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'When I went back to work 10 years ago, I suddenly realised that there was more to me than just being a wife and mother, but I don't think men of my generation easily understand a woman's need to be her own person.My ideal man would be divorced for quite a long while so he would have the time to come to terms with it, have children of a similar age and have a sense of humour.The older they are, the bigger the age gap they are looking for.' It seems such a cliche: men looking for casual relationships, for youth and beauty; women seeking maturity and companionship. But as I was talking to single men and women in their thirties and forties, again and again I heard from the men the sense of optimism and excitement at the prospect of a rich new social life, of the opportunity to have children after their careers have been established or start a second family in their forties.

As long as Andrew continues to look for women younger than himself, he will find plenty of potential partners, for there are more available women in their twenties, than there are unattached men in their thirties.If Paula continues to insist on an older man she may look in vain.According to the 1991 census, there were 390,000 unattached women aged 40 to 44 in Britain and only 228,000 men between 45 and 49 (in part because there were fewer births during the war).It has happened two or three times in my life and I don't see why it shouldn't happen again.' Paula Carter, a PA to a senior manager with a life assurance company, is 40, and split up with her husband last year after 15 years of marriage because of what she describes as a 'mutual, irretrievable breakdown'.She has two children by the marriage who live with her.