What's stopping single men from committing to relationships?

Nearly half of men aged 30-39 are single but 90% want to be in a relationship. So what’s stopping them?

THE single Irish man is changing. Yes, he still wears T-shirts in winter, still eats burgers and chips like there is no tomorrow, and still urinates — cheekily — in public but it would seem he is getting older.

“Two or three decades ago, living together and casual relationships were not part of the social norm,” says relationship counsellor and psychotherapist Lisa O’Hara.

“People got married at a younger age and followed the traditional route. Because of exposure to social media, especially when it comes to dating, our worlds have opened up. Relationships that are initiated online can be fleeting and instantaneous and the dating pool is large, with no need for commitment.

“If you add to that the fact that men and women mature at a different pace. Unlike women, men are less likely to get caught up in the urgency of a biological clock and it may not be until they hit the milestone age of 40 that they turn their attention to settling down and finding someone to share their lives with on a permanent basis.”

Statistics from the CSO’s last census in 2011 showed that 47.4% of men aged between 30 and 39 described themselves as single. Comparing the latest figures with those of the 1996 census the difference is quite staggering. Back then only 29.9% of men in the 30-39 category described themselves as single. A recent survey of 1,005 adults conducted by Today FM found that 90% of thirty-something males wanted to be in a relationship.

So why are so few of them in one? What is it about today’s Irish man that has him staying away from commitment? Is he being pushed away? And is commitment phobia real?

“I think the first thing to say is that there have been a few changes in society over the last few years,” says the professor of psychiatry at NUI Galway, Gary Donohoe.

“Previously people married for economic reasons whereas these days it’s really more because they want to start a family and for many people now that desire doesn’t kick off until they reach their 30s. So people are much freer to make a choice in their 20s because both men and women don’t financially need to get married.”

That women are now more independent might be a clue to this new wave of 30-plus bachelors. With their own money, Irish female no longer have to accept the advances of the first toothless sheep farmer (no offence fellas) who happens to stumble drunkenly their way in the local pub. So are we to blame feminism for every lonesome stag roaming the country? Not entirely.

“There’s a few perspectives to look at on this,” says Prof Donohoe. “In terms of evolutionary fitness, it’s in men’s best interest to spread their genes by procreating. Women are much more required ... to invest nine months at a go to each child.”

That requirement, also known as being pregnant, means of course that the woman is not able to become pregnant again until nine months have elapsed which is bad news for a man keen to have as many offspring as possible – or so the theory goes.

“Then there’s the social psychology theory,” says Prof Donohoe.

“Men and women are socialised to value different roles. So if you talk to men about the role that’s most important to them they’ll often talk about their work whereas with women, often... the tendency is to start off at least talking about home life and children and family.”

And we’re essentially socialised to those roles.

“But there’s a third perspective,” says Prof Donohoe. “And it’s seen in the psycho-dynamic theory as a reaction to abandonment. So we don’t make commitments because we’re afraid of it going wrong. Now interestingly as far as I’m aware in my work there’s no evidence to say that women and men differ to the degree in which they are phobic about relationships. Getting worked up about them seems to be evenly spread between the sexes.”

Prof Donohoe suggests that failure to commit has less to do with fear and more to do with priorities.

“I don’t think it’s a fear,” he says. “It’s a value choice. Men choose not to make a commitment. To put it in economic terms, some men just don’t see it as in their best interest whereas women tend to more. What you’re really seeing there is a difference in the value that’s placed on marriage [and other long term relationships] by men and women but that’s different from saying that one or other has a phobia, which actually I don’t think the evidence actually supports.”

There is some evidence that might suggest that men do learn to appreciate long-term relationships by the time they have gone through one.

A 2004 report in the Journal of Marriage and Family found 15% of widows and 37% of widowers over 65 were keen to start a relationship. According to another report from 2002, Ageing International found that women were less inclined to remarry because of a newfound freedom whereas men felt they were undesirable. The Annals of Clinical Psychiatry reported in the late 1990s that 60% of men and 20% of women were in a new relationship within two years of being widowed. As to whether this was for comfort, companionship or sex is unclear but the research seems to suggest that once men get a taste of commitment they like it.

Whether married, in a long-term relationship or ardently single there is little doubt that relationships and family life have changed remarkably in Ireland over the last number of years.

We still love a good shindig at a wedding but people are prepared to wait and often a trip to the maternity ward comes before a trip down the aisle.

As of 2011, there were more than 60,000 family units (CSO words, not mine) made up of co-habiting parents and one or more children in Ireland. But this brings with its own problems and the pressure of child- rearing often results in cracks in relationships.

While this trend towards co-habitation might be seen by some as a sign of men’s reluctance to commit, others would argue it is simply a sign of a changing and freer attitude towards relationships.

“There’s an evolutionary and biological advantage to having lots of children,” says clinical psychologist Dr Patricia Murphy

“There is an advantage to the species to having more people in it and of course having more children increases the chances of having someone to look after you into old age.

“Marriage, I think, was developed to stop men being feral and promiscuous and it was very much to tame them, tie them to the woman and the children that he had with that woman; for greater social stability children need their mother and their father. That was largely successful really until people started to take a more casual view of marriage.”


Michael Fassbender

Top of the pile, because he seems so comfortable in his skin. Men like him because he has the demeanour of a fella who would go to the pub and have a few pints without spending most of his time checking himself out. A brother would probably be happy if a sister brought him home but probably not as happy as the sister.

Paul Galvin

The now retired Kerry footballer is no stranger to ripping off his top and showing what all that training was about. His energy is almost tigerish and he would be tough to tame. If any woman were to get the Kerryman to settle down at least she’d know where she stood from the off.


Is this fella to be Ireland’s George Clooney? Probably not, he’s just not carefree enough. The earnest soul searching we’ve had to put up with for the last three years does not seem to be affecting his popularity among the ladies. And you’ve got to admit his heart is in the right place.

Domhnall Gleeson

The 31-year-old Dubliner and son of Brendan has been catapulted to fame because of his inclusion in the cast of the new Star Wars movie. He has kept his feet firmly on the ground, and he’s a cheeky chappy too with a wicked sense of humour who by all accounts is good craic.

Des Bishop

The Irish-American gaelgoir is just back from China and is probably looking for his next project. Could it be you? The former BlackrockCollege student would keep any woman happy with his wisecracks but she might have to be a tea-totaler. There is always the risk that he’ll feck off to learn Swahili at the drop of the hat too.


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