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Everything a Self-Confessed Serial Dater Like Me Knows About Love

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I am wary of those who scoff at or reject love. They deadpan throwaway lines that they probably nicked from books or movies written by people more intelligent - and hopeful - than them, ridiculing the concept, or claiming it doesn't exist and that we're simply giving lust another name. I also feel a bit sorry for them.

When my first love ended, and I cast myself out into a new world of singledom three years ago, I wondered whether the best thing to do was fall in love again as quickly as possible, as if it were the easiest thing in the world - on a par with picking up a few things from the supermarket or rolling your eyes at Simon Cowell.

I realised very quickly that this was a ridiculous thing to do; falling off a cliff is less of a heartache than plundering away looking for affection which doesn't want to give itself up to you. While relationships end, love remains, and I think it always does, unless it makes that usually irrevocable journey and turns into hate. I don't envy those who can't look back on their past boyfriends or girlfriends and still feel some kind of warmth - you shouldn't ever wish that love away.

All pretensions of looking for love aside, I dipped my toe into the dating world, and soon found myself submerged to the waist with all kinds of men, most of them unsuitable. I told myself I wasn't looking for Mr Right, or the fabled One, but that 'the next one' or 'Mr Right-this-minute' would do.

But even when going to a date with no illusions that you will fall in love or end up going halves on a sofa, there's always a glimmer of wonder, that grit in my eye which won't let me fully concentrate - could this turn into something? Is it him? Usually it takes just a few minutes to know it isn't him, however. He either won't fancy me - which happened much, much more than I would like - or there'll be something I don't like about him. Stupid things like bad trainers or a shrill laugh. Excuses, not reasons.

Mostly, the spear in the side of any potential love is the inability to be myself. Sure, we all put on airs and graces or enhance what we imagine are our best personality traits in an effort to impress, but sooner or later, the mask must slip. Love does not become a two-way street until all pretensions are dropped. I have wasted a lot of time embarking on mini-relationships under false pretences: hiding away the less tempting toffees in the sweetie jar or neatly smoothing a sticking plaster over a gaping chasm of incongruity.

I've done things I haven't liked, been to places I haven't wanted to go and pretended to enjoy some really bad theatre all in the name of trying to get a new relationship off the ground. I have peeled off awful underwear and accepted clumsy kisses. These are the things you do in the early days; it isn't sustainable for any kind of long-term liaison, unless you're a particularly skilful and determined con artist.

We put so much importance on love, think of it as a cure-all or the ultimate prize, that most of the time it can only disappoint. It's like the parents sending off their pride and joy to university only for the precious charge to do nothing for three years except take drugs and have STD-laced sex to the strains of Velvet Underground. Hopes are always high; the reality somewhere nearer down to Earth. So why chase it, I thought, when I can just go about my business to see whether it will come to me?

Critics, both online and in person, have derided me for being judgemental of my dates, but I am unconcerned. They miss the point entirely, their glasshouses barely a shard of crystal left in them to keep out the cold. On a date, we're all judging and being judged. I just write it down. So, y'know, screw you - it's my party and I'll date (and slate) if I want to.

Guy after guy has failed the audition for the least sought-after leading man role in London. Standing across from them weighing up their potential over a drink and gently swaying to the thumping music in a pub may not be the optimum conditions for finding the next inhabitant of your heart, but few alternative avenues were available. Among the things which go through my head as I exchange pleasantries are where would we holiday, would our friends get on and, more importantly, would I ever be in love with him? When it's raining outside and there's nothing on TV, what would we talk about? Would the three little words ever fall from my mouth sincerely? "I'll give it six months," I used to tell myself. Most of the time I never made it beyond three.

But of course the things you seek are always in the last place you look. The most valued treasures are hidden in plain sight.

After years of searching without ever really admitting I was looking, I find myself with a serious contender. We share a joke and I look right into his big brown eyes and know I've made it across the finish line - the ribbon breaks across my chest and the flashbulbs pop. Again.

And now everything I know about love is right here.

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