In the name of love, learn to tell a prince from a real toad

I just don't get it. Why is it that so many bright, attractive and sensible women seem to go for such utter toads? The media has created pantomime villains out of the likes of Ashley Cole, Tiger Woods and John Terry, but you can't deny their selfish actions have left a smoking heap of broken hearts and ruined families.

And yet here's the funny thing. There are thousands upon thousands of smashing, eligible blokes out there and yet most of us women seem to manage to miss them. It might be true that you have to kiss a few frogs before you find Prince Charming but do you really have to go through a pond full before finding happiness?

Recently, I became so fed up with reading about yet another failed celebrity relationship that I started to write down my own thoughts on long-term love and relationships. I chose the title – Stop Kissing Frogs – not as a cheap opportunity for some male-bashing but as a desperate plea to women to stop picking out the few rotten apples. I also wanted to poke fun at the language we often used to describe relationships – Prince Charmings, dreams coming true, dragon-like mothers-in-law, knights in shining armour and damsels in distress.

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This fairy-tale idealisation of love and relationships is great for bedtime stories but the whole point of my book was to inject a bit of reality. It's going to take more than braiding your hair and swooning a lot to find someone who'll make you happy in the long run. And Prince Charming is going to need more than a well-honed six-pack and a flashy steed to win a fair maiden.

Looking back, I dated some stinkers. And it seemed as if I kept repeating the same mistakes time and time again. Writing the book gave me real insight into why I kept making such terrible errors of judgment. It forced me to look at my childhood, my teens, my first loves and my expectations of marriage.

I looked into the way parents prepare their children for the adult world of relationships. I looked at how the media skews our view of what's normal in a loving relationship. I even looked into the effect that

big life events – divorce, bereavement, ill-health – all affect how we form relationships in the future.

It was a real eye opener. I discovered important lessons about how women prepare themselves for the world of love, what kind of traps we fall into and why many of us don't recognise Prince Charming even when he's staring us in the face.

I also wanted to consolidate what I'd learnt about loving relationships... and the not-so loving ones. The book was also a chance to take a light-hearted look at some of the common mistakes us girls make on a depressingly regular basis, and a serious attempt to see through the myths about men and women and analyse what truly makes a good mate.

One of the most rewarding parts about writing the book was talking to other women about their experiences. I didn't need to look very far to find willing subjects keen to spill the beans about horrible boyfriends and happy endings. We learn from our mistakes: only by understanding patterns in poor relationships can we avoid pitfalls in our own.

On a happier note, after kissing more than my fair share of toads, four years ago I finally met the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. We met when my

eldest girl was only six months old, I was recently separated and definitely not looking for another bloke. What I did need, however, was a gardener and he showed up, wielding a chainsaw.

The rest is history. Meeting the love of your life via the Yellow Pages might not be the most conventional route but it was certainly quick, free... and I got my ivy trimmed in the process.

We're now married and he wouldn't mind me saying that he's not my "type" in lots of ways, and I'm not his. We come from completely different backgrounds. We have completely different interests. His haircut annoys me on almost daily basis. And yet it works. Brilliantly. I've finally found someone who lets me be myself.

Who loves me regardless. Who I feel completely at

ease with.

Above all, it's shown me that true love has nothing to do with manipulation, game-playing or trickery.

And whether you're Cheryl Cole or just the lass-next-door, Prince Charming is out there, girls, but first you've got to stop hanging around ponds.

n Stop Kissing Frogs by Madeleine Lowe is published by Prentice Hall (9.99). To order from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop, call free on 0800 0153232 or go online at www. yorkshirepostbook Postage and packing is 2.75.