It wasn't always like this. At one point I was pretty sure I would be alone and childless and loveless. A bit dramatic ? Well maybe, but it was pretty much how I felt at the time. I had left a marriage with someone who was controlling and manipulative. My confidence was at it's lowest point. I was in debt, back living with my parents and so very sad. In a desperate attempt to get myself out of this funk I started internet dating. I moved in with my lovely friend and put myself 'out there' as they say. I had never dated in my teens or at uni so it was all new to me.
There are so many life lessons I could share from this period of my life, but I'm pretty sure that for everyone else the experience of going on dates (or just 'going out' as we call it here - dating seems to be a peculiarly American phenomenon) is just a normal part of growing up. In my family we didn't do that kind of thing. My parents didn't approve of having girlfriends or boyfriends and the idea that we might go out with someone with no intention of marrying them was anathema. I pretty much married the first guy I dated. It didn't work out so that tells you all you need to know doesn't it ?
When I was going on dates I realised that there was a whole other language of relationships that I was unaware of and that I just was not versed in. It was a world away from the friendships I had and the honesty of being with people who you trust. I have always had male friends and it was perfectly normal for me to talk to them and spend time socialising with them. It didn't prepare me for the idiocy of dating though. I couldn't stand the really brash guys who would try to impress by showing off, they were just too much. I was a bit Shania Twain about it all really.
Then there were the men who had been married or living with someone, had broken up and were now looking for a replacement. To be honest so was I so it's not exactly a criticism. I think I was being a bit fairer than they were though. I was prepared to see how it went and to give them the benefit of the doubt. Oh so you own CDs by the Dixie Chicks ? It's ok I'm sure you're ok otherwise. Nope I was wrong. I found myself trying so hard to convince them that I was worth their while that I wasn't even considering if they were worth mine. In a lot of cases we just weren't well matched at all. A lot of these guys in their mid to late 30s were looking to settle down and in most cases did not long after. I think straight men have a 'use by date' and if they don't get married by it then they remain resolutely single. Of course Warren Beatty is they exception to this rule. And pretty much all rules I guess.
I went out on dates with men who I would never under any circumstances have come into contact with otherwise. The chap who lived upstairs from the Conservative Club and whose parents were lifelong Tories. Sorry Chris I could have called that one before we met if I'd known. The one who looked like a young Elton John (no disrespect to you Reg, but you're just not my type and I know I'm not yours !) and who told me about how he had a row with his neighbour and practised Tai Chi on public transport. It wasn't destined to be a great love affair.
It is easy to be cynical about internet dating, but I know people who have gone on to have very successful relationships with someone they met online. It cuts out some of the stuff that you just don't get if your eyes meet across a crowded room. It can take ages to realise that this person will always be late to meet you, or that they have smelly feet, or they chew really loudly, or talk through movies, etc. (all punishable offences by the way). What you have with meeting in real life though is the taking time to get to know someone. I have had a crush on someone then when I got to know them realised they weren't for me, but it could be a great friendship.
Plenty of people meet in every day situations, maybe working together and seeing each other every day which eventually leads to a relationship - possibly due to proximity. I worked with a woman who was dating the director of the charity and it was blindingly obvious to everyone despite their protestations to the contrary. It is frowned upon in some firms, but to be honest if you work long hours or in a stressful profession it's hardly surprising.
Of course I haven't even mentioned the whole concept of love at first sight. Oh yes fireworks and stars in the eyes . I mean proper wobbly legs and flustered speech. The whole nine yards. Thankfully it was mutual - it's rotten when you have all the feelings and they aren't returned. What it does mean - however - is that all common sense goes straight out of the window. You are entirely blindsided by the hormone response and forget to think. Well I did anyway.
So what have I learned since the heady days of singledom ? Well, being alone means not having to make food if you don't want to. It means only having to clean up after yourself. It also means going some weekends without talking to anyone - which I now consider to be blissful. I wouldn't give up cuddles with my cat though. Or going in to check on my boys when they are asleep. Coming home and knowing that I can have a hug (with or without white fur dressing) doesn't suck.
On balance I think I've done ok.