How to be single in 2017
Somewhere between the wild party girl and the crazy cat lady lies a whole host of people who are long-term single - and, before you ask, they don't know the reason why. Here, our reporter talks to singletons about their real-life experiences playing the dating game…
'How are you still single?" is a question that Alison Canavan has heard more times than she would care to count. Still, it's hard to believe that the former model, arguably one of the most beautiful in the country, is single - and even harder to believe that she doesn't get asked out.
"People always say 'I can't believe you don't get asked out', but it just doesn't happen," she says. "I think if you're actively putting yourself out there - which is something I haven't done - then it could be different."
Give or take a few dalliances, Alison has been single for the last six years - mostly by choice and partly by circumstance. As a single mum to six-year-old James, she has been kept busy raising her child and studying Nutritional Science and Therapeutics.
The 38-year-old, author of Minding Mum, has also been going through something of a personal evolution: she's been sober for almost two years and has put considerable work into overcoming the demons at the root of her addiction to alcohol. "Obviously it would be great to meet someone," she continues, "but while the person I meet would be a very welcome addition, he's not going to fix a part that I think is broken, or fulfill a part that I think is empty."
There are two single woman tropes that the movies peddle. The first is the footloose and fancy-free party girl whose life is a whirl of Tinder dates and nouveau cocktails. The other one has managed her own expectations and adopted a cat.
The reality for long-term single women in Ireland is very different. Some women are married to their job, some have a love-hate relationship with online dating, and some, like Alison, realise that they have to work on their relationship with themselves before they can enter into a nourishing, healthy relationship with someone else.
In other cases, single women simply haven't experienced the type of connection that compels a person to shape their entire life around someone.
Elaine* (36) works in the media industry and has been single for most of her adult life.
"Every now and then I'll meet a guy I initially like but it usually doesn't lead to anything of substance," she says. "It seems to be difficult to meet someone to whom you're both physically and mentally attracted. The last time I was with anyone for a significant amount of time - a few months, that is - was about four years ago."
Aoife*, 36, was single for five years in her 20s. She's now in a happy relationship, but she had to kiss plenty of frogs along the way. "When you're single, over 35 and suffering from Tinder fatigue, there are definitely moments when you resign yourself to eternal spinsterhood," she says.
"Then you try and convince yourself society has changed and while 50 years ago marriage was an economic necessity for women, now it's not, and you'd be better off without than having to make someone's dinner when you get home from work every night. But then you remember it would be nice to have someone to share that dinner with too…"
The tick-tock of the biological clock can compound the pressure. While Newsweek eventually retracted the statistic that underpinned their alarmist 1980s cover story - 'Single women over 40 are more likely to be killed by terrorism than to get married' - there is evidence to suggest that a woman's chances of meeting someone decline alongside her fertility.
Author and actress Claudia Carroll (48) recently admitted that she has all but given up on her search for Mr Right. "I'm a long-term single and I'm kind of at the point where I'm giving up - any guys my age want somebody 20 years younger than me, and anyone who is interested in people my age is my dad's age," she said.
Tony Moore, a counsellor with Relationships Ireland, says he has noticed an increase in the number of single people he encounters in his practice. "Each year I'm seeing more and more people who are on their own.
"Some of these people are very ambitious," he adds. "They might have started climbing the career ladder at 26/27 and then they get to 35/36 and they realise that they want to settle down."
Tony's anecdotal observations dovetail with empirical research. There are more single people than ever before in the US. Closer to home, according to the 2011 Census, there has been a 15pc increase in the number of people identifying as single.
"I heard some stats from a friend of a friend who had paid up to a dating service," says Aoife. "They basically told her there were more women than men in Dublin and she'd have to stop being so picky and be willing to date someone from outside of Dublin if she wanted to find a man." The data they cited is correct. Of all the counties, Dublin has the lowest ratio of men to women, with 949 males for every 1,000 females.
"We're probably the dating agency that this woman is referring to," says Rena Maycock, director and co-founder of Intro Matchmaking and arealkeeper.ie. "When we first set up the company, we naively thought we could get people matches in their own counties, but then patterns started to emerge.
"We looked at Census figures and noticed that there are more single, educated women than men in Dublin. And there are fewer men in certain age brackets because when men get separated/divorced, they tend to marry younger women.
"Now when we match people, we tell them that they have to be willing to travel, up to an hour-and-a-half to an equidistant point."
Rena has also noticed that the single people on her books can "throw obstacles in their own way" when she finds them a match. "They've joined and paid over €700, which is not an insignificant amount of money, and then when we try to organise their matches they tell us they have a thesis due or something, and they ask to postpone the date for two months."
Men are equally as busy as women, adds Rena: "They tend to overwork so that they don't have to spend time on their own, but it's a vicious circle as they then don't have any free time to go on dates."
Online dating presents its own challenges. "Ireland is too small," says Aoife. "If you and a couple of single friends are on dating apps, guaranteed someone will have already dated and rejected anyone you like. At first I felt it was getting a bit competitive when one particular friend started raining on my parade - but then it turned out the guy in question was a complete sociopath so she was right to warn me off."
Long-term single women like Aoife are often on the receiving end of well-meaning, albeit unsolicited, advice. Aoife's friends recommended that she take up different hobbies to meet potential partners. Elaine's friends suggested that she work on her confidence and "stop talking about serious, current affairs-type stuff".
Both women have been told, at various points, to "put themselves out there". How exactly one goes about putting themselves 'out there' is less clear, although it's fairly safe to conclude that leaving the house helps - see our guide on pages 12-15.
"If you don't go out, you don't meet people," says Tony. "[Long-term single people] start to think 'this is what I'm meant to be' and then they don't go out and meet other people. So I get people to look at their lifestyle and I ask what they are doing to perpetuate this."
Tony also works with a number of single people who are trying to heal from toxic relationships. "Some people have been in particularly controlling relationships and would have lost their sense of self," he explains. "They'll come along and say they managed to extricate themselves from a very bad relationship, but rebuilding themselves takes quite a lot of time - an inordinate amount of time.
"Their self-belief and self-confidence is coming from a very low base. They may want a relationship but they wonder if they are able to cope with rejection."
His advice resonates with Alison who, after six years of soul-searching, is now considering the possibility of a long-term relationship. "I wouldn't accept what I accepted before," she says. "I didn't value myself, so how would I expect someone else to value me?
"I think the last few years have been important to really get to know myself, spend time with myself and get comfortable in my own skin," she continues.
"I was entering relationships in the hope that someone would fill a void in me. I now realise that we're on our own in this universe to become whole beings, and only when we're whole can we enter into a loving, healthy, fulfilling relationship."
Radio broadcaster Nina* (38) also took a few years to get to know herself before she met her fiancé in 2015. "When I turned 30, I made a decision to focus on making some changes to help me get happier in my life. Being single was a big part of that. My 20s were pretty much a conveyor belt of relationships. I needed time and space to get to know (and get to like) myself.
"One part of being single was a decision I made (after a few really unsatisfying flirtations) not to get romantically involved with a man again unless he actually asked me out on a proper date first. It took about three years before someone did, but it didn't feel like I was standing around waiting for someone, that's just how it worked out."
Alison has an equally sanguine outlook on the benefits of singlehood. "You can be single and be fulfilled, even though some people don't think it's possible," she says. "A lot of people will accept anything because they're scared of being on their own. They'd rather suffer in an unhealthy relationship rather than make the move.
"They look at me and think, 'Oh poor her on her own with a child'. But if I'm not having a pity party for myself, then you don't have to have one on my behalf."
*Names have been changed
Dating can be soul-destroying — but don’t be discouraged…
Dating is hard work — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. “It’s just a matter of putting yourself out there,” friends and family will inform you, often with an edge of impatience to their tone, as though they can’t believe that they’ve had to elucidate something so obvious to anyone possessing of a brain. You, meanwhile, affix a rigor mortis smile and hope that they can’t see the flash of anger/well of tears in your eyes. For dating is not just a matter of putting yourself out there — it’s a matter of doing it again and again and again, your confidence slowly eroding all the while.
With each date comes the same cycle of nerves and hope and disappointment and self-loathing. For every true horror story — whose comedic retelling you can dine out on for months — there are 10 incidences where your date was nice, but there was no spark. There’s only so many of that kind of date you can go on before you start to fixate on what it is that’s wrong with you. Are you so unattractive or lacking in personality that none of these nice, normal people feel a connection with you?
Of course, that’s if you manage to get a date in the first place. Another favourite recommendation of your coupled-up acquaintances will be to “just go online,” as though finding a partner is as simple as making an internet purchase — express delivery please.
In truth, online dating involves hours of trawling through photos and profiles. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s disheartening; it depends on the place you’re in on any given day.
Most of the messages you receive will just say “hi” — ignoring these is the prime rule of online dating
land — others will be offensive, and many of the messages you work up the courage to send will go unanswered. After exchanging emails over the course of a week with one man, I asked if he’d like to meet for a drink. He responded to say that he was also chatting to a girl who was “WAY hotter” than me but he’d let me know if she wasn’t up for seeing him first. Ego seriously bruised, I deleted my entire account and didn’t go back online for three years.
Then there was the blind date — set up by a mutual friend — whose face fell as he walked towards me. Most people resign themselves to a drink and a chat when there’s no spark, but this bloke visibly couldn’t wait to get away. There was the guy I met in a bar and swapped numbers with. We went for dinner and I really liked him, but he said a blunt “no” to a second date. He’s now married to someone in my wider social circle, and my cheeks burn with mortification every time we meet.
And then there was the colleague who caught me by surprise when he asked me out. I said yes, thinking ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, but knew early into our date that there was nothing more than friendship there for me. Cue more flaming cheeks, this time from both of us.
Yes, dating truly is hard work. But take it from me, the more you date, the easier it gets. And for every time your confidence takes a kick, there’s a time when you’ll be reassured by the amount of other wonderful people out there looking for love. It really is only by putting yourself out there — in your attitude if nowhere else — that you’ll find the one for you. Good luck!
* Leslie Ann Horgan