As a young woman, I had big dreams.
I was a biologist studying the love lives of monkeys. Or to put it more scientifically, I studied primate ‘mating strategies’. I found that female monkeys had a lot of similar challenges to human females. Although, it was apparent that we women are a lot more complicated in what we’re looking for.
I couldn’t have guessed though, how my scientific knowledge would later be instrumental in achieving success in my own personal life.
Back then, my dream was to carry on with my animal behaviour research and find a wonderful man to fall in love with. Maybe get to raise a family together in the wilds somewhere…
And so, when I returned to London after a couple of years of fieldwork in South Africa and met a fabulous man – let’s call him James – it seemed like the dream was coming true.
He was good-looking and exciting, and said he wanted all the same things as I did. The sexual chemistry between us was amazing and we’d talk long into the night about the fantastic life we were going to build together in the tropics. And because I really wanted this to be true, I chose to believe him and jumped in head first.
Turns out though, that James wasn’t the man I thought he was and our relationship went downhill very fast. I realised I’d made a massive mistake, but not before I’d had three babies in quick succession (numbers two and three were twins) – that’s what a loudly ticking biological clock will do for you.
How did I get it so wrong?
Well, I had done what many of us women do. I was in so much of a rush, back in my 30s, to get with a guy who ticked all the boxes, that I forgot to check he had the qualities I really needed for a happy, lasting relationship. I was choosing with my gut instinct instead of my rational brain.
I was devastated. I remember sitting at my sister’s kitchen table as we talked through my options – none of them sounding very appealing.
“My big dream is ruined”, I cried.
My sister was a bit more pragmatic:
“You’ll be OK. You can find a new dream”, she said gently.
I felt dubious but I took a deep breath, picked my time, and made a run for it with my three tiny kids. I arrived in Edinburgh where I hoped I could lick my wounds and build a new life for us.
Gradually I found my feet, and when my twin daughters turned two, I enrolled on a part-time university course to train in specialist journalism. Trailing around the jungle after monkeys was clearly no longer an option and so I decided to write about the science of behaviour for the press instead.
I loved the research and writing – plus it meant I could keep up with my academic contacts and the cutting edge of the subject, as well as being able to fit around the kids. And my subject matter shifted from animals to human behaviour, which I found endlessly fascinating.
Though, as you can imagine, it was a pretty lonely time, so when my brood grew a bit, I thought I’d give online dating a shot and try to meet someone new.
I signed up and completed my profile with enthusiasm. But surprise… I didn’t find a horde of suitable gentlemen beating a path to my door.
Yes I met men online and yes I had dates and got together with guys, yet I still had that habit of choosing with my gut instinct. I was picking men who seemed edgy and a bit of a challenge. But they didn’t make me happy.
As time went on and my understanding of the science of attraction and relationships grew – this was what I was writing about in my work more and more – I came to understand what was going wrong.
For one thing, the research made me realise that simply following our gut instincts when getting together with a guy is likely to end badly. These instincts evolved back in stone-age times when a woman needed the big, dominant, high-status blokes who could provide for and protect her and the kids.
Many of us still want those things, even though they’re not usually traits that indicate a good, long-term relationship partner in today’s world – especially for women whose childbearing years are behind them. Instead, it can help to focus on traits such as emotional intelligence and empathy.
Looking back on my own doomed relationships I realised that I too had been prioritising things that weren’t as important – the looks, the status, the super-confidence. One man had been properly narcissistic, which is one of the (very scary) Dark Triad traits. People like this can be incredibly charming at the start and I was swept off my feet by the love bombing, but things turned controlling and nasty once he got his feet under the table.
Another pairing that didn’t go well was with a man who, again, had the presence and the macho sex appeal, but also had what I now know was ‘avoidant attachment’.
If someone has this attachment style it means that, although they might want a relationship, they’re reluctant to let others get too close. This man was blowing hot and cold and I found myself on an emotional rollercoaster – feeling elated and ‘in love’ one minute, and then rejected and despondent the next.
Coming to a scientific understanding of these things was a game changer. I realised that I needed to consciously evolve my preferences to suit what would work for me in the modern world and for the life stage I was at.
So, armed with a knowledge of the kind of man I needed for a happy, lasting relationship, and how to look for one, I got myself out there to find him.
I got chatting to Rob at a singles event one rainy January night, and I liked him, but it wasn’t love or even lust at first sight.
In the past, that lack of immediate chemistry would have signalled: “Next please!”
But not now. I could tell that he was one of the good guys, so I was going to give it time, and we got to know each other gradually over the following few weeks at an evening class. I felt myself warming to him, though it wasn’t until I heard him sing and play ukulele in a pub session – and totally own the room – that I really got the hots.
Well, as it turns out, I’ve found the love of my life. We got married three years ago and I’ve never been happier. But the crazy thing is, if I’d been following my old dating habits, I’d never have given him a chance. He just wasn’t what I used to think of as my ‘type’.
I keep thanking my lucky stars that I learned how to be a bit more objective about choosing a mate, rather than putting all my trust in those stone-age instincts.
Finally then, in my early 50s, I found my new dream. My kids have grown into amazing young adults and I’m with a lovely man who enhances all of our lives, and who I have a happy secure partnership with.
And not just that. Now, using my knowledge of the biology of behaviour, I’m building a business – Dating Evolved – where I help other women over 50 find a partner they can have the best relationship with.
I run an online program where I bring together small groups of women who learn the principles of identifying and finding the right man for them, with my advice and support. They also get a huge amount of encouragement and motivation on their journey from each other – it’s great to have wing women! And we’ve had lots of wonderful relationship success stories.
So what things can you do to help yourself find love?
Here are five quick suggestions for ways you can help yourself right now…
1. Work out what type of person would be right for you
You might like the idea of being with someone who’s 6’4’’, gorgeous, and has a six-figure salary, but these traits are no guarantee of relationship success.
It can help to reprioritise and focus on the qualities that actually matter for a contented, lasting relationship. I reckon that means going for someone who’s considerate, trustworthy, and one who’ll try to make you happy every day. They do exist.
2. Know who to avoid
Your date might be oozing charm and press all the right buttons at the start, showering you with gifts and compliments. But it’s important to be careful that you’re not dealing with someone with the Dark Triad type personality mentioned earlier, otherwise things can turn very sour very fast.
The best rule of thumb? If at the start it seems too good to be true, be very sceptical.
3. Take your time
I know what it’s like – you meet an attractive individual who gets your pulse racing. You’re going weak at the knees and you can’t wait to get it on.
But when you get intimate, you’ll have a rush of neurochemicals working their magic in your brain, and this will have you smitten with your date from the start. If they then turn out not to be good relationship material, you’re going to find it more difficult to extract yourself. You’ll hope they’ll change – they probably won’t – and you’ll be miserable.
Better, I reckon, to find people you’d like to get to know as friends first; people you’re curious about and who share your values. Research shows that when we like someone, – their personality and humour – we gradually come to find them physically more attractive and the desire grows.
Perhaps not as initially exciting as a smouldering sex god, but you won’t be wasting your emotional energy on a person who’s no good for you, and you’ll likely be a lot happier in the long term.
4. Take a proactive approach
I’m often surprised at how many women are happy to leave the important job of finding a romantic partner up to chance.
I hear things like, “If it’s meant to be it will be”, or “If they’re the right one, they’ll find me”.
The problem is, if you wait for potential romantic partners to come into your orbit, you’ll tend to get the players, the narcissists, and the super-confident ones with all the moves. Those who are more respectful and care what people think – they’ll tend to hang back. So try to make yourself approachable to the good ones, perhaps by getting off your phone, making eye contact, and smiling.
And there’s nothing stopping you making the first move – you’re a modern woman. If I hadn’t taken my own advice here I wouldn’t have got together with my lovely man!
5. Remember that confidence is key
Everybody likes different things – it’s the way we evolved to be. You absolutely are attractive to the person who’s right for you, so own your idiosyncrasies.
Yes, some people will run for the hills when they find out you’re an opera fanatic, a physics nerd, or a new-age hippie. So what? You don’t want them. Other people will love your particular quirks and the kind of person you are, and those are the ones to be interested in.
Hold your head high and know you’ve got what it takes. Good self-esteem is your most powerful tool in finding the right romantic partner because it means you won’t put up with bad behaviour. And if you can boost your confidence – it’s going to make you glow.
So when you meet someone, you don’t need to worry about how to make them like you or how to be attractive to them. Instead, ask yourself, “Has this person got the capacity to be the kind of partner I need?”, “Have they got what it takes?”
From my experience, that’s how to find yourself the best relationship, and live your own dream.
And if you’d like Mairi’s support in identifying, attracting, desiring, and finding the right partner for you, you can sign up for her FREE MASTERCLASS. You can also contact her or check out her other resources at datingevolved.com.
Note: In Mairi’s work, she tends to focus on women seeking heterosexual relationships, since this is where her experience and expertise lie – and when it comes to the biology of attraction, there are important differences between men and women, on average. That said, the majority of dating advice she provides will be useful for women of any orientation.