The thing that no one tells you when you’re dating is that really disastrous dates – the ones where someone is a completely insane conspiracist and stocking up with tins for the apocalypse, or the man who said I had a small head because the rest of me was so tall – are, in their own way, brilliant, because of the amazing camaraderie you have with other women. Everyone has their frontline anecdotes of trying to find love.
When I was a dating columnist, I was living with my best girlfriends. I remember coming back from a third date with one particular guy. He was really charming, clever and good-looking, we had loads in common and I just hadn’t been able work out how this dream man was single. Then, that evening, he kissed me and it was a completely traumatising experience. I literally ran home from the pub, woke up my flatmates and we all went downstairs for a fag to debrief. I had projected so much fantasy on this person I was certain he was going to be my next boyfriend.
All the disasters of your early- to mid-twenties – and you only realise this when you’re out the other side of it – are a very bonding experience, especially if you have enough intimacy in your friendship that you can be truly honest with each other. There’s something that can feel quite communal about going through that stuff at similar times and it emboldens and strengthens each other to know you’re not the only one – you’re all in this together. Coming home to a flat full of girls or swapping stories in the pub can make all the bad dates seem worthwhile, and it’s certainly something to laugh about most of the time. I also think it is good to talk about the romance you can find in friendship – that you can surprise each other, catch each other off guard and remind each other of how special we think the other person is. I’m very lucky to have friends who, when I’ve had moments when I’ve thought maybe I’m not built for romantic love, have reminded me that I am lovable and have proven that there can be romance in friendship. My friend Sarah once sent me something from Space NK wrapped in a ribbon, and the note said, “You don’t need a boyfriend to feel loved.”
Expect a cyclical relationship with dating apps. Be completely prepared that you will download it, be obsessed, have five dates in a month and then feel horrible and empty
I always say never ever schedule a date for a Friday or Saturday night, because what you’re doing, in your mind, is putting all your eggs in one basket – which happens to be a total stranger – and then your weekend has gone and you could have been hanging out with people you really dig. Also, expect a cyclical relationship with dating apps. Be completely prepared that you will download it, be obsessed, have five dates in a month and then feel horrible and empty. Three months later, you’re hungover, watching a romcom on a Sunday, and suddenly you’re downloading it. And that’s totally fine.
I’ve been on only one date in well over a year. I slowly realised that, one way or another, the pursuit of love had been in the back of my head since I was a teenager, maybe even younger, when I was reading fairytales. So, I wanted to defrag my brain of its unconscious and conscious romantic tendencies. I’ll always be a romantic person, but it’s really not the only thing in life. Something I’ve learnt in the last year – and it’s been really hard sometimes – is that if you can get to a point where you can exist without it – no flirting, no dating, no daydreaming about someone – you can be much more present in your own life and that feels quite radical.
I’m fully prepared that if I met someone, I could find myself thrown back into certain habits that I’ve tried to break, but I think it’s just a learning curve – you can’t learn that in an abstract sense. You have learn it as you go. Journalist Bryony Gordon once said to me that change isn’t linear. We like to think of change as a romcom montage with an Alanis Morissette song playing and pictures of us going from strength to strength, but it’s not like that. The journey of evolution, both within ourselves and in love, is a higgledy-piggledy one.
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Dolly’s book, Everything I Know About Love, is out now