Liz Hoggard: Quit hankering after the One Big Love

When it comes to relationships, life doesn't always work out as planned

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I was sitting in my kitchen, enjoying a leisurely breakfast for one, when a headline made me spit my toast out. "Find Mr Right before age of 30 or settle for second best." Dear God, it must be spring. Single women are the new spectator sport.

According to an American book out this week, women who refuse to commit unless they find a man with whom they feel a deep love are consigning themselves to a lonely future. Lori Gottlieb, author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough, blames feminism for the number of women who spend years holding out for an equal.

Usually it's easy to demolish these ghastly tomes. They're written by surrendered women or right-wing dating gurus or men with a very big axe to grind. Rather unhelpfully, though, Gottlieb is a 40-year-old single woman herself. She has experience at the coalface. As a single mother, she wishes she had "settled" for any of the "perfectly acceptable but uninspiring" men she rejected.

Now that's fine to write a book about your own mistakes. I admire Ms Gottlieb for having the guts to "out" her own control-freak behaviour. Maybe Gideon from Filing would have been perfect for her. But please don't confuse that with the experiences of a generation of unattached people.

Repeat after me – there is no such thing as a collective private life. Just humans doing their best. Of course if you want kids, you need to be pragmatic. But could we judge a little less, and understand a little more? And you smug marrieds can stop sniggering. According to Gottlieb: "Marriage isn't a passion-fest; it's a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane and often boring non-profit business." Not very sexy.

Personally, I haven't been turning down a string of rich prospective husbands. To be honest, a credit card and non-sexist views does the trick. It's just life doesn't always work out quite as planned.

When I was growing up, my mother warned us that men "just wanted one thing". We were put on red alert about men trying to take us to bed. Any place. Any time. It sounded fantastic. Like one long Martini advert. Can I tell you just how untrue that proved to be? Maybe girls are the new boys. But it's hard work luring platonic dates round for candle-lit suppers on a school night. It does hurt your feelings when they "aren't ready" for a weekend break.

Single friends who have been dipping a toe in the internet dating pool complain that it's impossible to get a man to leave the house. Maybe they're the impossible romantics. Gottlieb is right. Companionship matters. No one can live a life of passionate intensity every day. We are naive to hanker after the One Big Love.

Recently a mathematician worked out that there are 16 people on the streets of London who would be perfect for him. It's just bloody hard to meet them, he sighed. We're all faulty, hopeful people – whatever our romantic status. A single life isn't a second-best life. You don't have to settle – just because you weren't picked yet. The trick is to hold your nerve, then hold it some more.

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