My romantic retirement: Mandy spent 40 years searching for her ideal partner – dating exciting, difficult and damaged men. Now, aged 64, she’s had an epiphany… that she’s MUCH happier on her own

A good friend and I were at the village pub one night last week celebrating my 64th birthday. We found ourselves surrounded by several people in couples, all bored, sitting in stony silence, some scrolling on their phone, none of them with anything much to say to each other.

By contrast, my friend Pete and I never stopped talking and laughing as we caught up on the minutiae of each other’s lives. We took the scenic route home in his car as the light faded over the North Yorkshire Moors. It was a happy evening, and one which reminded me of how much I am grateful for in my life.

It has taken decades of heartbreaks, highs and lows for me to accept that I am happier and live a much better and richer life on my own, rather than in a romantic relationship.

It seems I may be in good company, given data from investment bank Morgan Stanley which predicts 45 per cent of women will be single and childless by 2030. If increasing numbers of women are choosing to live their lives without husbands and children, it’s clearly because more and more of them see it as a preferred way of being.

Mandy Applewood, 64, says it has taken highs and lows for her to accept that she is happier and lives a much better and richer life on her own, rather than in a romantic relationship

I wish I had been able to see this crucial truth about myself years ago, instead of careering round, people-pleasing, searching for — and failing to find — the love affair I felt would make everything right. Despite my decades of trying, I never found one that did.

For many years, from the moment I first started fancying boys at the age of 17 to when I split from my most recent partner at 57, I was, on and off, in relationships — usually with exciting, demanding, difficult men, many damaged in some way.

Some of those relationships lasted, some crashed and burned, all of them took it out of me.

I made bad choices for 40 years in falling for men who offered me no real chance of enduring stability. It was exhausting, and yet time and again I failed to spot the pattern and repeated it.

I fully admit my own part in this: I realise now that I wasn’t emotionally mature, nor wise enough, to choose men who were stable, strong and committed. I always fell for the charm, the darkness, the drama.

Maybe I kept trying to find ‘the one’ — however unsuccessfully — because I’d been brought up to believe that when the right man came along, my life would be complete.

I was born in 1960, so by the time I hit my teens feminism was in full flow. Yet even though the young women I grew up with had freedom previous generations could not have dreamt of and many had successful careers, it was a given that real success lay in having not just the executive pay cheque but the husband, too.

I fully expected to be married with children one day. I bought into the dream that romantic love from a committed partner reigned supreme.

I know now that while that kind of love is very special, love comes in many guises and from many people — and that sometimes, the most enduring and important relationships are with friends.

The men I fell in love with were very different from each other but they all had one crucial thing in common: none of them brought me peace and contentment.

The die was cast with David, my first real love. I met him at university in London, dazzled by his worldliness and his intelligence. But in the six years we were together he got tangled up in serious drug abuse, and loving him became a form of torture.

Richard was a talented musician, the life and soul of every party, but emotionally stunted.

Then there was a Czech artist, a withholder who blew hot and cold, so I never knew where I stood.

Mandy's last relationship ended seven years ago. It was with a widower who had been a friend for decades

Mandy’s last relationship ended seven years ago. It was with a widower who had been a friend for decades

It takes great courage to stand alone, especially in a world always quick to judge harshly those of us who live differently from the 'norm', says Mandy

It takes great courage to stand alone, especially in a world always quick to judge harshly those of us who live differently from the ‘norm’, says Mandy

Philip turned out to be a serial philanderer; Drew so damaged by events in his childhood that he couldn’t commit to one woman.

The South African scuba diving instructor was wild and exciting — we lived on a boat together in California — but he had a dangerous temper which drove me away.

Steve, an enigmatic, self-made entrepreneur, turned out to be more in love with himself than with me.

Chris was a wealthy alpha male — recently separated from his wife — who I discovered told easy lies. For one, he wasn’t separated at all.

My last relationship ended seven years ago. It was with a widower who had been a friend for decades. I thought when we got together that we would be for keeps.

He was kind and funny, easy company and always thoughtful. Malc ended our relationship after four years together, worn down by the fact that his daughter didn’t like me and struggled to accept me into their lives. I think that one hurt the most.

It was at that point that I went into romantic retirement; more a gentle drift than any conscious decision, and, with it, an unexpected discovery of a way of life that I find surprisingly enriching and fortifying.

Now in my mid-60s, the autumn of my years, I live a life of quiet contentment beside the sea. A life which centres on friends and family, on long, solitary walks with my dog on the beach every day, on my work as a celebrant at weddings and funerals and on reading, gardening and travelling.

There’s a lot of love in my life, which comes from numerous places and relationships, none of them romantic.

Perhaps I am unusual, being as self-sufficient as I am, so happy in my own company. A voraciously social animal when I was younger, I now live a small and uneventful life which suits me because it feels so peaceful and stable.

I accept that, for some of us, life is best lived in a couple and/or a family unit. That’s certainly the road more travelled, but it’s not for all of us, and I wish I had come to that realisation — and the peace that comes with it — many decades ago. Perhaps as a younger woman I lacked the courage to stand out from the crowd, to be an outlier. Or maybe my goals in life have changed with age.

This isn’t a cliche about having total control of the TV remote or not having to wash someone’s socks. It’s not about being a hard-nosed career woman who selfishly spends my money on Manolo Blahnik heels and six-star holidays.

My career as a journalist — which included launching some of Britain’s biggest-selling magazines — has always been important to me, but I never put it before everything else in my life.

Work was never the be-all-and-end-all, though I’ve often been dismissed as ‘a career woman’ as I don’t have a husband and children — as if it is an either/or.

Is it selfish to be single? I would argue that it’s not. Quite the opposite. I think I am more engaged in the wider world, more giving of my time to ‘good causes’, more outward-looking than many of my married friends, whose prime concerns often seem narrow and domestic by comparison.

In fact, I would argue that not having a husband, children and grandchildren leaves me with the energy and inclination to look at the world more widely, and I regard that as a truly positive thing.

Today, enjoying semi-retirement, I am free to travel and spend time with family and friends of both sexes.

As a mature single woman, I feel fortunate to have found a quiet and nurturing calm that I never found as part of a couple.

I have found the life I was always meant to live, if I hadn’t been diverted and distracted by the entrenched notion that I should be with a partner. In the working-class Yorkshire community where I grew up, women became wives and mothers. It took me a lifetime to learn that one size doesn’t fit all.

For me, living a single life isn’t a failure or a defeat: it’s a true and unexpected joy.

Of course, I’m not foisting my way of life on others. We all need different levels of connection and community in our lives, and there’s no doubt that love and belonging are crucial to us all.

I’m perfectly willing to accept that for those very rare few who find sustained and enduring romantic love, there can surely be no happier place.

But how many of us really find that? Even people who find strong romantic partnerships will be fortunate if the love lives on, if it doesn’t pale into indifference or curdle into festering resentment and lingering discontent. We all know that couple.

If the most vital choice in our lives comes down to feeling trapped and compromised in a stale marriage or being single, I would rather be alone.

The science backs us up: unmarried and childless women are the happiest sub-group in the population, more likely to live longer than their married and child-rearing peers, according to Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics.

Professor Dolan says the latest evidence shows that the traditional markers used to measure success did not correlate with happiness — particularly marriage and raising children.

So it seems there is a new way of being for women, one resulting from the opportunities we now have to think beyond marriage and children, to create lives that fit who we are rather than what is expected of us by others. And I think that’s worth celebrating.

It takes great courage to stand alone, especially in a world always quick to judge harshly those of us who live differently from the ‘norm’.

Ageing is a tough gig, but it does give us courage, and if that means we get to be who we were meant to be all along, here’s to it.

Some names have been changed to protect identities.