The Tick Box I Never Even Realised Existed

Last month I gave two talks at the Guardian HQ in London, as part of the Soulmates celebrations of 10 Years of Online Dating.

The theme of the talks was Lessons I Learned from my 30 Dates Challenge … and trust me, there were loads!

I ended up narrowing it down to the most important ten lessons – one of which revolved around tick lists.  You see, the thing I realised by going on lots of dates with men who I would never have picked for myself, was just how inaccurate my person ‘tick list’ had been.

Because often the most important make or break qualities for a partner, are the ones you can’t easily put a finger on.

To illustrate this, I told the Guardian crowd a story …



I have a very dear male friend.  He’s one of my closest friends, and knows me inside out.  The day my Dad collapsed of an undiagnosed brain tumour, my Best Friend jumped straight on a train back from university.  At my mother’s funeral, he sat by my side, squeezing my hand and passing the tissues.  He is the closest thing I have to a brother, and twelve years ago, if you’d have asked me, I’d have probably assumed we would one day get married. Turns out we’ve never even dated.

As many of you know, last month I moved to London.  A move which involved a van and three car loads of furniture and all my worldly possessions, making the 50 mile journey from Reading to South West London.  And unsurprisingly, my Best Friend was there to help me unpack.

I’d done the drive up to London with a close female friend, who has never met The Best Friend before.  ‘I think you’re destined to marry him‘ she smiled when I told her he was meeting us at the new flat (casually ignoring the fact he’s currently engaged!). ‘It’s like a rom com, where you date all these men, and then end up with your Best Friend!’.


I shook my head, telling her I hadn’t fancied him since we were teenagers.

But why?  He’s gorgeous!’ she grinned, doing a Facebook stalk on my phone.  ‘And successful, and lovely ….’

My answer was honest.  I didn’t really know, but as I had grown older, I’d realised that we weren’t compatible in that way.  He’s a great Best Friend, but he wasn’t what I needed in a boyfriend.

My female friend was having none of it.

And then we arrived at my new flat, and took one look at the impossibly narrow corridor.  I had a huge three-seater sofa to get in … everyone was thinking the same thing – there was no way it would fit.





I had spent weeks worrying about my move to London.  My rent was almost doubling, so rather than hire a moving firm, I’d tried to save money by doing it all myself.  I borrowed my Scout Unit van and had recruited friends to help move my bed, sofa, and six-seater dining table.  I’d spent sleepless nights worrying I wouldn’t get the furniture down from my third floor flat, or that I wouldn’t be able to clean the flat well enough, or that I’d have to drive the van all by myself.

One by one, all my fears had been unfounded.  My friends helped me pack up the van, and we managed to do it all in one load.  My old flat was looking spotless, after 16 hours of cleaning.  Getting the stuff into the new flat was the final hurdle.  Surely we couldn’t fall now?

And so, though I was feeling anything but optimistic, I plastered on a determined grin.  “We can get the sofa in!  We haven’t come all this way, to have to turn around and take it home!”

Together we looked at the teeny tiny corridor, and the huge sofa, which seemed to be growing bigger by the second.  First we removed the arms, then my female friend set to work removing the front door from its hinges.  Meanwhile, my Best Friend shrugged.  “Sorry Charls, but I don’t think it’s worth even trying  … look at the size of it!”

As I stood there, face forcing a grin which my nervous fears couldn’t back up, I realised why as an adult I’d never seen the Best Friend as a romantic option.


There is a very important box on my tick list, when it comes to finding a future man.  And that tick box is optimism.  Optimism at a time when there seems like there’s no hope.

That day I would have done anything to get the sofa in.  My Best Friend wouldn’t have even bothered trying.

And that is why we will never be anything more than best friends.  Who knows, maybe that’s why we work well as friends – he’s the realist, I’m the determined optimist.  It may work in a friendship, but I know it doesn’t work for me in a relationship – because on those few days of the year when I’m having a wobble, and my optimism is failing … I need someone to take over the beacon of hope.

Luckily my other friends were more positive … and together we got the sofa in!

photo 1

The moral of the story?  Sometimes you don’t know what’s important to you until you experience it.  On paper, my Best Friend might sound like my ideal man, but there’s a huge quality that wouldn’t appear on paper, which for me, turns out to be a deal-breaker.  And yet I would never have been able to point a finger at it.

In a world of online dating, where we’re asked to narrow down a huge pool of options by selecting ideal criteria, it’s easy to see people as a neat sum of their parts.  As if the recipe to your ideal partner is available online.  But it isn’t.  You need to work it out in real life.

So have another look at that tick-list.  Which things really are important to you?  Are there other factors which are actually far more important in real life?

Me, I’m off to hunt for an optimist who’s good with house removals! 😉

Miss Twenty-Nine xxx



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