Why do successful women settle for lazy lumps?
'He doesn't have a penny, he lives with his mother. He takes my car and uses all the damn petrol. He got drunk at my company party and bored the whole table with his thoughts on what we were doing wrong. He's a dropout; doesn't even have a degree. He's doing my head in."
So goes the latest lament of Veronica (not her real name), a senior purchaser for a large firm -- financially secure, glamorous and owner of two houses.
She's dating a man she knew from college years ago, when she wouldn't even have coffee with him. So why is she seeing him now?
"Ah, look, it's better than being alone," she sighs. "What good is my success if I have nobody to talk to at night? A Prada handbag can't give you a cuddle."
Veronica is part of an ever-growing number of career- driven Irish women who have worked hard, achieved material success, and yet allowed their otherwise exacting standards to lapse when it comes to love.
Take a look around any bar and you'll see stunning women, coiffed and groomed, seated with noticeably shabbier men who are reticent when it comes to their round and who have to be helped off their stools at the end of the night.
How did such odd pairings come about, and why do the resigned-looking girlfriends of such losers put up with it?
And why are they giving the time of day to blokes they wouldn't have spat on 10 years ago?
"All the good ones are gay or married", sighs Jill (33) and single. "I went straight from college to a very cutthroat job, travelled a lot, and wanted to settle down. I was ready, but the pickings are slim. They're called the dregs for a reason; they're all that's left".
She siphoned off what she thought was the best of a bad lot in the form of a vertically challenged, badly-dressed misogynist.
"I ironed his shirts, made him dinner, wore sexy lingerie, and alphabetised his porn collection.
"We went to a friend's wedding and I got a bit weepy and asked him if we were ever going to tie the knot.
"He dumped me -- by text -- then had the nerve to ask me to wash the stuff he left in the laundry basket before he collected it."
Men would appear to have cottoned on to the fact that girls, who may have previously turned up their noses at them, are now making a beeline for them like the last seat in a game of musical chairs.
Not surprisingly, they're taking full advantage.
"The tables have turned in a big way," laughs Aidan, a 32- year-old man who takes time out of his drinking and computer games schedule to visit the dole office and make vague feints at job seeking.
"These chicks all get a bit desperate after 30: all they want is to be in a relationship and are dying to get someone down the aisle. I'm seeing two of them at the moment."
Do they know about each other?
"They have an idea that I'm in demand, so they try extra hard. If one of them annoys me, I just disappear for a while with the other one. A bit of competition doesn't do any harm."
According to available census figures, the number of single people (aged 15 to 38) in this country has increased by 140,000 between 2002 and 2006, and at least half of those are female.
There is a tendency to get married later in life, but it would seem that once women reach a certain age, it's viewed as the point of no return.
Deborah is recently divorced from a wealthy businessman, who kept her in Louboutin shoes but bored her senseless.
She cut him loose in a show of inner strength, kissing her five-star lifestyle goodbye, and made many "I don't neeeeeed a man" noises.
Her married friends, supportive initially, soon stopped inviting her to dinner and she found herself ostracised with nobody to play with.
"It's a whole new thing, being a divorcee in Ireland" she says.
"I'm 40, have a bit of cash, but don't have any kids and it seems that getting rid of my husband was throwing away my social credential.
"I never get asked anywhere any more, unless I'm the token single chick, and people that I thought were mates get uncomfortable when I chat to their husbands.
"It seems I've gone from being part of a group to being a pariah, and am regarded as a threat."
She recently banged into a fortysomething former television presenter she knew years ago and had rejected. He's broke, unmarried and adamant about staying that way.
Desperate for a partner so she could re-establish a social life, she's put her reservations aside and embarked on a relationship, but has discovered his single status may not be self-imposed.
He uses nappy rash powder on his privates because "he likes the way it feels"; refuses to eat 'foreign muck', and is "awful in bed". And he's bald.
Yet she persists, convinced she has a shot at 'fixing' him. She's hoping she can change his mind on marriage.
She is aware that if she fancies a holiday she'll have to pay for his ticket and the most she can hope for is a grudging hand with taking the bins out.
She's left The Joy of Sex in his bathroom, where she's sure he'll flick through it.
There are women who have thrown their hands in the air, choosing solitude over compromise.
Vivian (38) is a spa manager whose days are long and whose fuse is short.
"Listen: I've been out on so many blind dates I should have my own guide dog.
"I'm sick of having to spend evenings listening to losers, paying for a meal I didn't enjoy.
"My nights off are now spent in the bath with a good book and I'm fine with that."
Her milk of human kindness has clearly soured. But for women like divorcee Deborah, still resolute in dating her feckless and fiscally unsound man, hope springs eternal. Now Deborah has no choice but to eternally spring -- for everything.
Is it better to be alone than to compromise?
Dumbing down ultimately leads to disappointment and frustration, but it gets cold and lonely on the lofty peak of high moral ground. Perhaps we could meet somewhere in the middle.