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And I've tried the lesbian thing, and that hasn't worked. None of those things is what I really want. I don't want to compromise, or become a crusty old spinster who never has sex. What I want is to find a heterosexual man. So says Tabitha Hobbins, a year-old private investor and investment writer who has been single - bar a few going-nowhere affairs - for eight years.

Tabitha Hobbins. Credit: Rebecca Hallas. Gemma King has also had her share of flings - but the year-old student says she's basically been single for five years. Suzanne Monroe, 32, a teacher, has also been man-less for years - as have many of her friends.

We're all a bit disillusioned. Disillusionment comes through forcefully when you talk to Melbourne's single something women. In a culture where paramount importance is placed on finding "the one", and in which popular culture revolves eternally around the promise of true love, it can feel pretty cold to be alone night after night. Of course, it's fine if you're single by choice - as some women happily are. But for many women in their 30s - that decade of life in which we hope everything falls into place - being single feels nothing at all like choice.

And it frustrates and angers them when it is suggested they are too picky to get a bloke.

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They say the truth is rather the reverse, and are likely to launch into tales of how the rare single men they meet are quick to bolt for the exit when things get within coo-ee of commitment. Many something women feel there's more than a little truth to the throwaway line that "all the good men are married or gay". They believe there is a "man drought", and it shows no s of breaking. So are they right?

And if so, what's going on? Where are all the eligible men? Are there really city offices full of desperate and dateless women? Or is this just a fancy of TV scriptwriters, journalists, and men who like the idea they're wanted by hordes of insatiable women? The picture is a complex one that gets to the heart of the profound social and cultural changes of the past few decades, and how they have impacted on the partnering - and non-partnering - of a generation.

It's also a picture that contains its fair share of midnight angst, loneliness and heartache. But first the good, or at least better, news: the situation isn't as dire as the most grim reports would have us believe.

About 20 Cool guy seeking mr right ago, Newsweek famously stated that a year-old woman was "more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to get married". The magazine admitted in that this was bunkum, a hastily written funny aside that somehow made it into print and became accepted as fact. But, of course, just because a woman in her fourth decade has more chance of getting a bloke than being obliterated by a maniac with a dynamite vest isn't in itself cause for wild jubilation.

And in truth, there are real factors stacked against the woman in her 30s and beyond who is looking for a fella. According to Bureau of Statistics figures, nationally there are more women than men in their 30s. So if we imagine Australia as one giant dance hall and everyone is hetero, Cool guy seeking mr right there to be a magic pairing up of people in their 30s, about 15, women, including Melburnians, would be left on the side of the dance floor when the music started.

Dating services are forced to reckon with this imbalance, and often struggle to up men. It's a constant challenge to get good quality men. Online dating site RSVP. But the guys in that age group might not actually be ready. So it's also a mismatch of life stages that is an issue," she says. This mismatch means that men in their 30s are often seeking to hook up with women in their 20s, which adds to the man drought for women in their 30s.

Sam de Brito, who writes the blog All Men Are Liars, calls this "the flip", when the sexual power women have over men when they're in their 20s flips over to men when they enter their 30s. And they find it disconcerting when that power shift occurs in their 30s," he says. Guys are attracted to younger women, and women in their 30s who are single and are expecting men in their 30s to commit are playing a losing game, they really are.

Whatever you think of de Brito's theory, it is true that men raiding the stocks of younger women and, indeed, younger women raiding the stocks of older men does create imbalances in raw s that make things challenging for women over As demographer Bernard Salt has found, drawing on the census, there are more single men than single women in every year of life between the ages of 15 and 33, but from age 34 onwards there are more single women than men.

But when a woman is 40, were all singles her age to pair up, women would be left on the proverbial shelf. This presupposes that the pairing up is only between men and women which, of course, isn't how things really are. But the theory that a major reason for man drought is that so many more men than women are gay isn't actually backed by the evidence. It's true that statistics on sexual orientation can be unreliable and vary widely, but the largest survey done in Australia, fromfound that 1.

Still, the woman after a straight man will find there are better locations to look than Commercial Road, Prahran. There are rural areas, for instance, such as the shires of Wellington and Corangamite, where there is actually an over-supply of men.

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So it isn't a completely fanciful notion that a woman wanting a bloke might consider hopping on an outbound train, destination: the wide brown land. Men stay on the farm more than women; country girls often head to the city for work or study.

Men are also being drawn in greater s to mining towns.

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Yep, the mining boom is contributing to the bust in the of young blokes in the city. Writer Meg Mundell, whose upcoming book Braking Distance chronicles her experience travelling with truckers the length and breadth of Australia - 20, kilometres all up - recalls how attentive the men were in outback communities where women are a rarity.

And it wasn't that the guys were sleazy or anything, but you got a sense that you were some rare kind of species that they didn't see very often. And so they were very keen to chat, and were on their best behaviour. As well as men disappearing to mining areas of the country, many are disappearing from the country itself, lured to global financial centres by exciting and lucrative work.

The brain-drain takes men and women but, according to Salt, men are more likely to stay overseas whereas women, who tend to have a stronger nesting instinct and more intricate ties to family, are more likely to return home. She agreed to be interviewed about her long-term single status because, she says, "allowing myself to believe this a man drought is going on, makes me feel like less of a freak, and makes me think that it's not Cool guy seeking mr right the way I behave".

Lucas had a three-year relationship in her early 20s, but hasn't been in anything serious since. She finds plenty to enjoy in life - she has studied and travelled a lot, and loves going to gigs - but she finds being single tough. Everyone that I've worked with or studied with has been, like, 'How come you're still single? I guess having someone in your life validates you a lot. But if being single isn't easy, nor is it at all rare. Unmarried women now out married ones in Australia. Even taking into the rise in de facto relationships, the Men and Women Apart study, led by Professor Bob Birrell, found that "partnering levels amongst young Australians in are well below those evident in ".

It is impossible, of course, to break down who is single by choice and who isn't, but clearly there are many people who are happy being single. The term "freemales" has been coined to describe women who see plenty of positives in being without a man. Some commentators have even wondered if all this talk of desperate, single women isn't actually a feminist backlash in disguise. ANU academic Zora Simic, whose book with Monica Dux The Great Feminist Denial comes out in August, believes that while talk of a man drought does tap into genuine anxieties, it also reinforces the idea that coupling is somehow women's work.

Many men, indeed, have not won the jackpot. In fact, in the partnering game, men on low incomes are probably the biggest losers of all. According to Heard's analysis, the lower the income the less likely a man is to be partnered across all age groups.

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For a man to improve his chances, he really needs to earn more money. Adding to the problem for men - and for well-educated women looking for similarly well-qualified partners - since the mids, women have been trouncing men in gaining university qualifications. Since women with tertiary educations are more likely to delay partnering than other women, there ends up being a large of educated women in their 30s looking for a partner.

But the of men who match them in qualification levels is much smaller.

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So the competition for a man with a degree gets fierce. Undoubtedly, more than a few men of good prospects exploit this situation to their advantage, and play the field, do the Peter Pan thing, all the while feeling confident they will still be in demand when they decide it's time to settle down. Single something women understandably feel some resentment toward these men, their contemporaries, for being freer to fool around longer, to hook up with younger women, and to ignore the ticking of biological clocks.

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