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Meet the WHIPS, a generation rewriting the rules of attraction

I'm in the Apple Store, praying to Steve Jobs that my laptop can't be fixed. Because the last image on my screen as it died was an obscene selfie sent by a beautiful young man. And the last thing I need is it popping up in front of an IT guy.

Please don't judge me. This is what happens to your inbox when you start to date younger men in the early 21st century. Because while, on a bad day, there's more than a touch of Nanny McPhee about me, my 51-year-old self seems to be attracting many young bucks. And I'm not unusual.

Just check out this roll call of famous women and their men. Madonna, 59, is dating model Kevin Sampaio, 32 – the latest in a line of hot younger beaux. Mariah Carey, 47, is enjoying an on/off romance with dancer Bryan Tanaka, 34; and Demi Moore, 55, has reportedly been canoodling with actor Tobey Maguire, 42. (Demi has also been linked to art dealer Vito Schnabel, now 31, and pearl diver Will Hanigan, now 34, as well as previously being married to Ashton Kutcher, now 40.)

And, of course, there is the glorious love story between Brigitte Macron, 64, and her husband Emmanuel, 40, the French President. (Let's not dwell on the fact she was his teacher and he was 15 when they met.)

So what in the name of Joan Collins (84, married to Percy Gibson, 52) is going on? This is what Madonna said in 2015: "It's just what happens. Most men my age are married with children. They're not dateable.

"I'm a very adventurous person and I also have a crazy life. I'm a single mother ... I mean, you have to be open-minded and adventurous to want to step into my world. People who are older, and more set in their ways, are probably not as adventurous as someone younger."


Is she really right? Is this "just what happens" now? Madeleine Mason, a UK dating and relationship psychologist, thinks so. "Age is becoming less of an issue for both genders," she says. "And age-gap relationships where women are older than their male partners have become more accepted, thanks to shows like Cougar Town and female celebrities marrying younger men."

It may be a trend, but I can't be the only person to find the term "cougar" repulsive. It's predatory, naff, insulting to the woman and the man. And "toyboy" isn't exactly complimentary, either. Instead, I'm going to campaign for older women who are dating younger men to be called WHIPs – Women who are Hot, Intelligent and in their Prime. And the men shall be called really bloody lucky.

So let me tell you what's happening to this WHIP. The last two dates I went on were with a 26-year-old and a 35-year-old (not at the same time).

And the men DMing me on Twitter are also in their 20s and 30s. These pore-less, firm-jawed men are clever, successful, creative, and absurdly hot. They write, work in film, dabble in music and are super interesting. They are men I would have killed to meet – but could never attract – when I was in my 20s and 30s.

For me, it's Twitter, not Tinder where I'm meeting them. And we're progressing from tweets to DMs, to the messaging apps, to phone calls, and then to bars.

And fun is had. You'd think the dates would be excruciatingly awkward, with cultural references tumbleweeding. But no. We talk about our work, about what we've been up to, about politics/the world imploding, and we laugh. (Not about the world imploding.)

They are funny, intelligent men – there is no setting the dial low. Sure, these are early dates, so we wouldn't be going into the "this is why I'm single" stuff. But there's no feeling of being with someone younger. Until you step into daylight and see their skin. I actually think I have more in common with many young men than with many men my own age. Don't get me wrong, I love men my age and older – but there seems to be a difference between single men and women in their 50s.

Men = pipe, sofa, slippers. Women = prosecco, slingbacks, Pilates. Why is that? Are men allowed to slow down? Is it seen as more acceptable for men to age, while women have to keep the vim, vigour and boobs up?

Men my age seem to be either slowing down, or eternally single (the Peter Pan Syndrome), or divorced and chasing their daughters' friends (the Pervy Peter Pan Syndrome). And just so we're clear, Irony Police, it's not me that's going after younger men; they're coming after me.

I know what you want to know. But I can't tell you, because I haven't "known" these young men – yet. I've yet to find the emotional strength to reveal the bingo wings and my thighs. But believe me when I say that one can, ahem, tell, when we're up close, talking and laughing and kissing in public, that they won't care. (One thing I have to report about the next generation of men is their carefree attitude to dirty talk and public displays of affection.)

So no, I haven't had sex with them. But there have been sexy photos (prompting actual gasps – bodies shouldn't be that good), and the sexiest of calls.

Why do young men like me now? In truth, I've dated younger men before. But more are definitely interested in me now that I'm in my 50s. I think it's down to confidence. I'm still neurotic about life – but men? They like me or they don't. I sort of don't care any more. And the younger men seem to like that.

"The older a woman gets, the more relaxed she becomes about what other people think, and her self-esteem goes up," agrees Madeleine Mason. "By her 40s and 50s, she's more likely to have come into her own, and this confidence is very attractive and very sexy.

"As people live longer, we're expected to change careers, re-educate ourselves etc... Could it be that this is something we will see in relationships, too? That being older no longer means we are unhealthy or undesirable, and younger generations begin to see past age and see women as individuals?"

I think so. Plus, 50 today isn't what 50 used to be. We take care of ourselves and look better now. It's not just true for the likes of Salma Hayek (51), Monica Bellucci (53), Halle Berry (51), Julianne Moore (57), Nicole Kidman (50) or Michelle Pfeiffer (59). It's true for us mere mortals, too.

And, of course, women in their 50s aren't seen as desperate, as those a decade or more younger are often depicted. Or, in the words of an ex of mine, "Wanting the baby before pudding's arrived." (You can see why he's an ex.)

For me, the children thing is key. As thrilling as these men and dates are, it's not going to get serious, is it? Not if they want kids and, like me, you don't have them. Being with someone, falling for someone, who would need to leave me once their male biological clock began ticking wouldn't be good for my soul.

Ultimately, the fun, baggage-free experience of dating someone younger goes against what I want and need. I need someone who understands the baggage, and I'm not sure a gorgeous young thing could ever truly do that.

So I must leave the young pups be. Perhaps I'll wait until after the university holidays are over, though.

First published in Stella Magazine, The Sunday Telegraph (UK).