Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.
It's disorientating when you're constantly moving. The
horizon tilts from left to right, creating a giddy seasickness. I can't
remember the last time I was still.





This is life in the dating slipstream. Looking. Always
looking. A smorgasbord of suitable or, all too often, unsuitable boys
are but a fingertip away.






Through my phone I can court romance from my couch, at the
supermarket or on the tram. Thanks to online dating sites, "hook-up"
apps, and social media (last year I dated two guys I met on Twitter),
the search for love has become a full-time, multi-sensory pursuit.





When you're not waiting for the cute guy you met in real life
at last week's party to text you back, you're reviewing your "matches"
on Tinder or waiting to see who's sent you a ''kiss'' on RSVP. Love (or
at least sex), we're led to believe, can be manifested at the click of a
button. Truth is, that while I've never had more ways to meet a
potential partner, technology has made things far more complicated.



When to text? How much to text? Is it too early for
emoticons? A winky face ;)? Or a kiss-hug combo xo? And how soon to seal
the deal on social media? I have a friend who's been dating a guy for a
year and he only just agreed to her Facebook friend request.





There was a time when a boy would either call or he wouldn't.
Now, he can get your attention in myriad ways without actually having
to do anything. What does it mean if he likes my Instagram photos but
takes two days to reply to an email? How much significance can a girl
really place on a Twitter favourite?





And, as I recently discovered, if you date guys in their 20s,
be prepared for Urban Dictionary to become your new best friend as you
attempt to translate his WhatsApp messages into English, or figure out
why he's sending you shirtless pictures on Snapchat but can't commit to
coffee.





Then there are the cyberspace mysteries. What mystical forces
drive men - lots of them - to believe hugging a sedated tiger in their
online profile picture is an attractive look? And in which world of
weird is the question, "Hey picklehead, what's your favourite fruit?" an
appropriate way to initiate a conversation?





Most importantly, why is his online persona a playful picture
of chivalry and boy-next-door cuteness when in real life he's a
dishevelled dirty-talker with self-esteem issues?





Modern dating is a non-stop rollercoaster of hope and
expectation played out at breakneck speed. There's always that heady
buzz of anticipation - like unwrapping a Christmas present - as you
imagine whether this will be the man who makes your heart dance. Then,
the crushing low of realising the gift is wrapped in shiny paper but,
inside, the box is empty.





I'm starting to think that an extended period of single life
is like being among the long-term unemployed - the longer you're out of
the game, the harder it is to return to the workforce.





It feels like an age since I was in a serious relationship.
For several years after the long-term romance that brought me from
Scotland to Australia ended in an excoriating storm of grief and
bewilderment, I wasn't looking to "find someone". It took all my will to
find a way back to myself.





Then, when flesh returned to my bones and I was capable of
sharing the rebuilt me with the world, I discovered that meeting a man
to spend my life with was a more complex matter than just being ready.
It's a labyrinthine equation of circumstance, timing, emotional
maturity, sexual chemistry, strength and vulnerability and trust, and a
thousand other variables that at times feels like buying a ticket for a
cosmic lottery.





No app or "online compatibility matching system" can manufacture the inexplicable spark that ignites a great love.





A few times I thought I'd come close to finding it. Last
year, I fell for a man who seemed to adore me. He was charming and
attentive and sexy, with a smile that undid me. He told me I deserved
everything. It was a painful unravelling to realise he couldn't - or
didn't want to - be the one to deliver it. He was young. I expected too
much from him: my whippersnapper. It was never going to work. But I miss
him. The heart pays little heed to logic.





Not too long ago, I met someone who was willing and able to
give me everything. A beautiful man who saw me - really saw me - for all
that I am. It was refreshing and lovely, and I wished I could dive in
and meet his affection with equal enthusiasm. But that thing - a spark,
an energy, some sort of unspoken kismet that twists you inside out -
wasn't to be.





"Oh, but perhaps you're too picky", I've been told, by
well-meaning purveyors of unsolicited advice on the single experience.
But I know what it feels like to be trapped in a union when one party
isn't fully there. It's an aching emptiness that feels like the slow
death of your soul. I won't do that again.





I've not given up on love - I will always be a romantic who
cries at soppy TV commercials and cheers the Hollywood happy ever after -
but I wonder how much longer I can sacrifice myself on its altar. I'm
exhausted.





When you're constantly searching it takes you away from
yourself, and from all the people who make your life sing. It becomes
easy to forget that a partner does not ''complete'' you. Wholeness is an
internal affair.





I don't believe that the moment I stop searching the cosmic
lottery will pay out. But maybe it's time to stop chasing so hard. Love
can't be hunted or held captive. Perhaps I have to stop willing it to be
otherwise. Perhaps it's time to be still.