After six years in a relationship, I became single last summer for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. It was my decision, but that didn’t make the months that followed any easier. Selina Barker and Vicki Burtt have been counseling me through it all. An old relationship can be similar to an old sofa, they tell me. It’s tired, and ready for the scrap yard but we seek comfort in the familiarity. Rather than throwing it away, we hold onto it so we don’t have to deal with that awkward in-between stage sitting on the floor while we wait for something new. If you got rid of the sofa and had an empty space, you might decide you don’t want a sofa after all. You might actually want an armchair. The point is, the presence of that old sofa will always act as a block preventing you from moving forward. Let it go, they say, or be dragged. The first step in moving towards the life that’s meant for you is letting go of the one you had mapped out.
These golden nuggets of advice weren’t face-to-face or even over the phone. In fact, this all happened long through their podcast, long before we actually met. You see, Selina and Vicki are the forces behind Project Love, the business they set up almost three years ago with the sole purpose of supporting women navigating the trials and tribulations of love and dating. “When we met, Selina was single and looking for love, but was really stuck – she’d been single for six years. It wasn’t for lack of trying but whatever she was doing just wasn’t working,” Vicki tells me. “I was working in marketing but wanted to be a love coach so it started as a skills swap. We started experimenting and having love coaching sessions together where Selina would apply her principles of life design and I would use by NLP tools and techniques. Within a few months of working together Selina’s whole attitude to love, dating and relationships shifted from someone who had given up hope that it was ever going to happen for her, unhappily single and feeling like there was something wrong with her, to someone who felt happily single, ready and open to the kind of relationships she now knew she deserved.”
Project Love started because they realised that the challenges they were both going through were shared by other women in their 30s – the unhealthy relationships, the harmful choices and the negative relationship patterns – but there wasn’t anything out there speaking to them. “It was all books and self-help programmes teaching you “how to catch a guy and keep him” or “the rules of online dating”, which just didn’t speak to the smart, self-aware women we knew so we decided to do something about it.”
They offer online courses and workshops designed to give you the tools you need to transform and be proactive about your love life. Each programme looks at everything from how to get into a positive mindset around love and relationships and be clear on what you want so you can start attracting the right kind of guys; to the importance of cultivating a loving relationship with yourself and how to start doing that.
We’ve been brought up on ideas of knights in shining armour that save us from a life of sad singleness and gallop us off into a happy-ever-after life of coupledom, so that far too many of us believe that being in a relationship will bring us the happiness that we long for and that if you’re a good girl, eventually your knight will come and rescue you.
When I look around at my single friends, the commonalities are stark. They’re smart, independent and nailing their professional lives but seriously unhappy when it comes to relationships. The older we get, the more a handful of us seem to be moving away from the lofty plans we made in our early twenties. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the slew of weddings, baby showers and engagement parties often leave us all guilty of asking, ‘is that ever going to happen to me?’ I reassure them, as my friends continue to reassure me, but whether you’re prepared to admit it or not, it’s difficult not to feel hard done by. According to Vicki and Selena, that’s all because we’re not ready for love.
“They’re the kind of women whose friends say “but you’re amazing, I can’t understand why you’re still single”. And nor can they. Typically they’ve developed a certain blueprint for success – work hard, get results – but while that strategy is helpful in their careers, it’s actually a hindrance in love,” they tell me. “Applying that same blueprint for success creates an anxious, urgent energy that can come across as needy or desperate so it’s actually counter-productive. This is where you see women panic Tindering on a Sunday evening to line up dates for the week and then becoming obsessed and trying to figure out dating strategies to nail it once and for all.” Project Love come in by spending the time to help you identify the blockers and bad habits so you can work through them.
As a woman in my late twenties, I do feel a certain pressure to have it all. What’s my priority? Throw myself into work for the next ten years and push as far as I humanly can? Or do I take another route? Devoting more time to dating, to meeting people and tracking down this loving, intellectual guy with no baggage that my mother is desperate for me to procreate with? I’m a worrier and in the grand scheme of things, am definitely getting stressed out about this too soon, but I have a slew of successful, career-minded friends in their early to mid thirties who are equally as shit scared.
If you view love as something that can only be ‘given’ by another then the pursuit of love becomes more like a man hunt which is why people can come across as desperate or needy. The Project Love approach sees love as a skill to be learnt rather than a thing to be found.
That’s partly why magazines get my back up. Rather than providing quality advice, they only seem to exploit our fears, all the while making us feel more insecure and increasingly dependant on crappy relationships to make us feel better. The secret to hot sex and hot a man (because, of course, that’s all we want) is to snag him with a hot body and hot sex, oh and then keep him by playing it cool, making few demands while you patiently wait in the wings. We’ve all read the articles and as interesting as it may be to learn how to give men a great orgasm, wouldn’t it be nice if, instead, our favourite magazines got to the heart of those key love and relationship issues and gave real advice about the ways to deal with it in a practical, savvy way? “These women don’t want to learn “how to catch a guy and keep him” or how to “follow the rules” but so much out there follows that approach. Instead it should be about getting yourself ready for love and how to put yourself in the best position to find it,” they say. “There’s a very different energy between wanting something and actually being ready for it.”
At the heart of their workshops and courses is a mission to get real women together to have a down-to-earth, honest but intelligent conversation about what it takes to put yourself in the best possible position to find a healthy, loving partner because, they tell me, doing the hard work to get ready for the love has to be the starting point. “People leap into the dating part when they’re not at all ready, open or available,” Selina says. “They might want to be ready, they might think they are but if they have all sorts of hidden hang ups and old wounds from past relationships or if their relationship with themselves is poor, then they they’re just not in the right headspace to meet the right person.” Do you always seem to attract the wrong kind of guy? You know, the one that’s emotionally unavailable or won’t commit? Yep? Well, you’re probably not ready for a relationship. Do you often feel that you’re not good enough or are you made to feel you want too much? Do your relationships always end up in a drama, rejection or getting hurt? Are you still hung up on your ex or do you believe that if you find the right person, you’ll be happy and life will somehow get better? If any of those sound like you, it’s a sign that you just might not be there yet.
When you’re ready for love, you feel good about your life. You may want a relationship, yes, but you know there are plenty of good guys out there and you’re prepared to take the time to find the right one. It’s not about trying to rush the process or being ‘more’ or less’ of whom you are just to settle down. “You aren’t looking for someone to complete you because you are complete,” Vicki says. “Self-love the magic that will open you up and invite the right partner into your life.” Their mantra is that like attracts like, so if you treat yourself with love and kindness, you’ll attract someone into your love that will treat you the same. “The emphasis is often on the man, rather than you and that’s what we’re so passionate about changing,” Selina adds. “Taking love out of the hands of that mystery romantic knight in shining armour and showing women that the love they are looking for was within them all along. That love isn’t something you wait for someone else to give you. You cultivate it yourself.”
And before you dismiss it all as cheesy and airy-fairy, know that everyone from Google execs to top dogs at Selfridges and EMI are part of their alumni. “What makes Project Love so attractive is that it doesn’t feel like therapy or personal development. It feels a lot more fun and down-to-earth than that,” Selina says. “We don’t use all the jargon you often find in the world of self-help. We write just as we would speak to our friends and I think that really comes across and attracts people that might not usually be into self-help. We’re not here to ‘fix’ women looking for love; we’re here to celebrate women, to get interesting conversations going on the topic of love.”
Project Love’s ‘Get Ready for Love’ 30-day course usually costs £69 but is available for £49 by entering the code “lifestylelove” at the checkout. See loveprojectlove.com