"I had learnt to live alone… and then the impossible happened"

Woman&Home - 2007

Elaine Kingett, 57, has often written movingly about being widowed, internet dating and younger men. She never imagined she'd write this story

After my husband died, I spent years scraping up the debris, empowering my three children and learning how to cope on my own. It wasn't easy, but I felt I'd finally arrived at a stage where I'd learnt how to live without a man and, most significantly, how to enjoy my independence. Then I went to a wedding.

"I don't care if he is single, I don't want to meet him," I told my friend, the well-meaning matchmaker.

It was a family do in Cornwall last summer – with mums and dads, grannies, friends and babes in arms. All new frocks and heels and beaming delight at two dear friends tying the Quaker knot after three kids and 20-odd years of living together. Certainly not potential for a romantic encounter. But as the day wore on and the champagne flowed, my armour rusted and fell clickety-clank, onto the polished boards of Penzance Arts Club.

"Oh, all right, Becky," I huffed, as my friend once again grabbed me impatiently by the arm.

He was at the bar, holding a bottle of red, wearing shorts and sandals. I don't DO shorts and sandals. Well, I didn't a year ago.

"Martin, I want you to meet my friend Elaine."

He looked at me very directly and grinned. And I was a gonner. Love at first sight at the age of 56.

Meeting a man had been way down on my list of things to do for a very long time. Getting the car serviced and removing the greasy stains on the hall walls came way above. (It was fish and chips by the way. Don't ask, I have a teenager.)

After my husband of 32 years died, I experienced the initial mad flings, inappropriate liaisons and deep, echoing despair. It took a very long time before I no longer dreaded weekends alone or felt half of a whole, but I eventually reached that point and was full of plans for the future. It was actually my kids, two away from home and one about to leave, who began to fret.

"We don't want you to be on your own," my daughter Lucy, 18, explained. I listed my requirements for a man: to be solvent, have kids similar ages to mine, turn me on physically, be adventurous and give me something wonderful and interesting in my life that I didn't already have. "Trouble with you, mum, is you're too picky," said Lucy, slamming a drawer shut.

Maybe. But I'd rather be single than bored stupid by some dull, middle-aged bloke with no hair or significant muscle tone. So I wasn't looking. Which, they say, is when it happens.

I came back from the wedding in a state of shock. I'd found Martin incredibly sexy, despite the sandals, and he fascinated me. He ran a walking holiday company and lived in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. He knew about rocks and cloud formations, and nothing about the fashion business, which was my background. and he has the most beautiful legs. I felt swept off my feet. I was like a teenager.

We'd spent the night together and he'd dropped me at the station after a scenic drive in his vintage VW van. Within a week I was back, trudging behind him along cliff paths in unsuitable footwear and wondering what on earth was happening to me.

As the weeks wore on and I hurtled up and down the A30 at regular intervals, Lucy was flabbergasted. "Oh God, mum. You're not going to buy a fleece?" Her top lip curled in disgust at the thought of such a sartorial disaster.

The kids were confused, afraid that I was going to change radically. We had become such a tight unit after Jerry's death – maybe too tight. We had clung together on the wreckage, our home was like a student house-share and Lucy would often sleep with me. She was used to having me to herself and in the face of "losing me" her worries about leaving me alone were forgotten.

For my eldest son Jamie, 27, it meant a lack of role. Although it was an overdue liberation, he'd shouldered far too much of the responsibility of looking after his younger siblings and supporting me emotionally, but now it must have seemed as though he was pushed aside in my affections. My middle son Will, 22, decided, dismissively, that it was up to me if I wanted to have a boyfriend, but he was not interested in hearing about him. Ouch.

I'd thought they'd be pleased that I'd finally met a grown-up, but realised that they saw Martin as much more of a threat than the other men: a terrifying "replacement" for their father.

"He's nothing like daddy!" Lucy shouted at me, when emotions were running high. She ranted, I raved. We both cried.

Now, a year on, the kids are calmer and my Cornish love affair is stronger than ever. I love the fact that Martin is older than me, if only by a year, and it's certainly disproved all the

women who told me, emphatically, that men my age only want much younger women. I love the fact that we have the same musical, political and sociological memories. Also, I didn't think I'd find a guy my age who was so unjaded, exciting and up for adventure. I had come to believe the cliché of the late-fifties man who dwells in the past, complains about the present and dreads the future.

Yes, Martin has a dodgy back and worries about his blood pressure, but I worry about the cyst on my ovary and taking HRT. Anyway, it's fun taking turns on the new blood pressure monitor. When you start a new relationship at a later age there's so much baggage – a horrible, but apt, word. You take on ailing parents, ex-partners, children, social networks established over decades. It's about integration into an existing infrastructure, sometimes policed by cautious, highly protective friends and suspicious offspring. I often thought of doing a runner.

What if he went off me? Or I went off him? Could i really be bothered? Of course! I adored him and couldn't believe my luck.

We have such fun; he brings me tea in bed and tells me he loves me. He even shouted it, for all to hear, from the top of a mountain in Sardinia. Me, with all my 57-year-old foibles – I still can't believe it. The wonder of how someone new can love all parts of me.

So is it worth it? All the travelling to and fro, placating of children and vast expenditure on appropriate walking equipment? Oh, good grief, yes. It is truly wonderful to feel so loved, so cared for, to have again such emotional and physical intimacy. I never thought a man would ever find my body attractive, let alone my squidgy bits.

But this relationship with Martin is nothing like my marriage. I loved my husband and was devastated when he died, but we were teenagers when we met and grew together over all those years. This time around it's totally different, because I know exactly who I am, what I want in life, and I'm not afraid to say so. It feels like a really grown-up relationship.

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