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One for all: the great singles fight-back

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Eating alone in restaurants can be no fun at all - some even insist of pairing them up to save table space

Eating alone in restaurants can be no fun at all - some even insist of pairing them up to save table space

Eating alone in restaurants can be no fun at all - some even insist of pairing them up to save table space

'Life would be easier if we were born in pairs," tragic poet Sylvia Plath once wrote. It certainly seems that way.

Whichever relationship status we prefer, we can all agree that there are serious drawbacks to the single life, which 1.2 million people in Ireland experience. From the sympathetic you'll-find-somebody-one-day looks by married couples everywhere to the miserable nights of microwaved meals and not much else, it sometimes feels that the natural state of being is holding hands with a person you love.

The emotional void is enough to contend with. But to rub salt into the wound, the idea of coupling off is simply society reinforcing a form of institutional singleism, if you will.

It's always been existent, but in these turbulent times of transient relationships and lifestyle acceptance, the singletons are confident and numerous enough to hold their heads up high and fight back.

The UK consumer watchdog Which? has recently launched a campaign to prevent lone holidaymakers being charged more per person for accommodation. Their research showed that single occupancy fees can drive the price of a room to the same amount a couple would pay.

They've appealed to the British travel industry, insisting lone travellers should have to pay no more than 50 per cent of the cost for two people on the same holiday.

"I'm going to Las Vegas," says Emma Ramsey, a communications officer in the public sector. "It's for a friend's birthday so I'm going with a group of couples, but as I'm single it's costing me £1,000 instead of the £600 everyone else is paying. I feel slightly cheated seeing as we'll be having the same holiday."

She's been unattached for a year now, after eight years in two relationships. She's enjoying rediscovering herself as an individual, but does find that there's drawbacks, especially in financial matters. Her ex is still on her car insurance policy because it's cheaper that way.

"It just doesn't make sense to me," she says. "All it seems to do is encourage people to defraud the company."

But the single person's penalty doesn't end with insurance. It's ingrained in everyday life, from frustrating two-for-one deals or discounts waved under our noses for flights, meals, cinema, gym membership and almost anything going.

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And no, the feeling of being persecuted isn't sour grapes from those of us who think the world owes us something if not a soulmate. It exists, separate from one's feeling about their relationship status. And it impinges on more than the bank balance.

"I don't have a problem with being single -- I've been unattached for six years now," says 30-year-old accounts executive Maria Verrecchia.

""But I don't like the way it's affected my social life. All my friends are in couples but if I spent all my time with them, as I want to, I'm closing myself off from meeting new people. So single people are forced to go out constantly -- which is fun most of the time, but can be tiring and expensive."

Gavin Keirns, 28, finds the opposite. After he split up with his girlfriend a year ago, his gig-going greatly decreased.

"I used to go to concerts about once a week. My ex was in the music industry which was conducive to going. But now, I'd only see a band or act about once a month. It's partially because of my hectic schedule -- I'm a teacher, a DJ and I go to college too -- but also because there are plenty of times when there is no one to go with.

"I went to see an amazing piano player called Brad Mehldau when we were together, but the next time he came to Ireland none of my friends were interested -- and I just wouldn't go on my own.

"There was even a time when I tried to get my friend tickets to see a trumpet player for her birthday. I really wanted to go, but she would have loved it too -- it wasn't solely just like Homer Simpson getting Marge a bowling ball for her birthday!"

Of course, there are always friends who'll do you favours, but they're not as reliable as a partner from whom you could withhold the good stuff or emotionally blackmail.

But most of the problem is the stigma attached to spending an evening on your own. I noticed when I came from London two years ago, that it was much more acceptable to eat in certain places on your own -- in fact, the thriving freesheet market is a result of the syndrome. But these are restricted to designated eateries only, and the culture of a solitary pint or several at your local doesn't apply to anyone under a certain age.

"I happen to be fine about going to bars on my own," says Emma, "but especially as a girl you get funny looks and the barman always makes a joke about your being stood up."

Restaurants too, are by and large a single-free zone. I was told about a restaurant that shall remain nameless, which insists on doubling up single people on tables to save room in the restaurant. And a similar grumble was also made by a friend who, as the only single person in her group of friends, was put on an 'odds and sods' table at a college friend's wedding, with no-one she knew.

Singleism -- it could be called individualism if liberal political theorists hadn't got there first -- is ubiquitous in the housing sector. Fact: you're more likely to be re-housed by the Government if you're part of a couple. Homeless people the country over have yet to work out how not having found the yin to their yang makes them any more or less in need of accommodation.

For the majority, it's still a logistical nightmare. It's acceptable to live with parents or friends until a certain age -- from my experience at least, the 30s are about time one pretended to be a proper adult. After this, the singleton's options are to rent on one's own (which can be expensive) or buy a place, an option barely open to couples.

"It's possible to get around it," says Gavin. "You can buy a place on the condition that you rent out some rooms to guarantee the mortgage lenders, or ask your parents to be guarantors, but it just makes the whole process so much harder. And it's hard enough as it is."

Maria agrees: "There's no way I could even consider buying a place while I'm single. It's not only the mortgage, it's other expenses like the furniture and bills too."

But there's also another major drawback to being single for her: the "lack of action", as she says. "It's important!Society still frowns upon one-night-stands. And while I wouldn't be a fan of it myself, single people shouldn't be expected to go celibate unless they're in a relationship. We all have needs!"

To be clear, we're not grumbling about the situation because there are positive aspects too (all the time in the world to yourself, no one to answer to, only one set of family to feel guilty about not visiting ... ). It's just that as society's dramatically changed its make-up, the corresponding shift in attitude is yet to come. We hear it called for in all the other isms, but it's gone unnoticed for us as singles are such a broad target group and, of course, the practical difficulties are least of our problems.

But if we're a society tolerant of lifestyle choices, one would expect that singletons shouldn't be penalised for something that, for the most part, isn't even a choice but a temporary state. One hopes!

Famously single

Hugh Grant

The charming star of 'Notting Hill' could have had a settled family life with the stunning Liz Hurley or the equally gorgeous Jemima Khan, with whom he split earlier this year -- but that's not Hugh's style. To top off his history of bachelor behaviour, the 47-year-old was recently photographed at a student party looking dishevelled and snogging a girl. Classy.

Gisele Bundchen

The 27-year-old Brazilian is the highest paid supermodel in the world, earning $33 million last year. But she's not been so success-ful in love. Her last serious boyfriend was Leonardo Di Caprio, and she's since had fleeting relationships with surfer Kelly Slater, actor Chris Evans and American football star Tom Brady -- her current beau. But she's still on the hunt for Mr Right, and we've a feeling it's only a matter of time.

George Clooney

The more unobtainable a person is, the more they're desirable. So it's no wonder that the free spirit that is George Clooney has twice been named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. The lothario may currently be involved with Sarah Larson, but he's bet Michelle Pffeifer and Nicole Kidman $100,000 that he won't get married -- and we believe him.

Kylie Minogue

Strange to think that the woman who single handedly put hotpants back into fashion thanks to her ridiculously perfect legs is not spoken for. The Australian pop princess split from long-term boyfriend Olivier Martinez earlier this year, as she was recovering from breast cancer. Now she's bounced back with a clean bill of health, a new album, but no boyfriend. Any offers?


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