I've got stats on all sorts of personal business – how well I sleep, how many steps I take, how often I meditate. There is, I'm told, an app to track how many bites you take per meal, should you wish to (going to give that one a miss, thanks). But what about dating? When my long-term boyfriend and I broke up a year ago, I decided to throw myself into the online hunt. Hard. I spend a huge amount of time on it – a hell of a lot more than I do meditating, that's for sure – but I have no numbers. So I decided to calculate how many hours I spent searching for romance in the past 12 months.
I'm working off an average of 1.5 dates per week. This fluctuated, of course. There were weeks when I'd arrange to meet three new blokes and ended up feeling like I'd been through that episode of The Apprentice with all the interviews. There were others when I felt too sad or too stressed or simply couldn't be arsed with nodding at a stranger as they told me about their siblings, so I didn't go on any at all. But I think 1.5 a week is representative. Note that I did not say this figure was reasonable, or healthy.
Trawling: 30 minutes per day = 182.5 hours a year
A quick browse on the bus to work, over lunch, while dinner burns – it adds up. I've been known to log into Guardian Soulmates for a peek before University Challenge starts, only to resurface and realise we're halfway through Only Connect. Or Newsnight.
Messaging: 30 minutes per day = 182.5 hours a year
Some missives are dashed off in a blur of thumbs; others are minutely crafted, with subplots, callbacks, and recurring themes. Many are simply in response to the eternal question: "How's it going?" At this point, I have spent more time explaining my job to men I'll never meet than I did on entire modules of my degree.
Stalking: 30 mins per date x 1.5 dates per week = 39 hours a year
We need to talk about stalking. Specifically, not calling it that any more, because there is nothing creepy about googling someone you are about to spend time with. If I am going to consume a craft beer and a gourmet burger with a person, I would like to know if they have done anything noteworthy – whether that's getting disbarred from a professional body for misconduct or writing an amazing blog about gluten-free baking. I make no apologies.
Beautifying: 2 hours per date x 1.5 dates per week = 156 hours a year
This is, woefully, often my favourite bit of a date (sometimes by quite a margin). As my normal beauty regimen consists of 15 seconds of eyeliner application on the bus, I relish the opportunity to wallow in pre-date "pampering". Imagine a makeover montage from a '90s film but with more facial-hair management and pore strips.
Actual dating: 3 hours per date = 234 hours a year
Time is a relative concept in these situations. I've had nights where I could swear it's about 9pm but the bar staff are turning on the lights as we're drunkenly trying to play Trivial Pursuit. Others, meanwhile, are so awkward that a brief exchange about holiday plans feels like that level of Inception where every second passes as a decade.
Analysing: 2 hours per date x 1.5 dates per week = 156 hours a year
"HOW DID IT GO????" comes the group WhatsApp message, and so begins the analysis. The exact amount of dissection depends on the success of the evening; from the brilliant ("I laughed so hard I spat cider on him") to the less so ("He was 15 minutes late and used the term 'self-actualised' twice") and, most time-consumingly of all, the ambiguous ("Hmmmmm, really not sure…").
Cultural exchanging: 30 mins per date x 1.5 dates per week = 39 hours a year
By the second or third date, the recommendations are starting to roll. I am always telling people to watch Before Sunrise. It is a testament to my varied taste in men that the homework I have received in return has included the film Gladiator, a TED talk about introversion, and a book about cadavers.
There's probably more, too. I've spent several hours playing online Scrabble with one guy, for example. And what about travel? Dating men from the trendier end of London means I've clocked in some serious time on public transport over these 12 months. And that's ignoring the stuff that's harder to quantify – the hours spent just feeling a bit sort of preoccupied with the whole business, or mentally repeating that even though things aren't working out, it's fine, and good, and life is all about meeting people and that's what this is. It's fine.
But I have a number now. It is 989 hours, which equates to 41 days and is clearly ridiculous. What's more, taking out eight hours sleep a day (as my app says I must), makes it 62 waking days. Which is two months. I have spent a sixth of the year on this.
Which brings me to the question – if I was magically offered almost a thousand free hours to spend as I pleased, would I use them for dating? Would I bollocks. I would head to the dreamy, soft-focus end of my to-do list, where it says things like "Find tap-dancing class" and "Learn 'Let It Go' on ukulele".
Two months! I could have learned Spanish. I could watched every episode of Seinfeld (75 hours) and The Sopranos (70 hours), like I have been meaning to for years. I could have rewatched The Wire from start to finish too (60 hours) and still had more than a month left in change. I could have finally read The Lord of the Rings (or at least watched the films).
Which isn't to say that I wouldn't spend any of my magic free hours on dating. Just far, far fewer of them. It isn't the worst hobby in the world – that's climbing up cranes and filming it, you lunatics – and swapping witty messages, getting dressed up and flirting over some drinks can be fun. But more fun than playing "Let It Go" on a ukulele in Spanish before a Seinfeld marathon? I'll let you know.