Instead of focusing on finding ‘the one’, work out how to enjoy your own life, writes Deirdre Reynolds
EIGHT days into the new year, and the flurry of engagement announcements has finally slowed to a crawl on Facebook.
For Ireland’s growing single population — 44 per cent of men and women in their 30s are unattached — it’s not a minute too soon. No doubt many singletons had to field the dreaded question “When are you going to settle down?” over the festive season.
Now a new Hollywood movie is showing How to be Single instead.
Based on a novel by Liz Tuccillo, it stars Dakota Johnson as a newly-single 20-something navigating the New York dating scene with the help of a pal played by Rebel Wilson. Despite being one of Hollywood’s hottest properties right now, Australian Rebel, 35, joked that she didn’t have to do too much research for the role of “freeman”, Robin, in the rom-com.
“I’m very independent and have been single for most of my life,” the actress, who reportedly split from comedian Mickey Gooch Jr last September, told Cosmopolitan. “It’s good because I do whatever the hell I want. My mum really sacrificed her life when she started having us kids, and so she always encouraged us to go out there and chase after our dreams and live our lives. I’m hoping the right guy will come along — but if it doesn’t happen I’m alright.”
After almost a decade attached, Aoife Connolly, 28, from Dublin says that, for now, she too is just enjoying hogging the duvet.
“Up until June, I was basically in a relationship for the whole of my 20s,”says Aoife, who founded luxury sportswear brand Grape & Gander with Grace O’Rourke last year. “I went from one long-term relationship, which lasted six years, into another two-year one.
“Being single is great. You can have as much fun as you like — and wake up the next day and go to brunch with the girls. You don’t have to worry about the other person, and what they’re doing this weekend.”
Single since 2011, Aoife’s business partner and friend Grace, 27, says she’s looking for someone “intelligent, motivated, and ambitious” who won’t monopolise her “me time”, but is willing to wait. “If you’re going out [with someone], I suppose there is a sense of compromise,” explains Grace, who’s also a Pilates instructor.
“There are a few more questions that would be asked. It’s like, ‘Oh, who are you going out with tonight?’ “Being single, you don’t have anyone to answer to. You don’t want somebody needy being, like, ‘Can I see you all the time?’”
With just five weeks to Valentine’s Day, Dublin-based matchmaker Rena Maycock is currently wading through a stack of new clients looking for love. Convincing them to actually go on a date, however, is another story.
“January is always our busiest time of year,” says Rena, who, together with husband Feargal Harrington, runs Intro Matchmaking Agency and new dating website Arealkeeper.ie.
“People are being proactive in every other area of their lives — they want to feel like they’re doing something towards meeting somebody too. We would get an awful lot of people coming to us saying they’re too busy to date. Even after we find them a great match, quite often they make it impossible for us to organise dates.
“Truth be told, I would say a lot of people have unrealistic expectations,” she adds. “Many women, especially, have waited a long time to meet somebody, so by the time they come to us, they’ve gotten into this attitude of, ‘I’ve waited long enough for Mr Right — I can wait a bit longer’. They want the perfect man — but nobody’s perfect.”
Indeed by now, it’s well documented that Irish women, in particular, are waiting longer than ever before to walk down the aisle with the average marriage age for females now 33.
So did Diana Ross have it right after all 50 years ago when she sang You Can’t Hurry Love?
Gender and women’s studies lecturer Dr Kaye Cederman put the question to her nine female post-graduate students, aged between 22 and 30, at Trinity College Dublin on behalf of Feelgood, and found: “Women are realising they have more potential and more opportunities in their lives than narrowing it into motherhood at an early age.
“Becoming a mother might be one of their eventual goals, but it is not their sole aim in life.
“In today’s society, the focus is on individuals becoming efficient workers and consumers, and that makes it difficult to make connections with people who might become secure relationship partners and enable the transition to marriage and motherhood.
“Young women today [also] have financial qualms about becoming married and having children before they are financially secure.
“It is just not financially viable to have only these goals when they are struggling to find well-paid, secure employment.”
Just ask 28-year-old Lauren Crouch from London, who’s out £3.50 (€4.75) after her Tinder date demanded his money back for a coffee. “It lasted 32 minutes, a date in a Costa Coffee,” she told Metro.co.uk in November. “When I politely rejected his follow up text request for another date I was asked to repay the money for the coffee he bought me. As if!”
It’s not the first time the hook-up app has hit headlines for all the wrong reasons, with one Instagram account featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show now dedicated to ‘Tinder Nightmares’.
And while a viral Vanity Fair article last year warned of ‘Tinder and the dawn of the dating apocalypse’, now it looks like it’s Tinder that could be on its last legs instead after users swiped left on a new premium subscription service.
Although it ultimately didn’t work out, Grace revealed how she deleted the dating app from her phone after hitting it off with a guy who wasn’t at all her ‘type’ recently.
“I was on Tinder and [dating site] Plenty of Fish for a while,” she says. “But I think it’s really hard to find somebody on them. You end up just whittling through all the people that are only on it for one thing. I met one really nice guy [on Tinder], and from his picture, I definitely wouldn’t have been attracted to him. After seeing him, it was like, ‘I really can’t go on these dating apps any more’. There’s more to a relationship than looks.”
Hot on the heels of the Ashley Madison hacking scandal last year, matchmaker Rena predicts many others will many others will turn their back on hook-up apps in 2016 too: “When people first download Tinder, it’s all very novel — swipe left, swipe right — but very quickly you run out of guys because you become so fickle. It literally is just about looks.
“With the likes of Tinder and free dating sites like POF, there’s very much an attitude of I’ll throw as much muck at the wall and hope some of it will stick. People are scheduling three or four dates a week, and they’re all meeting for a coffee.
“It’s a real transient, disposable attitude people have about each other. They’re basically saying, ‘You’re not worth even more than €3 for a cappuccino’.”
Although she’s perfectly happy on her own, ahead of the dreaded feast of St Valentine next month, even in the age of the ‘freemale’, entrepreneur Aoife confesses there can be pressure to be coupled up. “Of the four girls I live with, three are in relationships and one other girl is single. Definitely from my dad’s generation, they’d be like, ‘Oh really, you’re single? What’s wrong with you?’ I’d say once I hit 30, I might feel the pressure more. While marriage is not the number one priority, I would want to make sure that I did have a family in the future.”
Despite the title, even How to be Single, which hits cinemas here on February 19, is likely to have a chocolate-box ending, star Dakota Johnson hinted: “It’s about the ebb and flow of finding yourself and finding love and why does it matter.”
Avalon Relationship Consultants founder David Kavanagh says it’s difficult to get away from images of loved-up couples. “Hollywood gives us this notion that you’re not a whole person unless you have another person in your life, the consequences of which can be very serious,” he says. “People will tolerate all sorts of unhelpful and unhealthy behaviour from their partner because their identity is so bound up in the concept of being part of a couple.
“If Hollywood pumped us full of the idea that you’re perfectly [fine] by yourself, and that [romantic] relationships are secondary to your existence, I think society would possibly be a happier place. We’d believe more in ourselves rather than being dependent on others.”
Until then, to truly discover how to be single, Ireland’s partner-free population might want to make a date with family or friends this February 14.
“It’s challenging because society demands of us to be in a relationship, but I think we need to deconstruct what it means to be single,” continues Kavanagh.
“You have to believe in your own ability to be happy as a single person and look at the positive aspects of that: you can do what you want, go where you like, you don’t have to think about anybody else.
“It’s not about being selfish, it’s about being self-oriented until such time as you’re ready to be in a relationship with somebody.”
DO: Clear your diary — matchmakers here say they’re fed up of young professionals who claim to be “too busy” to date. Is Monday night spinning class really that important? Didn’t think so.
DON’T: Dump your friends — use your time as a singleton to nurture friendships and don’t kick your BFF to the curb when Mr Right (now) comes along. Who knows when you’ll need a shoulder to cry on.
DO: Lower the bar — Intro Matchmaking has been forced to turn away some clients because their expectations are so high. Standards are good — expecting Poldark is plain unrealistic.
DON’T: Lower it too much — while it’s tempting to play the numbers game on dating apps like Tinder, just remember that you won’t get all those hours spent sifting through weirdos and time-wasters back.
DO: Date on an empty stomach — Ireland’s real-life Cupids recommend going for lunch or dinner rather than a quick coffee. It gives you, and your date, the chance to whet each other’s appetites.
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