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JUNE 18, 2012

I’m 31.  I’ve just moved to Los Angeles from a 422-square foot studio in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen.  And despite spending seven out of the last ten years writing about dating, I’m single. I’ve been tottering on the verge of a not-quite-full-blown anxiety attack for the past few years, staving it off with post-breakup ashram visits (upstate New York, not India), somewhat useful attempts at alternative therapy (ask me about the guy who took me through a weekend of “energy work” and Tony Robbins videos … for $750), and many, many, many multi-hour cell phone conversations with my Mom (free! thanks to my unlimited minutes plan).

Something else about me: I’m what some people call a “life-tracker,” in the sense that I tend to record somewhat mundane details of my existence (alcohol consumption, caffeine intake, menstrual cycle – and yes, every date, make-out session and … uh … liaison) so I can later analyze the data points for patterns.  My favorite hobby, as if were, involves constructing intricate theories about why people – including me – behave the way we do.  I began my dating column as a junior at Georgetown University in DC – but had I not signed up for the whole “college Carrie Bradshaw” life path, I might have become a sociologist or an evolutionary psychologist.

For years, I’ve conflated dating with relationships.  This, I have learned, is a mistake, like believing that politicians who are good at getting elected will be talented at governing. Um … not necessarily – they’re two entirely different skill sets!  Sure, there are those (lucky, rare few) who are talented in both arenas, but as it turns out, I’m not one of them.

This somewhat bleak realization came slowly, and it came late.  I was 29 when I looked at my dating spreadsheet (euphemistically entitled “Meetings” in the yellow notes section on my iPhone), and discovered I hadn’t been in a single relationship over six months since 2007.  That’s five years, kids.  Not a stellar track record, by any stretch, but an especially dismal run for a woman who owns more love self-help books than most independent bookstores.

It’s not popular to say this – almost like admitting you’re happy with your body (what?!) but I’ll say it: I’m actually good at dating.  Really good.  If I hadn’t mastered the art of courtship, I was close enough, not by natural ability, but by sheer dint of perseverance.  I can get a date on the bus or a subway car or walking down the street.  I smile and I flirt and I snag numbers and sometimes even hearts.  Yeah, I still get awkward and nervous. But not as often anymore, because frankly, when you do anything that. many. times, you just get over it.  You almost miss the nerves.

Plus, I don’t actually believe in bad dates.  I believe there are only good dates – and good brunch stories. More than anything I think that dating is a lot like finding your sense of style, or what type of dress looks best on you.  You start out making all kinds of errors (skinny jeans are not the friend of a girl with an ass like mine), and eventually, a decade later, you can walk into Bloomingdales and predict with a certain eerie degree of accuracy which dress will flatter your particular physique’s eccentricities.

Basically men are dresses, and I’ve tried on more than a few.

Or, as my Grandmother liked to sigh dramatically: “Darrrrling, I think you have enough frames of reference.”

And I do.  But for a long time, I really enjoyed my frames of reference. I liked collecting new dating war stories, like some sort of human-male rock collection. I was proud of all the romantic journeys I’d been on … even the ones that ended with me crumpled on the floor sobbing like someone had gutted me.  Over a decade of dating, I had accumulated some pretty distinctive battle scars – scars that made me who I am now.

But then I had a moment – a single instant when it hit me: I was done.  It was an August day in LA, halfway through my 28th year, and I was in bed (reunited six years later) with my college boyfriend.  I had come full circle.  I didn’t need to date anymore; I’d seen enough.  I was starting to literally repeat myself.

I remember thinking, “Okay! I’m ready for my life partner now!  Let’s get this marriage party started!” As if it actually worked like that, as if the universe were some giant Starbucks and I was placing my order for a venti skinny dirty chai latte, hold the whipped cream, and I just had to wait five or so minutes before I got my fix.  Um … no.  Almost three years after I “decided” I’d like a husband, one has yet to be handed to me. Apparently God shouldn’t be confused with a barista.

As the months – and then years – passed since that revelation, I’ve gone through alternating states of zen “it’ll happen when it happens and in the meantime, I get to make out with whomever I want!” calm and the (cough cough) slightly more common state of complete and utter abject terror “I’VE MISSED MY WINDOW, WHERE IS HE!?! MAYBE HE DOESN’T EXIST!! MAYBE – OH GOD – MAYBE HE’S MARRIED TO SOME OTHER BITCH! AND IS SHE THINNER THAN ME?? NOOOOO!”

On occasion – when things got really bad – I might or might not have flirted with one other truly ugly emotion: desperation.  “Men don’t like desperate women, Julia,” Grandmother added, twice in one conversation.  Message received, Gram.

But after my most recent breakup, back in May, I started to wonder: maybe it wasn’t the guys who were the problem. After all, the common denominator in my love life is … well, it’s me.

Just like the gulf between dating and relationships, wanting a life partner and becoming one are two entirely disparate things.  I’m finally ready to acknowledge that unsettling fact, and admit that if I want to become anyone’s wife one day, I might have to first “be the change,” as it were.

And so I’m transforming myself into a “guinea pig of love,” meeting with unconventional experts and delving deep into my psyche to take a look at what toxic patterns I may have unconsciously been replicating in my love life.  I’ll talk to a tarot card reader and work with a love coach and visit witches and attend a pleasure workshop and sit down with a mind architect – all to see whether I can actually move toward the one thing I want more than anything in this world: love.

I don’t know what will happen.  I don’t expect it to be easy – or even pleasant.  There’s a lot of rubble down there in my heart, a lot of damage, a lot of baggage.  It could be messy.  It’s bound to be sad.  But I hope that I can learn to believe in love again – or at least find some peace, even after all the heartache.  And I hope you’ll come along for the journey.

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