Former dating columnist-turned author Dolly Alderton believes the dodgy decisions she has made in her past have primed her for her new role as an agony aunt.
At just 32, she is now enjoying “the dream job” tackling the problems of others. The woman behind the hit book Everything I Know About Love says: “All I’ve ever really wanted to do is an agony aunt column.” And she admits: “I’ve made lots of questionable decisions which has armed me, not to be an expert but definitely to share things that I’ve learned.
“The themes are always the same – ‘I’m worried I’m going to be alone forever, I’m desperately lonely’.”
But Alderton, a former story producer for Made In Chelsea, doesn’t fear loneliness herself. She says: “I’m very lucky. I’ve got a wonderful group of friends and I love the city that I live in and the main thing is that I’ve been in a relationship with my work for 15 years. So far, it’s really loved me back. It’s been a very fulfilling thing in my life.”
She’s now penned her first novel, Ghosts, a story about millennials in the modern world as they navigate the paths of online dating, diverging friendships and ageing parents.
It centres on Nina, a 32-year-old food writer who is blissfully happy with new boyfriend Max, who she met on a dating site but who then ghosts her (which means he stops responding to any texts or communications).
She explains: “I wanted to write about modern heterosexuality and I thought, what’s the most haunting, confusing and intriguing of modern-day things – and it’s ghosting. It’s happened to every woman I know. Within an hour I had the entire plot mapped out.” Alderton – who has been on the receiving end – says: “Ghosting takes over your whole life and brain, it occupies your friendship group for a while, as you think, ‘What happened? Where did he go? Has he died?’ It’s an obvious narrative device for a storyteller because it’s mysterious.”
Despite similarities in age and profession, Alderton’s heroine is nothing like her creator. She says: “Nina is very different to me. She’s very unsentimental, she’s very logical, she’s very cynical and black and white. Her life is different to mine. She spent all her 20s in a long-term relationship, I haven’t had a long-term relationship since my early 20s. She’s a straight-edged person, I’m a bit chaotic. But we do share a sense of humour and find the same things funny.”
While Alderton reckons she is done with online dating, at least for now, she admits she would like to meet someone. “I’m a great romantic, so I’m very open to it in my future, but it’s not something that’s occupying the top of my list at the moment,” she says.
“We are fed by our 1980s mothers that we can have everything we want. There’s this fallacy that you can control your romantic and familial destiny. The fact is, not everyone in life gets everything, and that’s okay. The more comfortable you can get with that truth, the better.”
But the writer – who hosts the hugely successful podcast The High Low with her pal Pandora Sykes – concedes: “I would love to have a family and be in a long-term relationship, but what I want even more is to write novels and make a career out of my writing for the rest of my life. The rest of it, you just have to be hopeful and open-minded and see what happens.”
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