ALEXANDRA SHULMAN: So, what exactly IS the allure of a fit It Guy?

ALEXANDRA SHULMAN’S NOTEBOOK: So, what exactly IS the allure of a fit It Guy?

Covid has changed many things about our lives but it’s not managed to mess with one enduring fascination: who’s going out with whom. What has changed is who the partners are.

Far fewer young women are taking up with older men. As one said to me recently: ‘We just don’t date older guys. That’s creepy.’

How different from my cohort, who in our 20s often had relationships with older guys. 

Our boyfriends – who might have been five, ten, sometimes 15 years our senior – just seemed more interesting and exciting than boys our own age.

Older men introduced you to different people and had more experience in so many ways.

Instead of girls dating older guys, it’s far more common for boys of that age to be dating older women. There are high-profile couples like Alexa Chung, 38, and Orson Fry (above), 27, who are practically doppelgangers

Yes, they took us to nice restaurants we couldn’t afford, but that wasn’t the point. 

They had confidence, self-assurance. We certainly didn’t find them creepy – at least not most of them.

Now things have flipped. Instead of girls dating older guys, it’s far more common for boys of that age to be dating older women. 

There are high-profile couples like Alexa Chung, 38, and Orson Fry, 27, who are practically doppelgangers; film director and mother-of-two Olivia Wilde, 37, and Harry Styles, 27, one of the most successful It Guys of his generation; and Helena Bonham Carter, 55, lives with the dashing art historian Rye Dag Holmboe, 32.

But it’s not just celebrities. I’ve increasingly noticed this new trend among my own family and friends.

We are not talking about doing a Mrs Robinson – predatory older women moving in on naive young men. Nor toyboy flings to fill the in-between time between serious relationships. No. These are the serious and seemingly lasting relationships. What’s behind the role reversal? 

Helena Bonham Carter, 55, lives with the dashing art historian Rye Dag Holmboe, 32

One possibility is that younger men are admiring the very same traits in older women that once attracted me to older men – namely their confidence and experience.

Another is that nowadays there’s really not much difference between a man in his 20s and a woman in her 30s bar one important thing: the desire for children.

But even that isn’t the problem it once might have been now that women can freeze their eggs and don’t hear the clock ticking quite so dramatically.

Or perhaps starting a sexual relationship with a stranger is so constrained by what is now regarded as acceptable or unacceptable behaviour (question – does anyone lunge in for a kiss any more?) that it’s put off young men approaching girls their own age.

Perhaps an older woman seems less vulnerable. Perhaps they are more likely to be an initiator. I have no idea. But whatever the case, the age demographics of parenthood look set to be undergoing a significant change. 

No longer will we see the older, second-marriage dads competing in the fathers’ race on school sports day. Pelting along the track in their place will be a gang of fit, surprisingly young men.

Why we’re all on the hunt for a hideaway

More than a day before the booking office opened last weekend, a long queue had formed in the freezing cold to nab the summer rental on a tiny beach hut in Dorset. 

That’s true determination to get your hands on 6ft x 4ft of space on a crowded esplanade.

But huts have never been about space. Their enduring appeal is about something else. It’s a throwback to the delight many of us remember of a childhood tree-house or teepee in the garden or even a tent under the dining table. 

More than a day before the booking office opened last weekend, a long queue had formed in the freezing cold to nab the summer rental on a tiny beach hut in Dorset

Somewhere to hide out. An escape. The ultimate room of your own, with a sense of privacy.

You have only to ask one of the thousands who have installed prefab huts over these pandemic months, when we’ve been shut up together with our nearest and dearest for more time than we might wish.

If it’s good enough for the Queen…

I’m not generally superstitious, but that doesn’t prevent me being a touch nervous about keeping Christmas decorations up past Twelfth Night, which is meant to bring a year of bad luck. 

So the tree, cards and fairy lights have all been briskly removed and the house looks sad and empty.

I miss the scent of the pine needles and the colours of the baubles and the festive feel. But… I’ve just discovered the Queen keeps her tree up until February – and, as regular readers will know, I am a fan of almost everything she does.

Since Her Majesty has maintained this practice for years, I don’t think the annus horribilis of her past 12 months can be attributed to the Christmas decorations.

So next year I shall follow suit and hang on to the twinkle to cheer up the drabness of these dark January days. Let the gremlins do their worst.

The writing’s on the wall for my scribble

Novelist Colm Toibin revealed on Radio 4’s Today programme that he hand-writes all his novels.

Many novelists swear that the connection of pen to paper is an intrinsic part of the process. Yet with the use of computers, we are losing the skill of hand-writing.

It reminded me how I failed to keep last year’s resolution to improve my own handwriting.

I vividly remember the intense pleasure of learning to write as a child – the painstaking formation of the S, the tail of the lower-case g, the banning of looped characters in the Marion Richardson script we were taught. 

And then taking up a fad for learning italics, and an attempt at ornate calligraphy. All resulting in my handwriting today, which is notoriously unreadable.

Bird-flu victim just had to be a Gosling

I’ve long marvelled that Gardeners’ Question Time panellists Bob Flowerdew, Anne Swithinbank and Pippa Greenwood all have horticultural names.

Now nominative determinism has given us two more crackers: Alan Gosling, the first man to contract a new strain of avian bird flu from his flock of Muscovy ducks – and (as he must surely now be called ad infinitum) tennis star ‘Novax’ Djokovic.

Nominative determinism has given more crackers: Alan Gosling, the first man to contract a new strain of avian bird flu from his flock of Muscovy ducks – and (as he must surely now be called ad infinitum) tennis star ‘Novax’ Djokovic (above)

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