Last week I read The Shell Seekers, by British novelist Rosamunde Pilcher. Before I heard it mentioned on my favorite bookish podcast (the always amazing “What Should I Read Next?” with Anne Bogel), I had honestly never heard of it. But it was apparently a Big Buzzy Book in the late 1980s. And with good reason. It was truly one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a very long time. 

While set in the ‘present day’ (which is of course now over thirty years ago), much of the book flashes back to the main character Penelope’s life during the Second World War, living in a small Cornish village with her parents, young daughter, and a family of evacuees from London. When the town is overrun with soldiers training for the invasion of France, she meets a British officer and a great, tragic romance ensues. 

The book has a lot to say about love — particularly about generosity and chosen versus biological family — but what I want to focus on today is one small line that packs a big truth. In a beautiful letter, Penelope’s lover writes to her:

“…And in this life, nothing good is ever lost. It stays part of a person, becomes part of their character. So part of you goes everywhere with me. And part of me is yours forever. …” 

Rosamunde Pilcher, The Shell Seekers

Nothing good is ever lost.

In the dating life it’s so easy to think of so much having been lost: lost hours, lost years, lost opportunity, and so much good and beautiful effort come to nothing. It’s nice to be reminded that this isn’t entirely true. Nothing good is ever lost. Nothing true is ever lost. Nothing beautiful is ever lost. It stays part of us and becomes part of our character. 

I had a run of dates towards the end of last year and the start of this year where I rocked it. I was able to be my best self, to focus on the conversation, to have open and positive body language. The conversation was intelligent and witty, and we genuinely seemed aligned in what we wanted and valued in a relationship. And to top it off, I looked damn cute while doing it. But, for one reason or another, none of these awesome first dates led to a second. It would be easy to mope in self-pity about this, and believe me, there were definitely moments of “Even when I’m at my very best, it’s not good enough” whinging. But when I look back on those dates, I can’t help but be proud of them. Sure, they didn’t have a more successful outcome than any of the hundreds of dates that went before, but they weren’t lost or wasted. They remain a part of me — not just as memories but as something that’s possible for me. I know now that that’s something I can do. I can be my best very best awesome self on a date. And that’s far from nothing.

And the same is true of so many of our efforts in the dating game (which, for all its mercilessness and high stakes, might as well be called the Hunger Games). Stolen moments of connection, a tender touch, a powerful story you’ll never forget, a funny anecdote to share with friends. There are positive moments amidst the long, hard slog. And none of them are wasted unless we choose to waste them. None of them are lost unless we choose to lose them.

Richard and Penelope’s romance in The Shell Seekers is a tragic one. They had only a short time together before the world got in the way. But, she never forgot him. And she never thought the pain of its untimely ending undid any of its beauty. She never forgot the good of him that became a part of her. And the same can be true for us, even in the small victories and briefest moments of joy along the way.