How did you end up in Switzerland?
My mother and stepfather divided their time between England, Switzerland and Spain. They decided to send me to boarding school in Lausanne when I was 12, which was a very fashionable thing to do at the time. I went to school with glamorous Saudi, Ethiopian and Iranian princesses, whereas I was just a nice little English schoolgirl who loved horses. On top of that, I was clever — which didn’t help me to fit in.
I began my career working in communications for Saatchi & Saatchi. I left to set up my own communications agency before being asked to set up the communications department for a private banking group. But I soon realized that I just didn’t have the soul of a banker and eventually left to join the International Committee of the Red Cross – which celebrates its 150th year this year – training delegates all over the world in publication production. After that, I went back to university to train as a psychologist, and now I’m writing my first book: Holding out for a Hero: Finding and keeping love over 40.
What made you decide to retrain and then write a book?
The most challenging part of my work for the Red Cross as a newly-wed was the international travel. It was actually my own experience of getting married for the first time in my 40s that inspired me to write my book. I started thinking: why didn’t I get married before? After all, I’d been engaged three times. Then I wondered: what is it like for others?
When I spoke to the rector at the Emmanuel Church in Geneva, he told me that, in his church, the average age of bride and groom was 42. He couldn’t tell me if this was for first, second or third marriages but it still struck me as quite old. I decided to return to university and learn more about the psychology of late marriages.
What type of men and women tend to marry in their 40s?
As I began to explore this phenomenon, I discovered that there were two types of people who leave it late to marry for the first time: expats and humanitarian workers. Expats are no longer in their country of origin, and usually don’t have their family and old friends on hand to introduce them to people. They also tend to work extremely hard and don’t have the time to look for a prospective partner.
In the case of humanitarian workers, living in conflict zones is clearly not conducive to family life. Certainly, from my own experience working for the Red Cross, I know that large numbers of my former colleagues get married in their 40s after leaving the field to work at headquarters in Geneva.
Is it true that it’s particularly hard for women to meet men in Geneva?
Geneva has a reputation of having eight women to every man, although I’m not sure if that’s still the case. It’s gone up and down over the years, but it’s still very tough for women to meet men. Likewise, the disparity in numbers doesn’t make it any easier for men because each man is looking for one woman, not eight!
Another factor to bear in mind is that Geneva is a very transient city, with people arriving and then leaving quite quickly. Many people who settled here after arriving 30 years ago are still single.
Another problem is that native Genevans are in the minority, which means it’s very difficult to meet and marry locals. The only people expats are likely to meet are other transient people like themselves. Of course, I can only speak for the situation in Geneva — it’s undoubtedly different in Lucerne and Zurich.
From a psychological point of view, I’ve found that many single people here don’t actually want to commit or get too involved with anyone – so actually Geneva suits them perfectly.
What’s the best way to meet a new partner if you’re over 40?
I’ve been conducting an online survey for the last year to collect case studies of people who married for the first time when they were over 40, and I’ve received some inspirational stories.
It didn’t occur to me at first, but the more I looked at these stories, the more I realized that they’d all made a change in their lives and started doing something they’d never done in the past. Some started internet dating, but the majority met their partners through other methods.
To use myself as an example, a friend convinced me to sign up for a trip through Israel, Egypt and Jordan organized by the rector of the Emmanuel Church in Geneva. It involved sleeping rough in the desert under the stars – something which is completely out of my comfort zone. That’s how I met my partner David.
Saying that, one woman from Bern literally met the boy next door after years of searching! But most have not found their partners in their home town.
Do single people come to you for help?
People will often come to me because they want to be coached to get a new job or to give a speech at a friend's wedding. Then, during the conversation, they might say: ‘I really want to meet someone’ — but it’s not a subject that people discuss straight away. Many people I come across are reserved about attending workshops to find a partner because Geneva is a small community. They’d be much happier buying a book.
Lesley Lawson Botez is currently collecting stories from people who married for the first time over 40 for her book ‘Holding out for a Hero: Finding and Keeping Love over 40’. You can submit your own story here.