My quest to meet the one? I am now writing a book on my dating experience claims one Gloucestershire lonely heart.
WHEN I was a little girl my parents took me and my brother and sister to Broadway in the Cotswolds.
I remember every detail of that trip so vividly – the beautiful honey-coloured houses and the excitement of visiting a new place.
It was a cold, dark, wintry afternoon. From the gloomy street the shops were glowing invitingly. But one stood out like a beacon – the traditional sweet shop in the little shopping arcade. It was jammed full to the ceiling with row upon row of huge glass jars, sparkling under the lights, packed with colourful sugary sweets and chocolates. I pressed my little nose up against the frosty glass windows transfixed by the goodies inside.
The loud ding of the shop's doorbell startled me as a whoosh of warm air followed a grinning customer strolling outside laden down with paper bags filled with goodies.
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"Can we go inside?" I asked my parents. "No," was the swift reply. "It's time to go home."
I was scolded for dragging my heels and pulled away from the window by my arm, my body yanked forwards, while my stare remained backwards, looking longingly at the string of customers going in and out, until the golden glow of the shop faded into a blob on the car park's horizon.
That vivid childhood memory is the best way I can describe what my pursuit of love has felt like. A sense of being on the outside of something wonderful, not allowed to go inside and join the fun and having to stand on the sidelines, watching, while others go in and out, taking their pick of partner and leaving for a romantic future with their love and Cheshire cat smiles.
It's not always been like that, I've been on (numerous) dates, had a handful of boyfriends here and there.
But overarching those brief love affairs has been my overriding lament to the stars – wondering who's out there for me.
During my 32 years I've been to hundreds of parties and nights out on the tiles. I've glanced around, smiled, chatted to new people, danced, drunk, been merry and had fun. And I've watched as all around me partnerships are formed, new relationships get off the ground and then I've grabbed my coat and gone home. Alone.
I've watched my closest friends and family fall in love, celebrated their engagements, taken in their luminous smiles, felt my heart pang at their quiet, gentle affection for each other, clapped and cried tears of joy for them as they walk down the aisle and I've marvelled at their tiny newborn babies who light up their faces with joy.
And all the while I've stood there at these occasions alone. I keep myself too busy to dwell on things but in the quiet moments it's there - that old haunting sweetshop feeling, of looking in on the party and being at that frosty window on the outside of it all.
I've tried internet dating, dozens of times over, speed dating, dating friends of friends, strangers in bars and clubs. And yet none of them have ever turned into a long standing meaningful relationship. The catalogue of my experiences over 16 years lurch from the sweet and romantic to toe-curlingly excruciatingly embarrassing and the tales that I've regaled to whoops of laughter down the pub I'm now turning into a book. I had too many friends wiping tears of laughter from their cheeks, chuckling 'you should write a book on this', to ignore.
And it's an interesting experience pulling together your past and putting it down on paper. I wondered if I'd see patterns as my dating routine sometimes feels like groundhog day again and again as they all fall at a similar two, three or four month hurdle. But no, there's no pattern, just a string of failed romances with characters as different as the shape of every pebble on the beach.
The little girl inside me is still insistently staring through the murky window into the world of dating. That child in me has hope over experience. Surely one day I'll be allowed to go inside and finally take my pick and walk out of that world with a big smile on my face and someone lovely's fingers laced through mine.
â Since writing this piece Emma has met 'someone lovely' and is currently enjoying her new romance.