25/08/2015 06:39 BST | Updated 24/08/2016 06:59 BST

When Romance Fades but Love Remains

Having become worryingly obsessed with The Bachelor, I naturally started Instagram-stalking most of the contestants... mainly my new girl crush Kaitlyn Bristowe:


In a recent pilot episode, she was pitted against Britt, who obviously I then had to stalk a little too.

Brit's (highly American) post included this kicker:

"Just because we didn't work out romantically doesn't mean we don't continue to value and love each other as brother and sister in Christ!"

Reduce the wording by about 27 lines (and disregard the loaded 'Christ' clause)... and the essence of this message is something I completely celebrate, in my own non-American way.

There is a residual social contract that a man only deserves a woman's time when he is prepared to commit or marry. If he doesn't put a ring on it, he's 'an asshole' or 'player' or 'not worth your time.' (Yes, certain two-faced guys are time-wasters, they suck - I'm not referring to them. Rise above those guys.)

But over the past few years I've spent great times with great guys where, at least to start with, I was only interested in friendship. Of course lines sometimes blur but overall, throughout the ups and downs and smoke signals - I've stumbled upon male friends who I intend to spend hundreds of hours with over the coming decades.

When a guy stops trying to sleep with you, he stops trying to impress you, and that's when you see who he truly is. I refuse to buy into the idea that because he's a man, my sole aim should be to get him to pledge romantic allegiance; he refuses to believe that because I'm a woman, his sole aim should be to beeline for bed.

There is an incredibly high chance that I'm unbelievably full of crap and that once I find my other half, I will argue that opposite-sex friendships are superfluous. But for now, I love my guy friends, and I hope my future partner will too. They have taught me how to define my worth for myself, instead of in relation to a man. They've also updated how I see dating.

I look around and see my unattached male peers like kids in a candy store where the owner is out and the candy is desperate to get hitched before 30; gorgeous women who never would have looked twice at them a decade ago are suddenly batting their eyelashes.

Male friends' Google Calendars look like episode guides of The Bachelor: Sarah on Monday, Emma on Tuesday, "Hot Girl from Bar" on Wednesday... oh, Emma flaked? No worries! Next!

Their female counterparts, meanwhile, are on The Amazing Race (to the altar). Start procreating by 35, right? So if you want two kids, you'd probably want your first by 32, so get married by 30. So get engaged by 28, to have a couple of years to prepare. Really, if you're unattached at 26, you're already behind the clock...

Forget platonic male companionship and keep your eyes laser-focused on the prize. Clock's ticking, ladies! Them ovaries ain't getting any fresher!

How are women going to rebalance global power chambers if the only men who know us on a deeper level are our spouses? We need men who challenge our opinions and stick around for our minds and to grow those connections we need to let go of the idea that it's romance or nothing.

I'm all for loving men as more than friends too, but I'm also aware that the only kind of love worth losing sleep over is rare: the majority of guys you date aren't going to be The One.

When you meet a great guy and invest in him romantically, all of his issues become a drama. When you're only into it as a friend, he becomes a comedy. I look back at one or two 'situations' over the past few years that got unnecessarily... dramatic. Yet if I had prematurely cut off these interactions, if I had 'discarded' the guys or declared them 'not worth' my time or energy, I would have missed out on finding what Elizabeth Gilbert describes:

"People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life."

At this age, your friends are getting engaged or married or pregnant. So now, when you're dating someone and it teeters on serious, it's no longer "oh he's so cute and he makes me laugh" - it's more like, "Could I carry a mini-Me of this dude inside my uterus someday?"

If you're an eighth of the over-thinker that I am, that's only the trailer. Could we become best friends forever ever? Could I hang out with him every weekend for the rest of my life? Do we rate the same heroes and laugh at the same idiots? Does he genuinely care about me or am I just his insurance policy against loneliness?

(Clearly, I'm super fun to date... light-hearted, not at all neurotic - guys dig crazy, no?)

Dating can be a fake, weird situation where you're interacting with the person they wish they were instead of who they actually are. But when you're dating without a pre-determined destination, it becomes a hell of a lot more fun. When I started to treat men like my male friends treat women, a Tuesday night dinner became an exercise in self-discovery, instead of feeling like a high-stakes audition or THE RACE AGAINST TIME.

Love finds you when the moment is right. I believe now more than ever that you have to go through the ones who don't work out in order to become ready for the one who does.