WHY DIVORCED MEN ARE SUDDENLY SUCH A CATCH: They may be second-hand but they’re domesticated, grown-up and not scared of commitment.
By Helen Carroll Mail on Line
When Sabine Gruchet arrived for her first date with Steve Allen he was waiting in the restaurant car park, with an umbrella to shield her from the rain and a pre-paid parking ticket for her Jaguar XF.
Sabine, a model, knew instantly her years of dating toyboys had been a mistake. What she needed was a divorcee, like Steve, who had lived, loved, lost — and learnt some important lessons about how to treat a woman.
Even when Sabine, 36, discovered Steve, 41, had been divorced not once but three times, and had two children, she wasn’t deterred.
‘I didn’t consider these ex-wives and children as baggage but part of Steve’s history, one that he had gained lots of experience from, which has gone towards making him the loving, caring man he is today,’ says Sabine who, a year after that first meeting, now shares a home with Steve in South London.
‘I’d always been attracted to men younger than me — I was engaged to a man seven years my junior — but they weren’t man enough to support me through difficult times.
‘My parents separated when I was a baby and I never knew my father growing up. Then I lost my mum seven years ago to cancer. A couple of years later, my aunt committed suicide.
‘The young men I dated back then didn’t know how to support me through all this and I broke off my engagement after Mum died, frightened by thoughts of how my fiance would cope if I ever became ill.
‘I realise now someone like Steve who has suffered his fair share of heartache, going through divorces and not seeing as much of his children as he would like, is what I really need.’
Sabine, who met Steve, an advertising company boss, through an online dating site, is part of a new band of women who have earned the moniker PUMAs because they hunt down Previously Married and Attractive men.
Unlike Cougars, who have a taste for younger men — Demi Moore and Amanda Redman are among the most famous — Pumas plump for experience. According to research by matchmaking service ThePicnicProject.com, more than half a million women would rather date a mature divorced man than someone younger than them. And 48,000 single British women are actively seeking men with a failed marriage behind them.
Qualities that make divorcees more eligible in the eyes of a Puma include greater relationship experience, the likelihood they will be more sensitive to their partner’s needs, and that they have demonstrated serious commitment in the past. Sceptics would argue a Pumas’ outlook is more one of hope over experience, as while these men have proved their willingness to walk up the aisle, they have failed to make marriages work and often come with a lot of baggage.
Whatever the reason, Kate Slogget, founder of The Picnic Project, an elite dating agency which charges members upwards of £3,000 a year, agrees demand for men with relationship experience is higher than ever.
She says: ‘Being divorced no longer carries the stigma it did in previous years. In fact we’ve noticed more and more female members telling us they want a man with experience, be it a divorced man or someone older.'
High-profile Pumas include Brian Ferry’s second wife Amanda Sheppard, who, at 29, is 36 years his junior, and Paul McCartney’s third wife Nancy Shevell, who is 51 —17 years younger than the former Beatle. Sabine has never been happier in a relationship and hopes she and Steve — who has a 21-year-old son from his first marriage and a two-year-old boy from his third — will one day marry and have children of their own.
‘Steve’s friends call him “Lord of the Rings” because he’s been married so often and have warned him off rushing into another wedding,’ laughs Sabine. ‘I wouldn’t want us to rush into anything either, but I made it clear early on that I want a husband and children.
‘For now, I’m enjoying being spoilt rotten by a man who made his mistakes with the women he married before me. He spent hundreds of pounds on a wardrobe of beautiful summer dresses for me, on a whim, while we were travelling in South-East Asia last year. And or my birthday, Steve presented me with an iPad before whisking me off for a romantic break in Majorca. But, for me, it’s much more about the thought that’s gone into them than the material things themselves.’
She adds: ‘I suffer with PMT, which would lead to arguments with previous boyfriends, and Steve seems to know that the best thing to do is ignore me when I try to pick a fight, or better still give me a hug. It’s obvious that I’m not the first hormonal woman he’s encountered. In fact, because Steve has been through most things, I ask his advice about everything from negotiating family relationships to the best restaurant to book for a romantic dinner.’
The couple’s relationship is, however, not without its complications. Steve’s younger son lives with his ex-wife and her new partner in Singapore, which means lengthy trips several times a year to visit him. And while Steve would eventually like to move to Australia to be a closer to his son, Sabine enjoys being in London. But the importance of compromise is, says Steve, the biggest lesson he has learnt from three failed marriages.
‘As a divorcee, it’s easy to see how things should have been done differently,’ he says. ‘The best way to learn is through experience, and if you’re still in the market for finding love again, you’re likely to work harder next time around.’
According to Denise Knowles, a relationship counsellor with Relate, divorcees are often more open to settling down than those who have never been in committed relationships, which may be what increases their appeal to women when their biological clocks start ticking. ‘And if you’ve been married, you know how good it feels to be someone’s special person — even if it didn’t last — and are likely to want to experience that again,’ she says. ‘Going through a divorce leaves men with a clearer idea of what they do and don’t want from a relationship and may make them more willing to talk about it, which can be appealing on a date. However, women need to be prepared for the fact that dating a divorcee, especially if there are children involved, can be complex.’
Rachel Evans was so smitten with divorcee Mike Joseph that within three months of being introduced to the insurance broker by mutual friends she upped sticks and moved into his home in Grays, Essex. She and Mike, 40, connected over a shared love of keeping fit, a teetotal lifestyle and the fact each of them has an 11-year-old son.
Before meeting him, Rachel, a 41-year-old PA, had already decided that her next partner would be a divorcee. ‘Looking young for my age means I’ve always attracted toyboys, and I’ve met my fair share of commitment-phobes,’ says Rachel. ‘You recognise them because they say “let’s take it nice and easy” on the first date.’
‘You know with a divorced man he doesn’t shy away from commitment, and men who have been through a break-up are keener to make future relationships work. They crave love and affection whereas single men who have never been off the dating scene take it for granted.’
Rachel’s son, Rees, lives with his father during the week in Kent, near his private school, and Mike’s son, Charlie, lives with his ex-wife and her new partner, but both boys often stay with the couple at weekends. Rachel has never been married — she lived with her son’s father for a couple of years before they separated — and says she hopes to make him her husband.
‘In my experience, a man only becomes a real man when he’s a father and has been through a bit of heartache, such as divorce, ‘says Rachel. ‘It crosses my mind that if a previous marriage failed it might not work out with me, but you have to look at the reasons behind a divorce and learn from them. Mike is good-looking, muscular, hard-working and very loving, and I’m more interested in our future together than I am in his relationship history.’
Rachel felt her instincts about Mike were vindicated when she called him from Lakeside shopping centre in December in the throes of a panic attack, triggered by the Christmas crowds.
‘Mike left work and drove to Lakeside, talking to me all the time on the phone via his hands-free kit, and tracked me down in the car park where I was shaking with terror,’ says Rachel. ‘He calmed me down and took me home and I realised, ‘This is what it’s like to be with a proper grown-up”.’
Mike admits he aspires to having a long-lasting marriage like his parents, who have been happily wed for over 40 years. ‘Marriage can be a wonderful thing,’ he says. ‘But I’m a successful businessman so, for financial reasons, it’s not something I will rush into second time around.’
Dr Alistair Ross, a chartered psychologist specialising in inter-personal relationships at London’s King’s College, says that some divorcees can be more wary of committing than those who have never married. ‘Divorce can take some getting over but most remain optimistic about a happy future with someone else,’ says Dr Ross. ‘And with divorce rates rising, women looking to settle down with partners in their 30s and beyond are having to consider divorcees because there are many more of them about. On the plus side these men already understand what it is to set up home and have joint bank accounts, whereas there are many men in their 30s nowadays who have never known responsibility. To a woman thinking of settling down and maybe having kids, a divorcee might seem like a better bet.’
Kimbalee Dante was first asked out by Mark Wall when they were teenagers at school in Cardiff. She turned him down and Mark, 43, married someone else, with whom he had two children. Kimbalee, 44, also has two children, Dominic, 16, and Beckie, 23, but never married, and was thrilled when she bumped into Mark, now divorced, on a night out a year ago.
The couple started dating, and Mark, a coach driver, moved in with Kimbalee, recently made redundant from a retail job, in a few months. Mark says his relationship with his ex-wife presented many challenges that have made him more willing to compromise, while caring for his two children turned him into a more nurturing individual.
‘I stayed married for 18 years for the sake of my kids, and getting together with Kimbalee has meant I’m finally experiencing true happiness,’ says Mark. ‘Marriage and divorce has shown me the importance of thinking about other people’s feelings and I’m a more caring man than I would have been if Kimbalee and I had got together in our teens.’
Mark is the first divorcee Kimbalee has dated — and the most sensitive of her partners. ‘I’m really quite shy and didn’t want to rush into jumping into bed with Mark and he was very patient, waiting over a month before he even kissed me,’ says Kimbalee. ‘He said he wanted to do things properly, which meant a lot. He also stays in touch with texts and calls when we’re apart. He just seems to know how to conduct an adult relationship.’
Relate’s Denise Knowles says divorced men are only a good bet if they have carefully considered the reasons their marriages failed. ‘Better still are those divorcees who have worked out ways in which they might have avoided the divorce courts,’ says Knowles. ‘They’re the ones who can really bring experience to a new relationship.’