As a girl approaching thirty, it’s easy to see dating as having one sole purpose – to find the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with.
Facebook is no longer filled with drunken pictures of your friends molesting traffic cones at 2am, or wearing bad taste fancy dress to house parties, and instead, social media has become an album of endless honeymoon and baby photos. Rather than spend Sunday mornings laughing about who pulled whom the night before, most of us in our late twenties and early thirties spend them recovering from Hen Dos and wedding, or standing primly at christenings.
And so it may not come as a surprise, as a singleton on the verge of thirty, to begin to panic that you were falling behind the crowd.
‘Teenage me’ thought I would be married at twenty-eight. It seemed like a sensible age. Old enough to have done everything … young enough to enjoy a few years of married life and forge a career before starting a family.
And yet twenty-eight has been and gone, and I’m still none the wiser about who might one day turn and look back at me as I take life-changing steps down an aisle decorated with our closest friends and family.
When I was younger, twenty-eight seemed really quite old. As for thirty – that was proper adulthood! An age where I genuinely thought I would have to cut my long hair and opt for a more ‘sensible adult’ cut like a bob, for fear of looking like I was trying too hard to stay young!
But the reality of growing older, is that you never really feel it inside. For years I would stutter when someone asked my age, still thinking I was twenty-two or twenty-three.
But I’m not twenty-two or twenty-three. In just over a week, I will be thirty. Thirty and single. And until very recently, the main image I had of thirty and single, was Bridget Jones.
I first read the books over ten years ago, around the same time when I believed I would be married by twenty-eight and that long hair belonged to your twenties.
But a lot has changed in those ten years – not just my understanding of acceptable hair length!
As a teenager I loved Helen Fielding’s books, and could associate with the lonely singleton, constantly trying to reform herself. Worrying that her weight and beauty regime were somehow linked to her single status, and assuming that if she could just make herself feel perfect, then she might find Mr Right.
But the interesting thing is that the closer I’ve got to Bridget in age, the less I’ve felt like her.
In fact, the older I’ve got, the less fussed I’ve become with my weight and appearance.
I’ve said it before, but one of the best parts about growing older is becoming comfortable in your own skin. Unless you believe in reincarnation, you are one person for your entire life. And ok, some people do need to make changes to themselves for their own good, but you should never change yourself simply to please other people, or because you think it might be more attractive to other people. It’s a big cliche, but you need to love yourself, before you can ever expect someone else to love you. And why would you want someone to fall in love with a ‘You’ that wasn’t really ‘You’?
The older I get, the more comfortable I am with the person I’ve become. And any guy who I would hope to have a future with, needs to be attracted to the real me – not an image of me that I’ve created with smoke and mirrors, and crazy diet schemes and make-up! It’s why I was quite happy to have a date in my pyjamas with no make-up on with The Skype Date, and why I wasn’t fazed when The Voice suggested having a date at Bikram yoga (something I will tell you all about tomorrow!) – one of the sweatiest and least attractive things you can probably do with your clothes on!
And so, whilst I may own a pair of cosy pyjamas like Bridget, there is no way I plan to spend my time as a singleton approaching thirty sitting on my sofa, eating ice-cream and moaning about smug married people!
One of my main motivations for starting this challenge, was a desire to ‘make dating fun again.’ On Date Twenty-Eight, the Voice asked me rather pointedly exactly what I meant by that. Dating is always fun, isn’t it?
Not really, no! Not when you’ve just been hurt by someone you trusted, and met during the dating game. Not when the only singletons you ever meet are guys you aren’t attracted to. And not when it becomes increasingly hard to meet anyone exciting to date!
You see the only part of Bridget Jones’s single thirty-something life that I can relate to, is the fact that most of her friends are coupled up. I’m not bemoaning my friends for being married, or for at least knowing who they plan to spend the rest of their life with, but there is a logistical problem which arises when almost everyone you know is no longer single!
The problem I’ve always experienced when single, is that you simply don’t meet enough new people. Unless you plan on meeting someone in a nightclub, something which has never been very me, then your other choices are really limited to friends of friends or work colleagues. I learned early on that dating someone you work with is a no-go. Wonderfully practical in the short-term, when you can share lifts, and work similar hours, but painfully awkward in the long-term, when the relationship inevitably comes to an end, and you’re faced with seeing your ex on a daily basis.
As for dating a friend of a friend, the older you get, the fewer and further between these opportunities become. For a start, the longer you’ve been friends with someone, the more likely you are to have met their friends. And the older you get, the fewer wild all-encompassing parties people throw. Social events are smaller, more select affairs, and as a singleton, you can often find yourself surrounded by couples at dinner parties or weddings with either no option of meeting any other singletons at the event, or worse, with one extremely awkward ‘match-make’ attempt of a suitor!
And in reality, that’s why most people sign up to online dating. There are obviously some who struggle to speak to the opposite sex in real life, and enjoy the added comfort and control of an online site. And as I’ve discussed before, there are those with less honorable intentions, using the anonymity of online dating to lead a double-life. But most of us, are using sites like Plenty of Fish, My Single Friend, Guardian Soulmates, Zoosk, Match.com, EHarmony, DoingSomething and Tinder (etc etc) to extend our social sphere, and meet other singletons we wouldn’t normally meet.
This Challenge has given me the passport to extend my personal social sphere without any awkward stigmas. It’s a mission. And one which allows me to try out all the weird and wonderful singles opportunities which London (and now New York and LA!) have to offer. It’s afforded me the chance to harass my Facebook friends, appealing for dates in a far more blatant and aggressive manner than I normally could as the token singleton. And rather than being embarrassed about being single – burying myself in tubs of ice-cream, and turning around my single status as a negative reflection upon myself – I’ve been able to embrace it for three months, and really make the most of what it means to be single at almost-thirty!
It has taken some time, but in my final week as a twenty-something singleton in London, I’ve truly been able to embrace this challenge, and appreciate just how much fun dating can be.
Dating shouldn’t just be about finding ‘The One.’ No matter how old you are. It should be about meeting new people, and at the same time maybe also learning something about yourself. Whether that’s what you’re looking for in another person, what you’re not, or what you’re prepared to compromise on.
If this Challenge has taught me anything, it’s how weird and wonderful the world of a singleton really can be!
When else would you be able to meet potential suitors in the dark, or be made to stare into the eyes of absolute strangers for a minute at a time?! When could you sign up alone to a party in a private members club in Chelsea, and talk freely and candidly to anyone around you, because you all share one common trait?
In the past twelve weeks I have seen London from the top of the Shard, climbed over the O2, and visited The Oval. I’ve drunk in The Ice Bar, a Detective Agency, and the home of Philias Fogg. I’ve enjoyed picnics, afternoon tea, brunches, and dinners at some of the best restaurants in the capital. I’ve been locked in a room full of clues to get out, been geo-caching and on a treasure hunt, and enjoyed National Paralympic Day and Notting Hill Carnival. My challenge has taken me on dates in Madrid, and fingers crossed – New York and Los Angeles. I’ve watched a circus, an outdoor movie in the centre of Somerset House, Burlesque, Bull Fighting and stand-up comedy.
I’ve dated Bankers, Hedge Fund Managers, Sports Agents and Cockail Waiters. I’ve met men who have sailed the world, flown helicopters, lived in Africa, and fought in Afghanistan. I’ve dined with some of the most attractive men I’ve ever met, and been on dates with an array of the most single guys London has to offer …. and a few not-so-single ones apparently!
When The Henley Boy messed me around at the end of June, I expected to spend the next few weeks moping and mourning about being rejected by someone who I thought liked me just as much as I liked him. I thought I would spend the summer revisiting my memories of The Henley Boy, and trying to work out what I could have possibly wrong. Beating myself up, and acting like Bridget Jones, trying to ‘fix myself’ when I was never really the problem.
But this Challenge has offered me a far more fun and enjoyable alternative!
When I was dating The Henley Boy, my adoptive Aunt offered me one piece of advice. Something I never seem to remember when I’m in a relationship.
‘Remember you’re the prize!’ she had texted me.
I had laughed it off as a cute sentiment. But the more I think about it, the more I believe it’s something all singletons need to remember. The person you’re dating should think of you as the ultimate prize! Both of you should feel like winners.
And this challenge has allowed me to feel like a prize for at least a few months. In fact The Enigma even admitted to seeing the Challenge as a competition – and when I asked him exactly what the prize was, he replied that that was obvious – it was me! It’s a shame the prize for him was knowing he got me, and securing his 10/10 score, rather than actually claiming his ‘prize’ for any real length of time! But then arguably, if the Enigma had allowed me to fall properly for him, then the rest of this 30 Date Challenge would have been nowhere near as much fun.
Someone once described the 30 Dates by 30 Challenge as ‘a cross between a fairytale princess searching for her prince, and The Apprentice’.
To be honest, so far I’ve really come across very few frogs in my search. But in the last week, the Challenge has truly felt like the Apprentice!
I have genuinely never been in contact with so many guys in such a short space of time. And it is really really fun! Exhausting and confusing at times! But really really fun. Which was the whole reason I began ’30 Dates by 30’.
I’ve not only been in contact with guys from this Challenge, but also other not-so-blind dates, who I would never normally be so carefree and confident around.
For the first time in a long time, I am really genuinely enjoying being single. And the cool part is, that it genuinely seems to be bringing out the ‘real me’.
My close friend, who I stayed with on Friday night, commented that she hadn’t seen me so enthusiastic and animated about something since my Masters project, when I travelled the world setting myself crazy challenges like climbing to Everest Base Camp, and running Marathons with a video camera.
And the cool part is, the thing I’m so enthusiastic and animated about – is my everyday life!
The worst part of being single and getting older is the lack of options. But that really isn’t the case. And if the challenge is teaching me anything, it’s just how many options there really are out there, and that you don’t need to be a dating blogger to enjoy them. Sites like Tinder enable you to meet a huge range of (really rather eligible) guys and chat to them all at the same time. And I’m really beginning to see the merits of actually meeting up with guys, before writing them off.
If my dating challenge has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes you really can’t work out whether you fancy someone in a few short hours. Very rarely does a guy have ‘The Henley Boy’ effect on you – where you fancy them at first sight. And sometimes you genuinely need to spend a substantial amount of time with someone to actually work out how you feel towards him.
It may say more about my previous dating history, than anything else but I can’t ever remember doing ‘second dates’ before. I either got on so well with someone initially that we would end up together relatively simply in more of an organic way than with a formal second date, or I would determine on a first date that there was no future to be had.
But now I’m beginning to understand the merits of a second date. Because the vast majority of my 28 dates so far have been really rather eligible. It’s simply a case of working out whether they are eligible for anything more than friendship.
And that part can be even more fun than the First Dates!
So I guess watch this space for Life After 30 Dates!
But before that … I still have two very exciting final blind dates! (And I still have to tell you about Date 28 … though there’s a reason for the slight delay with that particular post!!)
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx