Writer and broadcaster

I’m looking for a partner who is exciting and my equal – without success. Am I the problem? The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

I’m 55 and have been divorced after a marriage of 20 years, followed by a six-year serious relationship. I have been single and dating, on and off, for four years.

My marriage was very lonely and sad, although he was a good, decent man. My next relationship was with a woman who turned my life upside-down. It was the most passionate relationship I’ve ever experienced. With hindsight, I can see that it was abusive and damaging, but in the midst of it I was giddy with love.

Since then I’ve dated men and women. I’m very self-contained, rarely lonely, confident, and I am seeking a partner who either blows my mind – a big love, like my last major relationship (without being abusive) – or who brings something to the table such as joy or new exciting challenges.

I am not just seeking someone to ward off loneliness. Every person I have dated has wanted to become very serious very quickly. I find this incredibly off-putting. There is a desperation among the people I have met to just couple-up quickly and get on with watching television in companionable silence.

The crux of it is, I think, that I find nobody is good enough, which makes me think I am the problem. I might fancy someone enough to want to kiss them, but find them dull to talk with, or they are fascinating to talk to, but are bankrupt and have nowhere to live and within days are suggesting they move in. Others have been interesting and solvent/independent, not needing rescuing, but something about them makes my flesh crawl (they don’t wash their hair, their nails are dirty and they wear smelly clothes found under the bed). I am not the sort of woman who wants to “manage” a man, telling him what to do; I expect people my age to be able to manage the basics of maintaining a life, to also have friends or interests, to have hope.

The women I’ve encountered seem to want to move in immediately, after perhaps the second date.

What I want (I’m aware that makes me sound like a brat) is someone I fancy, whom I find interesting, is solvent and who is kind.

Might my inability to find someone be age-related? Or is it me? I am far from perfect, I have scars and weaknesses, too. But I’d love an equal standing beside me. Am I deluded? Am I the problem?

Well, I can tell you one thing: I get very few letters asking “Am I the problem?”, so you get extra points for that. It sounds as if you are confident and self-possessed – wonderful things to be, but they can be really attractive for people who lack those attributes; whereas it sounds as if you are looking for someone a bit more like yourself.

I was left wondering what your experiences of relationships were before you got married. There was a sense of a reawakening in you after you got divorced. This is not uncommon in people who have been married a long time; they can go back into the dating scene with the vigour of a teenager, only to find the landscape has changed.

I consulted Kirstie McEwan, a relationship and sexual therapist (cosrt.org.uk). She feels that you have perhaps “been in denial about your sexuality”, and wonders “if perhaps the relationship with a woman was your first experience of your true self?”

McEwan also feels that your age is “not a barrier to happiness and perhaps you are using that as an excuse? Maybe you have unrealistic expectations which allow them to be unfulfilled?”

You might not find someone who ticks all the boxes for another reason, McEwan says; you “might consider polyamory where more than one partner at a time is needed to fulfil all of your needs”. The other thing McEwan wonders is how you are meeting people and says that certain dating websites may allow you to filter out things you definitely don’t want in a prospective partner.

However, I think this might be a shame because looking for a partner is a bit like house-hunting. You begin with a list of things you want, but what can happen is you end up with something you never planned on, but which just blows you away.

My thoughts are that you haven’t discovered who you are yet in this second stage of your life, not really; and because of that, you aren’t ready to settle for the one (or ones!). I think your subconscious knows this, which is why it is picking faults with everyone. To continue the house analogy: you are not ready to move just yet.

I think you are entering a new (and potentially very exciting) stage in your life and you need to relax and perhaps stop looking for “a partner” just for the moment and enjoy meeting people. It certainly doesn’t sound as if you have any problem with this.

One thing gave me pause – you seem hypercritical of certain rather human traits. This can be a sign of someone who lives very much in their head, with a fantastical idea of a partner, ie not someone animate, with failings. It’s fine to have fantasies, but just remember that real life can never match up. Even the most attractive, successful, self-sufficient people sometimes don’t wash their hair.

This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 21 April 2017.