There are few things more challenging to one’s self esteem than internet dating…unless it’s writing a novel and trying to get it published.
I met my partner online and I got a book deal for my novel, so I am proof that both are possible.
But what’s perhaps even more surprising is how much the two experiences have in common.
With that in mind, here are my five golden rules for dating/writing:
When writing your first dating profile/novel, you may find yourself trying to anticipate audience expectations. “What are they looking for?” you may ponder. “What’s cool right now? Do they want clever, because I can be clever? Do they want funny? Intellectual? Girlie? Edgy? Happy-go-lucky? Sympathetic? Nihilistic? I can be all those things! All in one evening, if there’s Sambuca involved.”
Woah there, Pretzel girl. You know what people really love, because it’s so damn rare? Someone who is their true, quirky self and proud of it. And it’s only when you’re presenting your real self that you can you find your right match. (You may think there’s no one out there looking for a Columbo-loving windsurfer with a Fraggle collection. You would be wrong.) So your first task is to locate your authentic self (buried deep under layers of people pleasing) and then expose it to the world (not literally unless you’re into that kind of thing).
Learn to handle rejection
Having bravely revealed your true self, the only reasonable reaction is a shower of adoration and congratulatory gifts. Sadly, instead, you’re hit with a useful but bracing truth: Not everyone is going to like you. This is just logic. How could you possibly please everyone, unless you are the inauthentic shape shifter mentioned above, which we have already agreed is a BAD IDEA.
So, yes, I’m afraid you’re going to be rejected. And even if you are mentally prepared for that, it’s going to hurt. When your date stands you up, when that agent says ‘No thanks,’ go ahead: scream, throw things, curse, tell yourself it’s their loss. But then dust yourself off and get back in the game. Rejections are a badge of honour. Eventually, if you hold your nerve and retain your sanity, someone will get in touch and tell you how amazing you are, at which point…
Don’t be desperate
It’s only human to want to be loved, but hungry people make bad shoppers. When we are desperate for attention, we’re easily manipulated (this explains the existence of narcissist charmers and vanity presses), so learn how to validate yourself and then, when you do get a bite, take it slowly. Do your research. Ask questions. Pay attention to red flags. Most importantly: trust your gut. Just because someone wants you, doesn’t mean they’re right for you. Having no partner at all is better than having the wrong partner, just as having no agent/editor is better than having the wrong agent/editor. Alas, you’ll probably need a few dysfunctional encounters to really learn that particular wisdom…
Keep your sense of humour
The number of people embittered by their online dating experience is matched only by the number of aspiring writers convinced the literary establishment exists just to see their efforts fail. There is something so vulnerable-making, so bruising, about both dating and writing that it’s just a short hop from putting yourself out there to tumbling down a rabbit hole of anger, recrimination and Bailey’s dependence. Delicious as that can be, this is not getting you any closer to a partner/book deal. Besides, as a writer, you’re perfect placed to adopt an objective view. Notice how oddly people (including yourself) behave, find the humour and pathos in it, and then write about it. Book deals have been built on less.
If you’re not okay without the medal, you won’t be okay with it
This is paraphrased from my favourite writing quote from the brilliant Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, who herself borrowed it from the film Cool Runnings. What it tells us is that a partner, as wonderful as they may be, cannot fix your life or make you happy if you are not already happy. The same goes for a book deal. It may change your life, enhance it, deliver fresh challenges, open new avenues but neither a book, nor a relationship (nor anything else) can give you that feeling of ‘arrival’ you’re chasing. That can only come from inside you – which is a profound truth for a movie about bobsledding.
In the end, the paradox shared by dating and writing is that you must admit you want something and strive towards it, but also enjoy the journey and be happy regardless of the outcome.
Well, I said it was possible. I didn’t say it was going to be easy…
Nicola Mostyn’s debut novel The Gods of Love is out now