I’ve always assumed that love would just happen to me. That’s what it’s like in the movies: Two people meet and they just know. And that’s how it was for me. The first time, it was a gentle, warming love that, in all my teen innocence, I thought would last forever. It lasted almost five years until, in my early 20s, I bolted into an entirely different kind of love — one that was so intense, it could terrify my heart to near stillness yet fill it with hope that it would fix everything wrong with me. Not surprisingly, it buckled within two years. But both of those relationships happened naturally. Girl meets boy in a bar (on a bus, at work or through friends) and it went on from there.
But for the past four years, despite the dates, flings and feels-a-lot-likeloves, I’ve remained single. It’s not that I don’t attract men. In fact, when friends ask about my love life, they do it in plural. (“Katie, how are your men?”) I try not to do needy or clingy, and I keep the fact that I live in a constant state of havoc and fall over a lot under wraps. But none of this is helping me extend things beyond the eight-day mark.
Clearly, I’m doing something wrong. So I decide to get serious and turn my love life over to the professionals — the vast network of dating books and relationship experts dedicated to finding “the one.”
I start small, with the book
Why Men Want Sex & Women Need Love by Allan and Barbara Pease. The authors have devised a quiz where I can work out my “mating rating.” I miss the top echelons of attractiveness by mere points — harsh but insightful. I lose marks for talking to current love interests about past relationships. I think I’m trying to show how desirable and in demand I am, but, according to the Peases, I’m just telling them that I’m easy. The Peases recommend writing out a list of what you want in a partner — the idea is that you’ll start noticing these traits in the men around you. I dutifully write out my list, but I don’t meet any wealthy, cultured carpenters with a passing resemblance to Gerard Butler, so I call in the big guns.
Relationship expert Lorraine Adams runs a dating agency called Coffee & Company. I turn up at one of her seminars on a grey Saturday afternoon. She’s my kind of crap-cutting lady. (“You do realize that you need a makeover because you look like a boy,” she says to another dating hopeful.) Adams’ idea is that all first dates should consist of just a coffee — a sober setting that allows you to get a sense of each other without the pressure to drag it out. And, unlike the Peases, Adams doesn’t like the idea of lists. Your aim, she says, should be not to meet a certain person but to fall in love.
The next dating coach I meet, Matthew Hussey, talks about developing tactics and strategies and infiltrating groups. He’s that appealing kind of TV handsome, and I sit through his seminar wondering whether I fancy him or hate him. Although some of his advice is obvious (“Don’t dress too provocatively — men will only want to sleep with you” and “Go to a wine bar instead of a pub to target the kind of men you want to meet”), Hussey offers perspectives that I haven’t thought about — and I think about men a lot. He says that women should play “high-value,” not hard-to-get. Hard-to-get confuses men and makes them lose interest, while highvalue simply suggests that any man is lucky to be with you. Hussey says that men want multi-faceted women: a lady for his parents, a laugh for his friends, a liking for the almost illegal in the bedroom. He insists that the best-looking men are the least likely to approach you — not because they’re arrogant but because their egos are so based on their looks that they have too much to lose if they’re rejected.
When I meet him for a one-on-one, Hussey susses me out annoyingly quickly: He says that my appearance and small talk are fine, but he wants to see me work a room. He also suggests that I wait longer than 15 hours before sleeping with someone. (My “Technically, it wasn’t the same night, so it’s not that bad” defence doesn’t quite cut it.) Then he stumbles onto the big thing: I have control issues. I’m hesitant about letting myself go, and men sense this and are wary. He’s right, but that’s a bigger issue for another time. For now, I’ll start with the small stuff. I sign up to a dating site and, thinking of Adams’ “just a coffee” rule, talk one guy down from dinner to a lunch date. The whole situation is surprisingly enjoyable. On a night out, I adopt Hussey’s “approach and engage” technique, which involves asking someone for a favour. I sidle up to a group of men, pretend that I’m looking for something in my bag and casually ask the most handsome one to hold my drink while I find it. He looks confused but obliges. Then I cop out and tell them that I am writing a piece for a women’s magazine and want to ask them how they approach women. I’ve always worked on the assumption that if a man likes you he’ll approach you, but almost all of them admitted that they wouldn’t.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve put the rest of what I learned into action. I laugh at men’s jokes. I engage in the small touches and eye contact. I don’t talk about my exes. Out of the five dates I go on, five of them want to see me again — I’m the one who isn’t so keen. And what I’ve learned is that finding the guy is not the same as falling in love. There are plenty of strategies to meet men, but that’s not learning about love; that’s just learning about yourself, your needs and your shortcomings. But even when you’ve done that, the very nature of love may make the right thing repulsive and the wrong thing the perfect fit — all you can do is try to stack the odds in your favour and create opportunities. I thought this experiment would end up telling me that being single is my fault, but instead it taught me that I’m okay — there are no glaring flaws that make me a love disaster.
So, why hasn’t it happened? Even the experts couldn’t answer that, so everything I’ve learned hasn’t been enough to shake my original belief: that love is untameable and unpredictable. And all I can do is remain open and patient…and wait. It will happen — I’m more confident in that than ever.
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's bi-weekly newsletter