138. That’s the number of dates Rebekah Campbell went on from the age of 34 to 37 before she finally found love. Campbell chronicles the epic search in her new book, 138 Dates: The true story of one woman’s search for everything.
“I’d written business columns and blogs for a really long time, and I was approached by a publisher to write a business book about women in tech,” Campbell says. “I started writing it and I found that it was boring. If you’re going to write a book, it’s such a massive effort — you have to make sure it’s about something you really care about.”
“I’d once heard someone say ‘make your mess, your message’. My biggest mess was my personal life — not dating for 10 years and then a big hunt to find a partner and all the massive, really embarrassing mistakes I made through that process. So, I was like ‘that’s my mess’.”
Pregnant at the time with her second child with partner Rod, Campbell decided that ‘mess’ was the story she wanted to share. “If I’m going to put anything out into the world, this is the story I want people to know,” she says.
Ahead, Campbell shares about how her idea of love changed throughout the process, how she herself changed and her advice for anyone who still hasn’t found love.
Sangeeta Kocharekar: Was it hard to be so vulnerable in the book?
Rebekah Campbell: When I started, I remember thinking — the most terrifying thing I could say out loud in public was that I didn’t go on a date in 10 years and that I was single for so long. And then I started writing it, I was like ‘Shit, now I’ve got to say all these other things that happened in the process that are way more embarrassing than not going on a date in 10 years.’ But I worked out quite quickly that I couldn’t write around the scary issues — I had to write really honestly. And then I figured I would pull it back later. But I didn’t really pull it back in the end because it worked out. It would have lost what was relatable and special about it.
SK: How did your idea of love change from start to finish?
RC: I don’t know if I even knew what love was in the beginning — other than that I wanted it. I thought I would find one person and it would be magical and everything would be perfect. As I started dating that many people, I started to get more realistic about the market. Perfection actually doesn’t exist. So, I realised it was going to be about compromising.
It was going to be finding someone who had aligned values and similar interests, who was a good person and who wanted the same things I wanted. And then it was going to be a process of ‘Yes, I’m going to choose this person and I’m going to make it work’. There was still some magic that I can’t quite describe, but the relationship now is not perfect. We still argue and he still annoys me. But we work through things. We’re committed to making it work and being together. When you see 138 guys, you’ve got comparative data and you know when you’ve found one that’s good. It’s just different to what I imagined.
SK: How did you deal with rejection?
RC: Rejection was really hard. When I got my first rejection, it was really quite awful and I was very hurt. My stomach was churning. I was staring at my phone and sending him text messages. My psychologist said ‘Think about yourself as a product — someone is looking for you with your unique features. If someone doesn’t call you back that doesn’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with the product, it just means they’re looking for something else. You just need to find someone who’s looking for you.’
I realised there’s nothing wrong with me inherently — that’s not why I’m getting rejected. I’m getting rejected because I’m not a good match for them — and that’s fine. So that really helped. Because then I could just charge forward and not feel as hurt by rejection.
SK: What was your dating strategy?
RC: It’s a numbers game, totally. I do think when you get into your 30s and 40s, it’s slim pickings to some extent. But there are still some great people out there. You just have to work to find them. I remember having 10 to 20 conversations going at any one time. And then I’d have screening calls on Sundays from 12 to 6pm. And then I’d go on one or two dates a week.
I had to sift through all that and then I found the right person at the end of all that. The book is also about me becoming the right person — I don’t know if I would’ve met Rod earlier if he would have liked me. I would’ve liked him. He’d been in two seven-year relationships and he was only a few months out when he’d started dating again. I just happened to be there at the right time.
My advice is you’ve got to be in it to win it. The gold is out there but if you’re not out there dating and having lots of conversations with people, you’re not going to find those people. When they come out of their long-term relationships and they’re on the market for a short period of time, you’ve got to be out there so you can find them.
SK: What would you tell anyone still single and searching for love?
RC: Stay optimistic. I would think of myself as an 80-year-old woman looking back on my life and I would want her to know that I gave it everything I had. And I thought what’s actually going to add the most value to my life? It’s going to be finding a relationship. In all sorts of ways, including economically.
A relationship was really important to me. I wanted to have a family. So why would you not invest a really significant amount of time and energy into it? Believe someone is out there looking for you. Don’t try and change yourself because you will find someone who is looking for you if you just stick to it. Keep looking.