‘I always ask really weird questions on dates,” says Hannah Zaslawski. “One of my favourites is: ‘If you were a kitchen utensil, what would you be? I mean, what would you be?’” I panic – spoon? – but Zaslawski’s a pro. “OK, what kind of spoon?” she probes. Soon we’re laughing about wooden spoons (wholesome; rustic) and it’s easy to see how her mission to go on 50 first dates – a daunting prospect for most – would appeal to the peppy Australian.

Zaslawski moved from Sydney to London eight months ago and started documenting her dates on TikTok as a way to keep friends back home in the loop about her love life. The 30-year-old works in a cafe and as an actor but, with 53k followers now invested in her “dating journey”, she says making the series has become like a part-time job in itself. When we meet, she’s about to go on date number 17.

“Some weeks I’ll go on three dates if I’m feeling really social,” she says. “Other weeks I might not go on any.” Zaslawski, who is bisexual, started the series in January, and aims to get through all 50 dates by the end of the year – unless, of course, she finds love before then. “If I meet somebody, then the series ends,” she says.

Zaslawski is not the first to chronicle her quest for love on social media. Earlier this year, New Yorker Marin Haugo went on 28 dates in 28 days. “I watched hers!” says Zaslawski. “I was like, ‘god, she is bou-jee!’” And the TikTok account 2 Girls 1 Pup follows the dating adventures of two housemates (and their dog) using the hashtag #unhingeddating. Like them, Zaslawski usually films herself getting ready for a date, then a few snippets from the date itself – “I always duck to the bathrooms, or to their bathroom in some cases, and quickly record” – followed by a debrief. There’s an intimacy to her videos; a sneak peek into the ruthless world of modern dating for those who aren’t familiar – and welcome reassurance for those who are.

“People contact me saying ‘this exact date happened to me’,” says Zaslawski. “I’m like, cool, other people have gone through this as well.” A few have even told her they’re going to give 50 first dates a go themselves. What advice would she give them? “You need to have confidence in yourself first. Be comfortable in knowing that you’re the prize – you don’t have to impress anybody. The point is to get to know somebody without a facade.”

She says she’s benefited from being able to revisit her own footage – it’s become a way for her to spot those much-discussed and derided dating red flags (something which other TikTok users are also all keen to point out in the comments).

‘I try to go into each date neutrally now, without any preconceived ideas’ Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian“When you’re on a date, you’re in the moment, so I’ve definitely learned about what I like by posting about them online afterwards,” she says. “For example, I went on one where he was ‘negging’ me and I don’t think I realised at the time. In the future, I think I would recognise that sooner. I’ve been surprised, sometimes, by how long I’ve stayed on a date when I probably should have called it earlier.”

The project is also shaping the way she dates – increasingly, she’s swapping boozy nights out for coffee, keeping her judgment intact. “Drinking does take away the anxiety of meeting somebody, but once you’ve had three … well, you’re going to have a good time,” she says. “But now that I’ve been on so many dates, I feel like I can just go and have a coffee. It’s so interesting – the dates that I didn’t have high hopes for are the ones that have been my favourites. So I try to go into each more neutrally now, without any preconceived ideas.”

Her posts feel disarmingly honest. “I was nearly in tears a hot minute ago” she says when date three bails on her at the 11th hour, after she’s travelled an hour to meet him. Date nine starts well but quickly goes downhill: “I did say he could stay in my bed,” she whispers from her bathroom, “but I didn’t say naked. He got naked. I’m fully clothed; I don’t know what to do!”

“There were things that I was like ‘ugh, do I include?’ – but also I think, we’re all adults and it’s really important to be transparent about what I’m doing, and to normalise it,” she says. “Say I sleep with somebody on the first night – women have empowerment now to do that and it shouldn’t be shunned. We have needs, as well as men.”

Her candour prompted some backlash after she decided that she and date number seven were “not aligned” since he didn’t drink alcohol. “He was really sweet, but the alcohol thing is a bit of a dealbreaker for me,” she said afterwards. “Girl the no drinking should be a green flag!” remarked one commenter on the video, which has been favourited over a thousand times; “U don’t want to see him again because he doesn’t drink? wild” added another. Others jumped to her defence and Grazia ran an article on the ensuing debate. “I have a couple of friends who don’t drink and I am fully aware of how harmful alcohol can be,” she sighs. “But there are things I want to do with a partner – like wine tasting in Tuscany or sharing a bottle of wine over dinner! – so I stand by that.”

If anything, the online support for her teetotal date cemented her belief that there is someone for everyone – one of the reasons doing the series has helped her to remain hopeful. “There’s so many people out there,” she says. “You might click with one person but if it falls through then hey, you’re going to click with another.”

With the series reaching ever larger audiences, she concedes she might need to start telling prospective partners about the project – she’s been recognised a few times at work, and even once while she was on a date. So far, most of her dates have been with people she’s met through apps – primarily Hinge and Bumble – but she says she wants to try speed dating and approaching more people in real life, too. “I did it recently at Borough Market, I gave my number to a guy shucking oysters,” she says. “I never heard anything, but it’s fine. I’ll never see him again. I’m going to try doing more of that – I mean, what have you got to lose?”