Jennifer Garcia and Michelle Tauber
November 22, 2010 12:00 PM

Kim Kardashian was just a teenager when she began mapping out her perfect future. “If you were to ask me in high school where I would be at 30, I would have said I’d be a housewife with four kids,” she says. “I’ve always thought real success is when you find a husband and make a home and raise an incredible family. That’s what I was always looking for.”

Things didn’t quite work out that way. Now 30, the reality star with the famous curves and the stilletto-sharp business savvy has achieved enormous success with a glittery, multimillion-dollar empire that includes everything from workout DVDs to a credit card for teens to a new autobiographical self-help guide, Kardashian Konfidential, coauthored with her sisters. But she has yet to find someone to share it with. After her three-year relationship with New Orleans Saints star Reggie Bush, 25, ended last March-and a subsequent rebound romance with Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin, 26, flamed out after just a few months-the self-described “hopeless romantic” finds herself alone for nearly the first time in her adult life. It’s a prospect that once terrified her. “There was a time in my life where all I wanted was a relationship, and I thought that was the most important thing,” says Kim. Now she’s willing to wait for Mr. Right. “I might have thought that love was the one thing missing in my life before. I don’t think that anymore.”

Having launched herself to celebrity status in 2007 on E!’s Keeping up with the Kardashians-alongside identically initialed sisters Kourtney 31, and Khloe, 26-the middle daughter of Kris Jenner (who is married to famed Olympian Bruce) and the late attorney Robert Kardashian is the workaholic face of the Kardashian brand. It’s a dramatic role reversal for Kim, long regarded by her sisters as the maternal one of the bunch. But while Kourtney became a mom to son Mason, 11 months, and Khloe wed L.A. Lakers star Lamar Odom last year after a whirlwind courtship, Kim has gone from seemingly ready-to wed to suddenly solo. “Is it weird that I’m now the single one? It’s definitely a change for me,” she admits. “I have always been the one in a relationship. I like that role; I want that best friend partnership. I love taking care of my guy, I love cooking, I love shopping and getting him little presents.”

But the woman whose candid confessions on dating, dieting and her admitted OCD streak have endeared her to fans-including her five million Twitter followers-readily acknowledges that her love life has often lacked stability. Eager to settle down just out of high school, she eloped with music producer Damon Thomas at age 19; they split just four years later. “I got divorced the year after my dad died,” Kim writes in Kardashian Konfidential. “When you lose someone you love, it can help you see things clearly in your life. It helped me grow up and realize it was time to move on.” She dated R&B singer Ray J before her romance with Bush, with whom she once gushed she was “heading” toward marriage. When he won the Super Bowl earlier this year, pals eagerly awaited engagement news. Instead, the pair parted ways soon after. “I really think it was just age and scheduling,” she says of the split with Bush, who is four years younger. “Once we spent too much time apart and got comfortable that way, it really took a toll on the relationship.” Might the friendly exes ever reunite? “If’s so funny-we get tweets about how we should be together and we laugh about it. Never say never on anything.”

She cites the glare of the reality TV cameras as a factor in her August breakup with Austin. “Had we gotten to know each other when we weren’t filming, it would have been easier,” she says. Combined with tabloid attention, “he was thrust into a world that he didn’t really want to be in,” she says. “I don’t blame him or anyone. Unless you’re used to it, you don’t know what to expect.” In fact, Kim says, her hectic schedule could prove a permanent stumbling block for all but the most dauntless suitors. “I think it’s intimidating, I really do,” she says of her work ethic. “It’s definitely harder to find someone that understands my life. And I also want to know: Does this person want to date me only because I’m on a reality show? And they want to be on it? You don’t want that kind of person.” But for the right guy, Kim would be willing to put her career on a back burner-abit. “Whatever relationship I’ll be in next, I realize I can’t be this work machine all the time. If’s not realistic. I want a normal relationship.”

Until Mr. Right comes along, Kim says she is “dating and having fun” but dismisses reports of romances with John Mayer and Kanye West. (As for rumors that she was secretly seeing Napster founder Sean Parker, “I met him once at an event!”) Most significantly, she says she has loosened her once-rigid romantic checklist. “I want to fall in love, but I’m not desperately looking for it. I’m not going to try and map out who the next person I date should be,” she says. “For once, I have no idea what I’m looking for.” Yes, she still wants to settle down and raise four kids-but she’s no longer in a rush. “Give me a few years before that happens,” she says. “A guy isn’t the only thing that will make me happy. If I never find romance or love, that will be okay. It’s what I want-but it doesn’t define me.”

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