A few years ago, I wrote a piece for U magazine detailing the reasons single people might still be single – because, y’know, 20-something me was an expert on relationships. Honestly, I barely remember writing the piece. I don’t know the year it appeared in print; I just know that, in the past few weeks, it popped back up online and I had more than a handful of people sliding into my DMs to ask, “did you really write this?” (Yes, readers, I did.)
In my defence, it was long enough ago that I was still using Justin Bobby as a reference – not to mention the fact that I was still entirely writing dating advice in terms of men and women, and earnestly reading books such as You Lost him at Hello*. What can I say? I’m sorry.
What with that piece experiencing an internet revival (it’s true what they say – nothing you publish online ever goes away), I thought I’d do a little rewrite. Perhaps inspired by Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love*, consider this the 2018 version: Everything I Know About Being Single.
So what do I know about being single?
Honestly, not a huge amount. Sure, I’ve been single – but, in the time since I had my first boyfriend, at the age of 16, I’ve probably spent more time in relationships than out of them. As life choices go, mine aren’t necessarily the ones I’d advocate. I often think about what I may have missed out on, while I was busy planning couples’ weekends or wondering what my then-boyfriend wanted me to wear to dinner.
With the benefit of hindsight, I think I would have spent more time being single if I had valued myself as an individual. I have spent so much of my life trying to figure out who I was in relation to the man I was dating. Was I funny enough (for him)? Was I fun enough (for him)? Was I too depressed (for him)? Was I too lazy (for him)? It didn’t really occur to me to ask what kind of person I wanted to be for myself.
I also dated a lot of unsuitable men.
I dated a man I met online, who was 14 years my senior, had three children and was unemployed. Halfway through our relationship (it lasted 18 months), he decided he needed a new hobby. So he took up skydiving. He would cancel plans we’d made to see each other at weekends because “the conditions are just perfect for a dive”. It didn’t occur to me to express the fact that this wasn’t really okay. (It probably didn’t even occur to me to think that it wasn’t okay.)
I dated another man I met through friends, who almost certainly had a drinking problem. I don’t remember a single date where he didn’t get so drunk that he couldn’t remember his home address. We went to the cinema once and, on the way there, I received a text to say he was in the bar. I’m not sure how long he’d been there but it was definitely long enough to have drunk three pints. (It was 2pm.)
I dated a man who told me, over dinner, on my birthday, that my problem was that I thought I was right all the time. (He wasn’t wrong, but his timing was weird.) He would later tell me that he thought the money I earned was ridiculous; at the time, I was working at The Irish Times and freelancing as well, working 70-odd hours a week and earning €45,000 a year. “You have no idea what it’s like to work for your money,” he told me. Now, I can see that he was jealous and resentful – that my success damaged his male pride. At the time, I felt ashamed of my own good fortune.
So, why are you single?
When I wrote that piece for U, I very much saw singlehood as a state to be avoided at all costs. The only reason you would ever be single, I thought, smugly, is that you simply couldn’t get yourself a boyfriend. “You’re trying too hard!” I chirped, merrily, advising playing it cool. (Any relationship advice that uses the word “playing” should, incidentally, be avoided.) A moment later: “You’re not trying hard enough!” I even suggested that having a face “like a smacked bottom” might be the reason for one’s singlehood. LOL: if that was the case, I would never, ever catch a dick.
Now, I think it might just be possible to be single because you want to be. Perhaps you’re recently out of a relationship; perhaps you’re not. Perhaps you haven’t met the right man or woman for you; perhaps you have. Perhaps you’re focusing on your career, or on your quilting, or on getting through the final season of Friday Night Lights, interruption-free. Perhaps you really like thinking about yourself, and yourself only. Perhaps you’re enough.
Then again, perhaps you’re single despite wanting to be in a relationship. This has happened all of us – some for longer periods than others. We go out and we try to meet people; we download online dating apps and we try to be witty; we chat to friends and we try to entice them to set us up with people. We try. Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we want it to, when we want it to.
If I’m so great at giving advice, why am I single?
I mean, smacked-bottom-face aside, my relationship didn’t work out. Right now, that feels like the main reason. It might also be to do with the fact that, at 33, I’m a hell of a lot more careful with myself than I was at 23. I’m not saying that I would only date someone with a six-figure salary and a three-bed in Dublin 4 (although that would be nice), rather that I wouldn’t date someone who’s on the dole and spending all of their savings on skydiving. I wouldn’t hang around while my date finished his third pre-cinema pint. I wouldn’t sit at a dinner (I was paying for) on my birthday and listen to someone tell me what’s wrong with me.
I value myself a lot more, now, than I did then.
And honestly? I hope you value yourself more than I did, in that article I wrote for U magazine. Single women are so much more than smiling faces, waiting at a bar to meet “the
man person of their dreams”. I’m sorry if I ever made any of you feel otherwise – and I’m sorry, too, for my 20-something self, whose value was so very tied up in the man she had decided on.
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