The Laws of Loving
Mating and dating have become much more complicated in the new Ireland. Pat Fitzpatrick guides you through the love landscape in this indispensable guide to the new rules of sex and romance in Ireland, while LIFE’s special photo love story takes a look at one Irish Model’s experience of the rules in action.
Published 14/02/2010 | 05:00
Loving ain't easy in Ireland anymore. The nation has a new biological clock. We're expected to date like Americans. You'll need a second mobile phone when you start that affair. There's so much to learn for the modern Irish lover if you want to avoid being left on the shelf.
The Gift of Love
One of the best things about the boom is that Irish men were able to look forward to Valentine's Day. Before the Celtic Tiger, Tony would be reduced to wrestling with another man for the last bunch of flowers outside the Esso station to stop his wife Lorna going nuts. Then along came the good times and Tony did a Bertie Ahern on it by throwing money at the problem and bringing Lorna to Paris for the weekend. Irish people had come a long way from the 'don't I ride ya and buy ya chips' measure of love in the Eighties. And now we're going back.
This is a problem. The biggest strain on love in Ireland is the notion that men are any good at getting presents. It's a complete mismatch.
Irish women buy for their man over a period of two or three months. The slightest comment about a pair of shoes, iPod or box set of Nazi documentaries will add to the list of things Lorna will get Tony for his birthday. The whole point is to show that she listens and then use it against him when he doesn't listen to her, which is all the time. Bad Tony.
You can't overstate how blank Tony's mind goes when he tries to think of a present for Lorna. You know those scenes in The Simpsons when Homer decides to think hard about something and we're shown his mind as a wild-west town with tumbleweed on Main Street? It's like that. Except at least Homer gets tumbleweed. So Tony panics and gets Lorna a food processor in Lidl. They don't talk for a week.
The Celtic Tiger changed all that. Tony still didn't have a clue what to buy but at least now when he panicked he was able to buy her a 4x4. At one level this freaked Lorna out because it was no more thoughtful than a blender. At another level, she got a new 4x4. Wait till I show the girls. My Tony rang the bank and pretended he needed a top-up on the mortgage to convert the attic, all so that I could have a Rav4 with alloys and leather interior. That's love, that is.
The recession has changed all that. No more 4x4s. Lorna will adjust, no problem, replacing Tony's flying lessons with some thoughtful trinkets for a tenner. She'll reassure him by saying he's not to spend a fortune because, as everybody knows, it's the thought that counts.
As Tony knows, it's the thought that hurts. There are three things he can try.
The first is to ask her best friend or favourite sister for an idea. She is bound to have one. You see, women like thinking about what presents to buy so much that they will often try to figure out what present another person should buy. They'll have a spare, so just ring them up and ask what it is. By the way Tony, make sure to delete the call history from your mobile phone, because there will be all kinds of questions if Lorna finds it. If she does, then lie and pretend you're having an affair with her sister. You'll get in all kinds of strife, but it will be nothing to the bollocking you'd get for not putting enough thought into her present.
A cheeky alternative is to ring the sister or friend, ask what they are giving and say: "Do you mind if I give that instead and you give something else?" She won't. It's in her interest that you give the right present or else she'll have to listen to what a loser you are. That can last a bit. So she'll hand hers over and move on to number two on the list.
If all else fails, bring home a puppy. The puppy is the modern 4x4. Lorna will spot that you simply drove down to Dave's buddy who got stuck with seven hungry mouths when his Labrador had it off with a collie. But she will also spot that he has a cute little nose. Isn't that right, you little puppy? You have a cute little nose, don't you? Oh, Tony, you're so thoughtful.
Your place or mine?
Every man in Ireland who has been on a first date will be familiar with 'the phone call'. This is the pre-arranged call from your date's best friend, designed to give her an out in case you're dishwater dull.
If your date looks startled and says: "Oh, my God! Tricia, are you alright? I'll come right over," then you've drawn a blank. If she laughs and says: "That's great, I'll catch you tomorrow," then you're on the road to Loving Town.
Before the crash, the easiest way to make an impact before the phone call was to mention that you owned property. The words: "You want to come back to my place?" were a real turn-on when it emerged that it was your place in every sense of the word. Not only were you on the property ladder, but a bank had decided you were credit-worthy. There was a time when you could say that without laughing. Or crying.
That's not a runner any more. Nobody is getting into anybody's knickers these days until everybody comes clean about their debts. The truth is that people are more afraid of catching negative equity than they are of catching the clap. Even people on the pull will want to know that they're not hooking up somebody whose financial future hinges on a EuroMillions jackpot. There are a few dos and don'ts around this.
Do not, under any circumstances, reveal that you bought at the peak in the hope of getting a sympathy shag. When the phone call comes from her best friend, she'll abandon the bull and shout, "Tricia, this eejit bought a two-bed townhouse with a 100 per cent mortgage in 2007: how do you think things are going?" No nooky, no future, and now the whole restaurant knows. Don't be that foolish.
If you happen to own a newish house in an out-of-town estate and are looking for love, it's crucial to make it look like you rent the place if you bring someone back. The slightest hint that you bought this heap of rubbish and your score goes up in smoke. So stop cutting your grass. Nothing says rented property more than a bit of pampas out the front. Your house should be decorated in the style of a junior suite in one of those new three-star hotels built for tax purposes. Think yellow. A badly stained carpet is a winner too. If you have laminate floors, then just toss a drop of red wine on the wall.
Don't let the bedroom give the game away. A lot of people fall at the final hurdle because they forget that if you want to make it look like you live in a rented gaff then you need a crappy scratcher. So, throw out that mahogany bed you bought for six grand with a mattress that remembers your name (Jesus, what were we thinking?) and put in a €299 spring-mattress job that is always on the verge of collapse. Seriously, the debt-free sex will be so good you won't even notice that spring sticking into your arse.
Of course, people who bought together during the boom are stuck with each other. Otherwise-happy couples are trying to win out in the blame game. Old emails are being scanned for: "Seriously, love, there has never been a better time to get into property. Our children would never forgive us if we didn't buy an investment townhouse off the plans in a development 14 miles the wrong side of Carlow." There are endless arguments over who was first to say David McWilliams had a point.
Enough already. If romance is to have any chance in Ireland, then warring couples will have to sign up to a Property Amnesty. This would involve total forgiveness for any investment decisions made during the past five years. All emails and texts on the subject are to be destroyed. The official story to adopt is that Bertie Ahern tried to ruin your relationship by forcing you to take out a mortgage of 10 times your salary. But your love is stronger that that.
This amnesty will put the spice back into your relationship. You might even get jiggy on that €4,000 leather sofa one more time before the sheriff gets his hands on it.
Finding Mr Right
Most Irish people make it well into their 30s without finding Mr or Mrs Right. The majority would like to get that done and dusted in their 20s, but couldn't settle down because somebody kept pouring them another drink.
So they hurtle into 30 and decide there is no way they can face the Irish-pub mating ritual. It's not hard to see why.
The Irish male will attempt to mate in the time between 'I'm drunk enough to approach strangers' and 'I'm losing control of my bladder'. That's a narrow window. A lot of women end up stranded. A word for the men here though. If you find yourself chatting up a woman while standing in a puddle of your own making and she's still showing signs of interest, ask yourself who's more desperate here.
That said, there are still some people who find love in the pub. You know the way it goes. You score with somebody and share a quick feel at the taxi rank, but don't bring them home because seriously, no one wants to seem like a slut. Next step is text tennis, starting the following Tuesday night with "u mightnt remember me, dying sick on Saturday, how u?"
This text tennis concludes on Thursday night with a date on the Saturday to meet for a drink, which is really a four-pint minimum and something beyond the taxi rank if both parties came up to scratch. Now that's romance.
For those who can't stomach it, there's always the internet. Remember this, though; internet dating is a blind date. Both men and women need the get-out phone call from their friend at the very start of the evening in case the photo on the web turns out to be a complete lie and their date looks like a bag of hammers. Alternatively, the person will sometimes look much better than their profile picture. That means they hate themselves and it won't be long before they hate you. Either that or they'll be off-the-scale needy. It's hard to know which is worse. Take the phone call and bail out.
Now, internet dating means slightly different things to men and women. Women see it as an interview, a chance to ask some questions. Men see it a test, a chance to get some sex. At least that's how it works in most countries.
It's different here. Padraig arrives and buys them both a drink. If Padraig's date is from out foreign (particularly the States), that will be the end of the drinking. But if his date is Nuala from Clonmel, then we have two strangers in the tightest bond that can exist between Irish people; they are in a round. This only ever goes one way.
Nuala: Sure, let me get you another one.
Padraig: Sure it never hurt anybody.
(Then, five drinks later . . .)
Padraig: Is it my round?
Nuala: That jumper really suits your eyes. (They giggle nervously and try to remember what underwear they put on.)
To get around this, there has been a move recently to make Irish dating more American. You'll see a lot of 'relationship experts' suggest that it might be best to take booze out of the equation and just meet for coffee. If anything this is more dangerous than meeting for booze, because being Irish they'll still end up in a round.
Nuala: Let me get you another one.
Padraig (tapping his foot furiously): It's good stuff, Nuala! Good stuff.
(Five espressos later . . .)
Nuala (wide-eyed and lip-chewing): Jesus, Padraig, we're completely incompatible and there's a fair honk off your breath, but I feel like I could sit here and talk to you all day. Do you feel a connection?
Padraig: Well, Nuala, you've an annoying voice and keep saying 'stop the lights' but my heart is pounding like crazy. That must mean something.
(Two years later, divorce.)
The Age Thing
The Iris Robinson affair reminded us that teenagers can make terrible mistakes. If you find yourself attracted to a much older man or woman, then just imagine them naked. Disgusting, isn't it? Just because an older person helps you through the tender process for a riverside cafe doesn't mean their body has escaped the ageing process. You'll just end up in some crummy hotel room late at night begging them to put their clothes back on.
Of course, age is still critical in mainstream Irish dating. It is the downfall of an Irish single male we will call Mr Tick Tock. Tick Tock's mating strategy hinges on a woman's biological clock. He is the bottom feeder on the dating scene who preys on single women in their 30s because, let's face it, ladies, you're not getting any younger.
He has a beer belly, grey teeth, deep-fried hair and an attitude problem. His motto is: 'It's me or nothing, girls.' He will die alone.
Tick Tock should look at Sex and the City. His thirty-something targets watch it every night on Comedy Central. They see Carrie Bradshaw work one hour a week and still live a fabulous single life in New York at the age of 40. This idiot called Mr Big seems to follow her around and pay her bills. Babies can wait.
Tick Tock isn't picking up the tag for anything. The recession is a mancession and he's broke. The two things he had going for him -- sperm and cash -- are either irrelevant or gone.
And now he's being blown off the park by men from Bulgaria to Brazil who now live in Ireland. They comb their hair and know their way around aftershave. They don't use slagging as a form as seduction.
So while Tick Tock likes 'Are they real?' as an opening line, the Carlos brigade will ask a question about her hair. Irish women have weighed the two approaches up and put Tick Tock on the scrap heap.
It's time to put Fas to some use and let some of these slick foreign lads upskill our Tick Tocks to cope with the new reality. Lesson 1: Farting is never funny.
Having an Affair
Fair play to all the competition in the mobile-phone market, it's made it much easier to have an affair. It allows the cheater to get really good value on the 'affair mobile', the second phone that is vital for correspondence with the Jezebel.
Latest figures show that there are five million subscribers here, in a population of 4.2 million -- or, as the marketing people call it, 120 per cent penetration. Nice choice of words. We'd make Tiger Woods look faithful.
That second phone is a huge mistake. You have to hide it and set it on silent or else it will land you in the crap. At least if you're partner catches you offside by going through your regular phone, you can parry it with a bit of indignation. "So you think it's OK to go through my phone? This is how the Nazis started." It won't do you any good, but at least it gives you something to do other than crying and promising not to stray again.
This won't work with the affair phone. "How dare you just go through my secret-affair phone" will just add fuel to the fire. You'll get a slap of a mobile on the head, and some of those cheap ones are still dead heavy.
Just stick with your own phone. Put the Jezebel's name in as Horny Asian Schoolgirl or Italian Stallion and your other half will assume you're getting spam.
All clothes, La Senza
Shoes, model's own
Photography by Kip Carroll
Styling by Liadan Hynes
Assisted by Jessica Gaffney
Hair by Sean Magee, Toni&Guy, 50 Dame St, D2, tel: (01) 670-8745
Make-up by Seana Long, Make Up For Ever, 38 Clarendon St, D2, tel: (01) 679-9043
Thanks to Rangan, Eileen, Conor and Brian for the use of Krystle. Every Friday in Krystle is Cocktails and Ladies Night. Complimentary entry and cocktails for ladies and men before midnight with passes. For passes, see www.krystlenightclub.com. To book tables, email firstname.lastname@example.org