"No, the girls chase the boys," said my 12-year-old niece as she explained the new rules of kiss-chase to me the other day.
I screwed up my nose and considered what to say. Just as I held back the words "stop" and "that" I felt a shudder go through me.
During my time as a matchmaker, I had become all too aware of the power shift between men and women when dating. Although in my experience, it happened much later, rather than the disturbing prepubescent scenario my niece had just presented to me.
When women are young, pert and perky, sexual attention is as omnipresent as alcopops. All we have to do is don a micro-mini, slick on a glossy smile and prepare to ride a tsunami of proposals. We're given a false sense of confidence, living life as though we have been cast as the leading lady in an Impulse ad.
Then, just as our self-esteem is flying as high as an Everest flag, suddenly, somewhere between our 28th and 30th birthday, it's as though the clock strikes midnight and the spell wears off.
Fate slams on the brakes, spins the steering wheel and performs an unauthorised U-turn. Quicker than we can file for whiplash, the men we've been batting off with our (gifted) Loubutins, dismissing as unworthy, are now strutting around like Silvio Berlusconi, willowy nymphets draped over their arms.
While we've been umming and ahing over whether to settle for our 6'3'' personal trainer, or hold out for a human rights lawyer, skinny Steve from IT is now show-casing a hottie from HR.
As we lose traction quicker than a fading reality TV star, we start to panic. Our skirts get shorter, our necklines lower. We need to cash in our assets, before it's too late.
Our Google history littered with fertility forums, we resolve to abandon any aspirations for a Mark Darcy clone and cosy up to the personal trainer.
Over a home-cooked meal, we suggest formalizing his drunken declarations of love and propose a trip to the jewelers. He develops a twitch. A while later, probably some time between us forwarding a scanned ultrasound of a friend's foetus, and the bonus bumper issue of Bridal magazine, he becomes impotent. By our third session with a Relate counselor, he scrabbles for his Nikes and sprints into the arms of a girl five years' younger.
We conclude that men are bastards.
How could they be so ruthless? Casting us aside with a facial expression generally reserved for out-of-date prawns. We should be treated as people not a list of boxes to be ticked.
But did we offer them the same courtesy? Prior to their coiffed hair, Prada wardrobe, and bulging bank-balances weren't they once the scrawny cretins we sneered at in school, while their older counterparts whisked us away in convertible Cortinas? Like the Stanford prison experiment, when the power shifts, it seems so too does the behaviour.
Eventually, after a prolonged pause, I looked my niece in the eye.
"Never chase a boy," I said. "They can run faster."
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