I have always been perfectly happy being single. Between relationships, I would enjoy the novelty of being on my own for a while, doing things without having to consult someone else, until a new relationship emerged from my happily hectic social life.
At the age of 38 however, I realised that the gaps between relationships were getting to be rather long, almost never-ending. Over time, my social life had become less happily hectic: goodbye spontaneous nights out and lost weekends, hello making arrangements a month in advance involving babysitters, restaurant reservations and train timetables, and I just wasn't going out and meeting new people any more. It became clear that I needed to do something to halt my unwitting slide into permanent singledom.
So after much Googling and asking advice from friends - once I'd overcome my embarrassment about basically saying: 'Where can I find a man?' - I headed out on a one-woman blitz of the singles' scene. I went speed-dating, internet dating and dinner dating. I signed up for quiz-dating, wine-tasting dating and cocktail-making dating. I went on singles holidays - skiing in Austria, sunbathing in Greece, mountain-climbing in Morocco - as well as a singles' ball and Scottish dancing. I went to dating evenings where everyone drank through a red straw to show that they were single and wanted to meet someone and I went to things supposedly populated by single people, even if they weren't advertised so explicitly, such as dance classes, acting classes, cooking lessons and even pub poker nights.
And I have never felt more single in my entire life. From never minding being single at all, the fact that I was spending most of my time at singles events made me feel permanently, terminally single. The more singles events I went to - spending ages beforehand making myself look as good as possible, within the limits of time, ability and genetic make-up, then getting there and trying to talk to as many people as possible while trying to sparkle and shine and make the best impression I could - the more I felt as if I was getting further and further away from actually meeting someone. Why was this, I wondered?
For a start, it felt that actually deliberately working on not being single, meant my dreams were being crushed on a regular basis. A normal night I would go out, have a good time, not meet anyone special, but that was fine. On a 'date-hunting' night I would go out, not meet anyone special, and spend the long journey home on the tube thinking 'Well that was a complete waste of time', feel unattractive, a total failure as a human being, and vow never to do anything so soul-destroying again. Until the next night, of course.
Before each event I would resist the urge to just go home and hang out with my flatmates in front of the telly, telling myself: 'Tonight could be the night! There might be someone nice there tonight, you are never going to meet 'the one' sitting on the sofa, are you?' and this meant that every time I didn't meet someone, it made it even worse, my hopes built up, only to be dashed yet again. The more this happened, the more I found myself feeling miserable, convinced that nothing good was ever going to happen to my moribund love-life ever again, the more my face started to reflect my pain and growing desperation, and well, we all know how pain and desperation can be really attractive qualities to men.
It wasn't just my internal thoughts that were making this an uphill battle though. The events themselves left a lot to be desired. Many of the things I went on were always hugely unbalanced in numbers, with loads of women there, many who had signed up months in advance, but a significant lack of single men. One speed-dating event I went to had to have two waves of dating as there were so many women, so half the women had to sit out the first few hours (it's always great for the ego to go to a dating event and being made to sit in a corner and watch everyone else dating, like the worst kind of wallflower) while the men had to go round again. After two hours of dating they were all completely shattered. At another event the organisers had to hastily recruit guys from the bar next door - so I found myself dating Gianni, in London on a week's holiday from Rome, whose English 'is not so good' and yet another found the daters being friends of the organiser, and not even single.
One evening promised a fun-packed dinner with like-minded thirty-somethings, equally split between men and women. I got there to discover I'd paid £30 to eat pizza with seven other women in their forties, and just two guys, one of who walked out halfway through the meal and neither of whom had had to pay for a ticket. Time after time it was the same story: not enough men. Where were they all? Usually, in turned out, in the pubs I would dash into when I needed a stiff drink after yet another dating disaster. But they'd be watching the football and have no eyes for a lone female, particularly not one who was beginning to feel she should be ringing a bill and shouting 'unclean!'
The day I stopped going to dating events was one of my happiest days for a long time. No more walking into a room full of strangers and realising 90% of them were female. No more discussions with those women about the 'best' dating events because, let's face it, is there were any good then we wouldn't still be here, would we? Even at evenings where there were a decent number of men, such as wine-tasting dating, there still didn't seem to be any people actually coupling off. People were becoming such old hands at the dating game that all they could talk about was other types of dating events: which ones they'd tried, which dating sites they were on - there wasn't any of your usual flirting going on because people had become so stuck in the dating merry-go-round. Get a lot of single people together in a room with some alcohol and what do you end up with? It turns out, you end up with the same number of single people; they'll just be slightly more depressed about it at the end of the evening. Single people are a vulnerable class, and more than one poorly-organised, badly hosted event had started to make me angry at being ripped off.
It gradually dawned on me that the singles scene makes you act rather in the same way to people who go to the gym a couple of times a week but who spend the rest of their time driving to the shops rather than walking there, who pound the Stairmaster but stand motionless on escalators in their daily commute, who binge briefly on exercise but will barely break into a sweat for the rest of the week. My dating was all about scheduled events but the rest of my week I would put that to one side and get on with my usual routine of being with the same people, going to the same places, meeting no-one new.
Now I am learning to make every minute a potential door to a date. I sit at the front of the bus and make eye contact with people rather than heading straight to the back, plugged into headphones or buried in a newspaper. I take different routes, visit different places, get out of my routine. I walk with my head up, with open body language and smile or even chat to complete strangers in the coffee shop, at the supermarket, on the lift at work. People have been astonishingly receptive: it seems everyone is looking for a 'in', a reason to say "hi", and all it takes is a look, a smile, a "could you pass me that?" or "I'm reading that too, what do you make of it so far?" It's nerve-wracking, but fun and an ego-boost when a smile or overture is returned. Now that I've started looking around, it seems that everyday life is full of friendly single guys, while dating life - well, not so much.
At Tesco's the other day I found myself chatting to so many men that halfway round I realised I'd lost my credit card. I eventually unearthed it in the freezer next to the ice-cream. Now all I need to do is learn how to flirt without dropping things, and I'll be well on my way to wiping that anxious, desperate, 'single' look off my face.