The art of being single explored through real life stories

A happy singleton must first believe they are truly loveable, says Colette Sheridan

ARE you single and happy, self sufficient and capable of living a full life without a significant other or, a la Bridget Jones, do you yearn to be in a relationship in order to feel complete?

The art of being single is explored in a revived comedy, ‘Singlehood’, which is about real life singleton stories told to director and co-writer, Una McKevitt. She has condensed the testimonies of about 100 people of all sexual persuasions into a documentary-style show featuring seven performers. Some of the performers, including comedians, PJ Gallagher and Eric Lalor, reveal their own stories from the volatile frontline of dating, breaking up and finally tying the knot.

Gallagher, who turns 40 next April, has been married to Elaine Stewart for a year. The couple, who went out together for 14 years before they married, had an on-and-off relationship. “We got back together and after a seven year relationship we passed our test eventually. But we had the L plates on for a lot of the time.”

Looking back, Gallagher feels that he and Elaine “were always going to find our way back to each other.” They “legged it to Las Vegas” and married without the presence of family or friends. Before settling down with Elaine, Gallagher was in “many short-term rapid fire relationships that didn’t work out. I’d be with someone for two or three months. I’d rarely make six months. I probably wasn’t mature enough. I wanted to meet someone and jump into a jet with them and fly away like Tom Cruise or something. I was refusing the realities of a relationship. But now I know that real life is better than all that nonsense.”

In the show, Gallagher talks about his experience of having been single. “I know what it was like to be single years ago. But it’s so different now. Online dating was non-existent when I was single but there are people in the show who are totally comfortable with it. They prefer it because you’re not drinking when you first meet people. And when you decide to meet up, it could be just for a coffee. Alcohol means that you never see people as they really are. The population of Ireland would probably be only half of what it is if it wasn’t for alcohol.”

Another star of the show is 31-year-old Joanne McNally, a performer and stand-up comedian. McNally, who is straight and a long-term singleton, says her last serious boyfriend was when she was aged 22.

“I went out with him for three years. At the time, I was studying hard at college and he just wanted to be out partying. We had to part ways. I haven’t met anyone since that I’d write home about. There’s lots of flings going on. I’m in an eternal state of flinging. The lads in Dublin seem to have their pick of women. So many of my friends are on Tinder (a dating site). But there’s no guarantee that there’s going to be any chemistry when they meet up face to face. I have friends going on dates where there’s absolutely no chemistry. They just thought the person had a nice smile from their photograph.”

McNally is quite content to be single although she would like to have children. “I’m not a natural girlfriend. I don’t gel into being in a full-on partnership. I’m quite independent. If it happens, it happens. I’m not quite hanging up my hat. To be honest, there has to be an element of actively seeking out a relationship, certainly at my age. But I’m not actively going after a relationship. A relationship could be a nice bonus once you’re not expecting someone else to make you complete.”

Going out alone is not a problem for McNally. “I go for drinks by myself. I always take a book. There’s a little old man’s pub near where I live. I often go there, have a glass of wine, and I’m happy out.”

McNally says that thanks to dating sites, there is now a growing dating culture in Ireland. “It’s taking the mystery out of dating. You can have a coffee with someone. You’re not wearing your debutante dress and getting your hair done. It’s very continental now.”

There is an art to being single – and it has to do with self acceptance and self reliance. As one who is eternally single (I have only ever been in short-term relationships and can barely recall the last one), it can be annoying to live in a society that is so focused on couples. From having to pay a single person’s supplement when staying in hotels to reading about loved-up celebrities who appear to have-it-all thanks to their gorgeous partners, it can be dispiriting to be a sole operator.

Celebrity culture would have us believe that meeting The One is, apart from making lots of money, life’s goal. Avowed bachelor, George Clooney was once admirable for his refusal to marry. But boy did he rub our noses in it with his extravagant wedding celebrations when he married Amal Alamuddin. Cheryl Cole is one girl who doesn’t seem fond of single life. She recently married French businessman, Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after a whirlwind romance, showing off her engagement ring on Instagram and throwing a hissy fit when people forgot to call her by her new double barrel surname. She says she prefers not to discuss her personal life. But we all know a celebrity marriage isn’t consummated until shared in public.

There are, believe it or not, plenty of advantages to being single. As life and relationship coach, Lauren Mackler, says: “The first step involves changing your perceptions about being alone.”

US-based Mackler, author of Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness, says that if you believe, either consciously or unconsciously, that ‘there must be something wrong with me because I’m alone’ or ‘I can only be happy if I’m in a committed relationship,’ it will have an enormous impact on how you see yourself, how you feel and how you live your life.

“You might actually be setting yourself up for loneliness and rejection. How? First of all, when people feel bad about themselves, they tend to project that to others. Just as confidence inspires confidence, negativity invokes negativity. If you’re walking around slump shouldered, it’s easy for other people to be put off by your demeanour. To make matters worse, feelings of low self-worth might cause you to withdraw from the world, cutting yourself off from the very people and activities than can enrich your life, and reinforcing those feelings of loneliness.”

Mackler warns against waiting for someone to come along and rescue you from what you see as a miserable existence. The challenge, she says, is to break those patterns of thought and behaviour. If, for example, you have a free Saturday, you can stay at home feeling sorry for yourself or you can decide that you’re free to do whatever you fancy.

One celebrity who seems content to be alone is Graham Norton. The Cork-born BBC presenter recently said he may never settle down. “I clearly am difficult to live with...But the good news is, I don’t find me difficult to live with, so I’m very content.” Spoken like a truly evolved singleton.

Singlehood is at Cork’s Everyman from November 20-22.


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