Confessions of a modern Irish bachelor
My name is Hugh Farrelly -- I'm single, straight and 38. This is my story ...
Published 21/08/2010 | 05:00
Thirty-eight is panic- button time. An age when women start freezing their eggs and men are ready to put them all in one basket.
Forty is just around the corner and with that unsettling knowledge comes the depressing realisation that more than half your expected lifetime has been spent acting the maggot.
Suddenly, you look around and begin to register that what was once seen as "great craic" is now regarded merely as sad. Party pieces which used to bring the house down -- the MC Hammer dance, erotic gyrating with poles and making up dirty verses to established ballads -- now arouse pity and accompanying unease.
You stand back and reflect on the fact that the boxes next to the established responsibility checklist of house, family and car/ability to drive remain steadfastly un-ticked.
You haven't shaved regularly since 1998, have been unable to tuck in your shirt since 2004 and your major passions in life are cricket, tipped cigars, a dead blues guitarist named Rory Gallagher and pubs that provide decent porter and lock-ins in equal measure.
All in all, it's a hard sell.
If the aforementioned resumé does not exactly have prospective wives beating your door down, the crisis is complicated by your hypocritical ability to dismiss potential life partners on the basis of minor deal-breaking criteria.
Any girl who masticates and/or talks with their mouth full is immediately ruled out, as are those who employ the American response of "I'm good" (good at what exactly?) when asked if they would like another gin and tonic.
Women who show too much cleavage, keep pictures of pets in their purses or like to warble 'Black Is the Colour'/'Fields of Gold'/ 'American Pie' when tipsy are similarly banished. It is utterly illogical and self-defeating to apply such unreasonable rules on the rare occasions when romance tentatively raises its head above the parapet, yet beggars, it seems, can be choosy.
The social pressure
It creeps up on you. All your peers are partnered up and happily doing laps of the dinner party circuit -- the accepted social outlet for Irish people in their 30s -- while you remain outside jogging on the spot. True, the established dinner party itinerary of 'house tours', pretentious food, backing music from the Norah Jones/David Gray genre and conversations about property, holidays, children and how couples met may not prove to your liking, but it would be nice to establish that fact first-hand.
Then there are the weddings. You get invited to stags but the bride draws the line at bringing her intended's feckless college friend to the big day out. And if you do make the cut for the ceremony proper, you are deposited at the 'fun table' which, in truth, is the 'There But For the Grace of God' table (strategically placed in the furthest, shadowy corner of the function room).
Once seated, you find yourself surrounded by fellow eternal bachelors and maniacal women caked in shelf dust who repeatedly tell you how much they "love being single", when the twitch in their eye and high-pitched laughter strongly suggest otherwise.
The 'fun' element to the table turns out to be some self-professed gas ticket doing bad 'Gift Grub' impressions before he organises a sweep on the length of the speeches.
After emerging from this horror, you drink too much, make a fool of yourself dancing to 'Can't Touch This', get blown out by a 'shelfer' who hasn't been kissed since Live Aid, weave a lonely path to your hotel bed and wake up on the floor.
"How many Irish Mammies does it take to change a light bulb?"
"Ah don't mind us, sure we'll be all right here in the dark."
The Irish Mammy is a long- suffering, ceaselessly nurturing Madonna who stoically accepts whatever challenges life flings at her.
However, the eternal patience of the Irish Mammy is seriously challenged if her progeny are not married off and churning out grandkids (preferably in that order) by a suitable age.
Ireland is a nation of Mammy's boys and, for miscreant sons, the desire to bring joy to the woman who brought you into the world surpasses all.
Thus, as marriage proves ever-more elusive, it is particularly painful to witness your mammy travel through the various stages of anticipation, hope, panic, anger and pity before eventually setting down forlornly on silent despair.
In this scenario, family functions prove especially exacting. Weddings, funerals, christenings and landmark birthdays have their primary points of focus, but once the celebrating and/or mourning is dispensed with, a subterranean contest is played out under the guise of "catching-up" -- the Mammy-off -- when respective children are held up for Top Trumps-style scrutiny.
When it is just you and the younger sister, your Mammy has only two arrows to fire from her quiver, one of which flies considerably further than the other. This can lead to emasculating and mortifying introductions when the Mammies lock horns.
"Betty, you remember my daughter Sarah? She runs her own, very successful graphic design company and is happily married to Finian, a wonderful teacher and a Gaeilgeoir.
They have a lovely house with a patio out the back, two adorable children called Rory and Elizabeth and drive a Volvo V50 Estate, although they have a Subaru as well, just for nipping about the place.
"Oh ... and this is Hugh."
The hunting grounds
With age comes the gradual acceptance that nights on the town are designed for the young. They hit the pubs and clubs with gleeful, vibrant abandon, youthful energy accentuated by the absence of baggage and ne'er a thought for the mission statement crippling their elder counterparts -- the need to "meet someone".
That self-imposed directive sees the over-35 singleton get dressed up in clothes aimed at a younger generation and head out emitting the cloying stench of 'Eau de Desperation' -- an odour that creates the same effect Pepe le Pew had on the objects of his cartoon desire.
Once this demoralising scenario registers, if you are willing to bury any remaining vestiges of moral decency, you may then seek to take advantage of Ireland's ever-increasing rates of divorce and separation and head for establishments that cater for the flotsam and jetsam of unhappy marriages.
Bitterness chokes the atmosphere in these places, battling for air time with forced gaiety, and unseemly ground can be made with the use of phrases such as "it must have been very hard for you ... ", "after all you've been through, it's great that you still have such a lust for life" and "he's some eejit to let you go".
A conscience-appeasing alternative is the remarkable phenomenon that is Copper Face Jacks.
Every night of the week, people gather in this hedonistic haven with the sole purpose of having a good time and hanging, drawing and quartering the consequences.
If you have been fortunate enough to acquire a much-prized Copper's gold card, you wave it about like Charlie Bucket's ticket to Willie Wonkaland, dodge the queues and dive in.
Though obviously out of step with the county jersey-clad coquettes surrounding you, moshing to 'Galway Girl' can prove a great leveller and, even if taco fries and a doner kebab prove to be your sole companions on the walk home, Coppers remains an oasis in a desert of despair.
The last resorts
When you have a history of sabotaging relationships with perfectly lovely women (who, uniformly, seem to ricochet from "what was I thinking?" to life fulfilment once they have made their escape), you have to question whether you are operating in the correct sphere.
And, without wishing to simplify matters or over-generalise, homosexuality has its attractions -- stylish dressing, good dancing, animated conversation -- while the Mammy was once overheard to declare that she "just wants to see her boy happy, whatever his lifestyle choices".
However, that particular choice seems to revolve around whether you like things hard or soft, and when the soft option is all that you have ever known or pursued, it is hard to switch over.
Thus, aside from the hit-and-hope heterosexual nightclub scene, you are reduced to the various accepted boy-meets-girl avenues that modern society provides in increasing abundance.
There are plenty of suggestions thrust in your path by well-intentioned acquaintances. Salsa dancing was one -- dismissed on the basis of being a little too energetic (not to mind obvious).
Hill-walking was another, but with little interest in either hills or walking, the prospect of breathy chat-ups with outdoorsy females in shorts and mountain boots was less than alluring.
As for pool aerobics? "Pass, Africa 10," as the contestants used to say to Teresa Lowe on 'Where In The World'.
That leaves only the ambivalent language of singles ads and online dating -- a world where "bubbly" means whale-like and "open-minded" translates as sexually depraved.
Do away with the hang-ups, for a start. This would require a mindset change that is willing to view an irritating giggle as evidence of a warm personality and a woman licking her knife in a restaurant as an encouraging sign of sensuality, rather than an unforgivable breach of first-date etiquette.
There are also the responsibility-embracing options of buying a house, learning how to drive and putting some time into personal grooming -- including the purchase of glasses that do not cause you to be compared to a paedophile, Harry Potter or a "fat Gok Wan".
However, there still remains the (rapidly diminishing but unfailingly optimistic) hope that there is a woman alive who enjoys Rory's riffs, the smell of effeminate cigars, the cricketing delight that is BBC Radio's 'Test Match Special' on a Sunday morning lie-in and who is not only prepared to ferry you around in a suitably sized car but also knows how to parallel park.
You never know, such a maladjusted angel may just be out there. Keep the faith, Mammy.