Dating shows are my not-so-secret obsession. They’re the one programme I religiously record – and have done since the days of Cilla Black’s Blind Date. More than that, I have always harboured a desire to go on one myself, but thought I was too old.
So, when a friend saw an advert on Facebook for the Take Me Out over 50s special, she knew exactly who to tell. A divorcee who was struggling to meet someone at the age of 57? Perhaps TV could be the answer to my broken heart.
Since my last long term relationship ended six years ago, my love life has been patchy and I have, for the most part, remained single. We had been together for five years when things started to crumble after my partner, who was 18 years my junior, decided that he wanted children.
It was something we had discussed when we first got together. I was in my mid-40s and already had a son, who is now 25, with my ex-husband. I just didn’t want any more. By the time we broke up, I was in my 50s and going through the menopause, while his friends were getting married and inviting us to the christenings of their firstborns. He decided that he did want to be a father after all. It was devastating, but I had to let him go.
After that, I decided that I didn’t want any more young men in my life. Strange as it might seem, I have never been out with someone my own age and tend to date – and marry – men who are around 10 years younger, which has been one of my biggest mistakes.
Not for want of trying, I should add. These days, I’m even more open to meeting someone my own age and with whom I’d have more in common: namely, wrinkles and experience.But I have found it difficult to find a silver fox. There just aren’t that many single older men I am attracted to, and who are attracted to me. My job as a dance instructor at Pineapple Dance Studios in London, where I have worked for more than 30 years, doesn’t help. There are some gorgeous men in our world, but - for me - it is hard to find one who is heterosexual, let alone over 50.
Dating sites are no use, either. I have tried a couple, but none have yielded a second date. For me, it’s all about chemistry and that can be so hard to find on an app. I tend to leave meeting people up to fate: through friends, on holiday, or meet cutes – when you bump into someone randomly and think, “Yep, I like the look of that”.
It’s not like my grandparents’ day when you wore black and hid away for the rest of your life after the end of a marriage - anyone can become romantically involved at any age. I have friends who have met people in their 60s and have wonderful new relationships. My mum remarried in her 50s and, now aged 84, she is very happy. The same goes for my two step sisters. It’s not a disaster area - it’s just about meeting the right person at the right time.
Yet, in my own experience, men of my age have been looking for someone younger than me. They can easily find a woman 20 years their junior, who will be there to look after them in their old age.
But we women of 50 aren’t dead and buried yet - and I’m determined to keep looking. It’s not as if I’m too picky. What am I looking for? Someone with a heartbeat and their own teeth. Seriously, though, I think we all broadly want the same thing: a man who is attractive, has a lovely personality, is interesting, funny and not too short. And I’m still a catch - working as a dancer for the past 36 years (including on Top of the Pops) has helped me keep very fit. Just watch me do the splits in stilettos on Take Me Out!
I might lament being single, but I love dating. I’m the person who takes a whole week to prepare for a first date. You have to get your nails, hair and eyelashes done, have a spray tan and then do yoga around the clock for 24 hours beforehand. My response to people who ask for a spontaneous date used to be, “You can’t see mid-week Maggie”, because I wouldn’t be prepared. I have eased up a bit now, though.
For all these reasons, Take Me Out was the perfect opportunity - and it took a lot of the stress out of dating, especially as the programme makers picked three men who were happy that women of a certain maturity would be on the other side of the stage with host Paddy McGuinness.
They also made sure we were not only prepared, but looking glamorous, with hours of hair and make up. The wardrobe team helped me to pick the perfect dress and spent a long time debating what underwear should go underneath, for when I did the splits. If we had that care and attention before every first date, we’d definitely get a second.
But what I enjoyed most, was the camaraderie with my fellow singletons. Young people in their 20s wile away the hours sharing tales of funny, awkward and heart-melting dates - but that’s harder when you’re older. The majority of my friends have been married for 40 years. They are always supportive of me and love to hear my dating stories, but their experience is a bit different to mine and they can find it hard to relate.
Getting to know the other women on Take Me Out has made me realise that I’m not alone. To meet 30 women all in their 50s and single was brilliant; like a party in itself and very reassuring that we’re all going through similar experiences. Most of the women on the show have also found it hard to meet someone their own age and felt let down by dating sites.
Some of them also had grown up children. My son has always a bit wary when it comes to my dating. He’s very protective and would rather keep some distance from my love life. But he loved the idea of me going on Take Me Out and knows how much I like the programme, so has been really supportive.
For me, the dream was that Take Me Out would help me to finish my book. Called <50 Tales of Men>, it features stories about the 49 men I have loved, lost and loathed. It covers everyone from my ex-husband to the Hollywood actor Jason Statham (who I dated when I was 30 and he was a 23-year-old diver, training for the Olympics), with a bank robber, private eye, pilot and millionaire in between.