating twenty- and thirty-somethings, I look positively geriatric. So, rather than trying those small ads - I thought GSOH meant Generally Solvent, Own Home, before I cracked the code I went to Penrose.

Divorced, 50, tall, slim, balding male (GSOH, natch) WLTM suitable NIS partner for LTR, London area.' Penrose was quite right, London has lots of attractive single girls between 35 and 45, and meeting them is not in the least traumatic. A dinner for two at an agreeable restaurant is easily the best option for that difficult first date, since the reservation in your name means she is brought to you, so to speak, while the other diners provide her with some reassurance that you are not a multiple rapist or the Phantom of the Opera. If she decides you are, she can easily run and leave you stranded. A meal is also just the right length of time for a proper conversation. …

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