Louise O'Neill: single white female

Sympathetic glances on February 14 aside, being a singleton has many advantages, not least the huge amount of ‘me time’, says Louise O’Neill.

Louise O'Neill: single white female

Ilike February. Who doesn’t? It’s the beginning of Spring. January is dead and buried and a respectable amount of time has passed so you can finally stop pretending that ‘2015 is going to be my healthiest year, EVER!’, and, most importantly of all, it is my birthday month. (Send presents c/o the Irish Examiner office, please and thank you.)

(Send presents c/o the Irish Examiner office, please and thank you.)

I look forward to the 1st of February so much that I always seem to forget what else this month is famous for. Then I notice heart-shaped boxes of Ferrero Rocher beginning to pile up in my local Londis.

I see that the newsagent looks like Pink and Red went on a bender and threw up all over their stock, and the Lidl newsletter has a scantily clad model on the cover under the headline “Make It Special”.

Because nothing says romance like synthetic underwear from a German discount supermarket, obviously. This happens every year, and every year I react in surprise.

Valentine’s Day. I guess we’re still doing this.

While I don’t begrudge the extra income the day affords small businesses such as florists, newsagents, and restaurants, it’s difficult not to conclude that it’s really just an attempt by multinational greeting card companies to pocket as much of our hard earned cash as they can.

Before you ask, yes, I am single (I know! I find it hard to believe too.) but my disdain for Valentine’s is not just because of my blackened heart and inability to love. (Form an orderly queue, gentlemen.)

I’ve been single for Valentine’s Day and I’ve been in a relationship, and I’ve found the holiday equally stupid, regardless of my relationship status.

The only difference is that while I was in a relationship, I ridiculed the concept mercilessly while simultaneously expecting my boyfriend to spell out my name in fireworks in the midnight sky.

It’s still a mystery to me why things didn’t work out between us. While it’s acceptable to mock Valentine’s when you’re in a relationship, a single person who does the same is almost inevitably treated to a sympathetic head tilt and ‘hmmm mmm.’

But here’s the thing — I like being single. As a woman on the cusp of turning 30, that is supposed to be an almost revolutionary statement, and yet I have plenty of friends who are also unattached and they are similarly content.

Since leaving a long-term relationship in 2011, my life has improved exponentially. I could be selfish, focus on myself, figure out my own issues and how I might resolve them, and began to understand that I was responsible for my own happiness rather than futilely relying on another person to do so for me.

I had the time and freedom to concentrate on my ambitions; I decided I wanted to become an author and I wrote my first novel, Only Ever Yours.

Those are all the sensible, mature reasons why I like being single. Here a few of the more prosaic reasons:

Personal grooming

Take absolutely no notice of the photo that is accompanying this article. On a day to day basis, I look like a cross between Onslow from Keeping Up The Appearances and something that was found in the ruins of a shipwreck.

Who do I have to impress? The two most important entities in my life are my laptop and my electric blanket (we’re heavily involved) and neither of them cares if I’ve washed my hair in five days or not.

Me time

I need what some might call an inordinate amount of personal space. A close friend called for tea recently, and after an hour I looked at my watch, smiled, and said “Ok, I’ve had enough. It’s time for you to leave now.”

Marry me not

I tend to prescribe to the Sylvia Plath view on marriage. In The Bell Jar she wrote, “That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from.

I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.” While I know that, yes, marriage is a privilege not afforded to everyone (Vote yes in May!), it’s still not something I have any real interest in.

Festive expenses

Christmas is far less expensive without having to fork out for a new iPhone or flying lessons or a weekend break to a five-star hotel. I never understood the rational of spending twice as much on a Significant Other than you do on your parents.

I owe my father approximately €500 million, give or take a few million. He deserves more than the latest sports autobiography and a selection box.

Fatal attraction

I’m very contrary. Once someone tells me that I can’t do/have something then that is literally all that I want. So when I’m in a relationship and obliged to be monogamous, I start finding every man that I come across attractive. Even that octogenarian has a certain charm — I think it’s the way he manoeuvres his Zimmer frame. #Ride.

Question of standards

My wildly disparate standards for friends and boyfriends usually cause problems. Things that I find cute (okay, tolerable) in friends such as mistaking ‘your’ for ‘you’re’, and the over enthusiastic usage of exclamation marks, make me want to murder a prospective love interest. Legit murder them. And it would be worth it.

It’s lucky that I’m so perfect myself, really.

I think my real problem with Valentine’s Day is the pressure that it exerts upon us to conform to certain ideas, chiefly that being in a relationship is inherently superior to being single.

Women in particular are often conditioned to believe that their genetic destiny is to find a mate and to have children.

Young girls are given dolls, prams, and play kitchens to practice their nurturing skills upon; when highly accomplished women die, more emphasis is placed upon their family than on their career achievements. Many fear condemnation if they decide that this life path is not for them.

It is a strange phenomenon. I do not assume that because I had a burning desire to write a novel that every other person in the world must harbour similar ambitions. So why do so many people assume that all single women must secretly yearn for an engagement ring and motherhood?

Of course there are single people who want to be in a committed relationship, and I’m aware that Valenine’s Day must be an aching reminder to them that they are not.

But surely we can all agree that there is nothing more lonely than being with the wrong person, no matter how many red roses they buy you on the 14th of February.

So. What am I going to be doing for Valentine’s Day, you ask?

The same thing I do every day. Try to take over the world.


If you’re single on Valentine’s Day:

Don’t spend the day on Tinder attempting to find a date. If the glaring spelling mistakes and grammatical errors don’t make you despair for the future of Ireland, the d*ck-pics certainly will.

Don’t go out for a meal by yourself. Restaurants on Valentine’s Day is where joy came to die. You will be subjected to over-priced set menus and exhausted, harried looking couples who look as if they haven’t laughed in the last 10 years.

Do as my American friends do and have a singles party. This is where everyone brings a single friend that is cute and nice but they just don’t fancy. If you are friends with Hozier or Max Irons, please invite me to your party immediately.

Do get to the supermarket just before it closes and check if they’ve knocked the price on those Ferrero Rochers. Chocolate is the solution to everything.

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