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“He’s just such a man!” said my friend Marina about her current boyfriend. Being a staunch traditionalist, she values things like holding doors, paying at dinner and steadfastness of character as essential qualities in a mate. She needs that fatherly quality in a man.

When I first heard her speak about it, part of me joked that she was setting feminism back 50 years, when she spoke about how she values the traditional outlook – the man provides, he puts his woman on a golden platter and treats her like a princess. She looks down on the new wave of stay-at-home dads. Presumably while she crumples the bill of feminism and tosses it into the trash.

But I admired part of her desire. I could feel what she wanted, to a degree, reflected in what I wanted too. The desire for a man who’s a man.

But what does it mean? It’s a loaded statement, to be sure.

A real man is loyal. He’s brave. He’s protective. He’s understanding. He’s gentle. He’s strong. He’s respectful. He’s ambitious. He’s calm. He’s comfortable with himself.

Muscles? Cockiness? Grunting instead of actual speech? The unenviable traits of the man-boy.

The irony being, the office Marina and I work in is full of them. I’ve also known one or two in my dating life. I made the point to her that Chris was more man than anyone I’d dated before. He didn’t just kiss me, he lifted me into his lap and held me. He made me burn. I was on fire for him. Marina pointed out that, in the long run, he couldn’t handle commitment, or even end it properly. Ergo, he wasn’t a real man.

It made me think about Alan, a member of the cast of Sunset Boulevard that I’m currently rehearsing with. We went out, we kissed, we had lots of theatre interests in common to talk about. But somehow, I just wasn’t attracted to him beyond a basic fancy. He’s sweet, he’s funny, he’s interesting. But he’s not a real man. He doesn’t have that stride, that confidence to step up and make me feel what I need to feel in order to fall for him. Is that harsh? Is it wrong? Or is it just honest? He has a certain bouncing boyish charm. Should that be enough? I can’t decide.

Either way, when I stop and think about it, I know that the fleeting attraction I felt when we first flirted hasn’t developed into anything. I know that I don’t treasure his messages and attentions. I know that I don’t feel that warm glow inside when I think of him. I know he’s not for me. Somewhere, however much I think I could just passively go along with whatever this could develop into, I know it’s not going to be true. It’s never going to penetrate any deeper than the barest touch of the surface attraction. He may be over 6ft, but I know that it takes a much bigger man to work his way into my heart. He’s not for me.

I may be picky when it comes to men. I may hold out for someone who warms my heard and makes me fall too hard and too fast. But as I look out into the jewel-like lights of London on a summer night, with the air turning cooly towards autumn, I know that somewhere out there the man for me is looking back.

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