For the last five years I have been in a relationship. I’m talking the full nine yards: the garden centre on Sundays, shared playlists on Spotify, a family WhatsApp group and the plucking of rogue chin hairs on the sofa. But despite it all, the relationship was not to be and now, on the eve of my 30s, I have found myself young(ish), single and not quite ready to mingle. The upside? I can flirt outrageously, listen to my grisly true crime podcasts, eat crisps for dinner and sing Beyoncé until 3am. On other days it’s harder to forget the things you miss most: the hugs, the shared Netflix account, someone to make you tea in the morning and summarise House of Cards when you spent the whole episode scrolling through Instagram.
So now, for the first time in five years, I must learn to navigate the dating world once again and oh lordy, is it looking different. What used to be following crushes around your university campus until they a) got drunk enough to snog you and b) liked your Libertines T-shirt has now become a world of scrutinised scrolls through apps and careful social media checks ("Yes, but is it actually his labradoodle?"). And even though, three months in, I am not yet emotionally equipped for a date, I have learnt a few things about moving on. Here they are:
1. A Facebook friend request is no longer a legitimate flirting technique.
2. When you come out of a relationship at 21, comforting gestures from friends are a Kit Kat Chunky and a shove towards someone inappropriate to snog. Now, you get sent flowers, Aesop body wash and dinner invitations. It’s rather great.
3. Get ready for a lot more boozing. You know that scene in Home Alone where Macaulay Culkin runs round the house screaming, jumps on the bed and gorges on pizza and ice cream? This is essentially my current relationship with wine. Friends want to see you, comfort you, and they like to do this with bottles of plonk under each arm. What used to be a quick Friday night after-work drink before you head off to some sort of ‘couple activity’ is replaced with the tolling of the last orders bell as you prop yourself up at the bar demanding a final round of Jägers. Friends have assured me this is the normal behaviour of any recent break-up-ee. I believe you’re allocated six weeks with no raised eyebrows.
4. Besides the boozing and the purchase of billowy tops from Zara that I’ll wear once, things that make me feel good are: eight hours' clean sleep at least three nights a week, hot baths, exercise, a tidy flat, clean sheets, a chat with my mum, a solid skincare regime. Try and fit these things in among all the going out – it will help you enormously.
5. Maintain the relationship rituals you loved, but adapt them. For example, Sundays were always TV and cooking enough pasta for two. Today, I still do this but alone and with exactly the same quantity of penne (if not more).
6. The inclination to grab someone to snog immediately is strong but in my experience, ill-advised. A knockback can feel far more destructive when you’re not emotionally ready. The first few weeks of singledom are like Freshers' Week. Now who remembers ANYONE from Freshers' Week?
7. Dating apps are an unavoidable part of being single today but my advice would be to take them slow. I first set up a profile on Tinder for a quick-fix ego boost and to check I was still fanciable but I’m not yet using it for dates. There are other apps out there: Bumble (where women decide to initiate conversation) or the newest kid on the block, Hater (where you’re matched according to your pet peeves). If you do decide to go on a date, remember to text friends/ family specific coordinates and mugshots beforehand.
8. It’s OK to freak out. During my first foray into the Bumble app, my ex appeared immediately and it was so traumatising I burst into tears and had a shot of some dusty marsala sherry that I’d used three years ago to make banoffee pie. Low moment.
9. Cry, cry, cry. Don’t be afraid to be emotional, no matter how much time has passed, and always take a moment when those triggers come out of nowhere. So far mine have included Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 in C major and a sad-looking cat.
10. Worried about being left out of couple-y events? Don’t wait for dinner party invitations to come via carrier pigeon. Ask people what they’re up to at the weekend. You’d be surprised to learn that couples don’t always want to hang out with other couples. If they do, they might as well give up now, get a Tastecard and move to the suburbs.
11. But saying that, don’t allow yourself to be typecast as the ‘token single’ either. If some coupled-up friends want to drunkenly scroll through your Tinder, don’t give them your phone (you’ll be unmatching for days). If Single Ladies comes on at a wedding, don’t let yourself be pushed onto the dance floor.
12. If you have more free time, then feed your mind with something high quality. This could be listening to a new podcast (S-TOWN!!!), actually dusting off and reading that Dickens on your shelf or learning a language.
13. Go to the cinema. A guaranteed all-consuming experience in a dark room that will distract you from your own thoughts for at least two hours. Go and see something with subtitles so you have something to boast about to a future crush. Extra points if you go alone.
14. Don’t watch My Best Friend’s Wedding. It seemed so inspiring when you were 11 and everyone was ew, so old. But actually Jules (Julia Roberts) is only 28, a brilliant restaurant critic living in New York but for some bizarre reason desperate to win the love of a dull man who is engaged to a teenager.
15. During this emotional time, don’t watch ANYTHING by Richard Curtis. I mean it, not even Four Weddings and a Funeral where the beautiful, glorious and intellectually complicated Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) is passed over for the banal Carrie (Andie MacDowell). "Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed." No, you wouldn’t have.
16. Don’t watch The Notebook. In London, you’re lucky if you can find a partner who can afford council tax, never mind build you a fucking house.
17. Book a holiday. If you can’t afford to book, plan one. A most enjoyable thing is being able to think about going someplace where you don’t have to consider anyone else.
18. Say yes to more but within reason. YES: An art exhibition. NO: Immersive theatre.
19. Don’t stress all the Uber receipts. Safety first.
20. Enjoy your job, it can be a great distraction. And if you don’t like your current role, then perhaps look for a new one or take on a new project like writing a play, painting your windowsills or completing the entire box set of The Sopranos.
21. Try to laugh as much as you can but don’t make this important new chapter a comedy routine. It’s OK to joke about weird dates, etc. but this is your life, remember, not a pub anecdote.
22. YOU ARE NOT BRIDGET JONES OR CARRIE BRADSHAW, you are a real-life human.
23. But saying that, do re-watch Sex and the City. Series 1-3 stand the test of time with some bloody good dialogue ("What’s the big mystery? It’s my clitoris, not the sphinx."). The movies do not.
24. Also, watch LOVE on Netflix. It’s a great show about a guy and a girl who are over 30 and haven’t got their shit together.
25. Go on a friendship date. I recently met up with some girls I met on a hen when I happened to be in their city and had a lot of fun (and felt incredibly brave).
26. Take regular social media breaks. This goes for everyone but, for me, waking up with a hangover and seeing couples post about some really big strawberries they found at their local farmers' market is not always what you need.
27. Read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Quite a lot to get through (there are four) but it’s a beautifully written story about womanhood, the complexities of female friendship, love, desire and Italy. There’s also a lot of shitty men in merely supporting roles.
28. Friends and family are simply the best, enjoy them. Whether they are lying on the sofa with you eating crisps, dancing with you in dingy clubs or staying awake until 5am so you can give them a rundown of Beyoncé’s best live performances on YouTube.
29. Finally, remember. When you have a sad Sunday, a bad date or are hungover and shame-spiralling into the abyss, or if you ever feel ugly, lonely, afraid or a failure, just try and remember that this moment and this feeling will not last. Things will get better. You will fall in love again and, even if you don’t, who cares, because you have you – and that is enough.