The Single Files: life in the late-20s ‘danger zone’
Rebecca Rigney: 'I don't really like going to nightclubs but that's where the majority of people get together.' Photograph: Tony Grehan/Press 22
Many of my women acquaintances are obsessed with – and most of my male friends are terrified by – the prospect of settling down with ‘the one,' writes SARAH GERAGHTY
‘Is everyone mad?” wondered a friend when the first of our college circle got engaged, and the rest of us suddenly realised we were grown-ups. “Who wants to look back at these precious times, the likes of which we’ll never have again, and remember the waste of them, worrying about nothing?”
That worrying is about a perceived phenomenon among a startling number of people in their 20s, namely the “danger zone” or “marriage zone”. This is apparently the period between the ages of 28 and 31 when women start to panic and set out, gimlet-eyed, to hunt down a husband.
Over dinner recently, it was explained matter-of-factly by some male friends, who used to be pretty relaxed about life, that the reason alarm bells sound at around the age of 28 for women is because we know we have to trap a man in that time-limited zone before he realises his life is only starting.
What choice have these poor, free-spirited creatures but to bolt? Because there’s no glossing over the fact that they’re being sized up as husband material.
Me: “I was at the dentist this morning.” Friend: “Was he hot? Did he have a ring?”
It’s an unnerving question when asked with no hint of a laugh.
More and more conversations dance around the not-really-a-joke “nightmare scenario”: if we’re not hooked up by now or haven’t a “timeline” in place with a boyfriend, we’re going to end up alone and doomed to share a rented house with other poor, bitter loners and their creepy cats, roaming town at weekends searching for “the one” (along with lost wallets, phones and youth).
Dates that are not speedily morphing into relationships are considered a waste of time; hysteria sets in when a man fails to return a text.
There is this idea that we should be in a blissful relationship by now; that all the good men left anywhere are in relationships; that Irish men are hopeless and can deal with women they fancy only when they’re eight pints and five Jägerbombs in (actually a point worth exploring); that maybe we should move to Australia for a while because that will fix everything; that birthdays shouldn’t be celebrated, because “it’s just depressing getting older and being single”.
But what is really depressing is this conversation. How would anything be “worked out” by now? If careers and relationships were sorted at this age, that would be unusual. How many people of either sex have ever looked back and said 28 was the age they’d got a grip on life and the secret of contentment?
Men are in the same figuring-life-out stage as we are, and so terrified that even the fairly normal ones are afraid of the girls who have – in the words of one man – “needs-to-be-loved written all over her”. No wonder they leg it into their man-caves, convinced that women are nuts and obsessed with babies.
There is any number of true stories, such as the one about the 28-year-old boyfriend of five years who suddenly announced he was moving in with the “lads”, one day after he and his girlfriend had discussed either moving in together or breaking up. Or the 29-year-old who finally asked his girlfriend of two years to move in with him, introduced her to his grandparents, then arrived at her front door at 7am on a Monday to blurt out that it was all “just too much too soon” and promptly drove off.
Is this new? Or new for this age group? Or just the age-old story of the male commitment-phobe?
Maybe it’s something to do with new modes of communication. Texting rather than ringing; bumping into each other on nights out, rather than arranging to see each other at a set time and place. More than once we’ve wistfully looked back to when we were 12: “Imagine if the only way a man could speak to you was if he rang the house and asked your dad first?”
American-style dating is perceived as a solution in some quarters but after speaking to veterans of that system (ie other 28-year-olds in New York), it seems that the novelty of that wears off after a while. Dates and hook-ups are so readily available that it’s rare to get beyond a certain stage, namely the “nice” stage that I suspect everyone – even the danger zone theorists – wants to be at.
So, the one thing that most of us can agree on is that everyone wants to get to the nice stage. But with both sexes adopting fixed roles, we have a bizarre situation on our hands. A danger zone indeed.
‘I thought I’d be settled at this stage’
Luke O’Farrell (29) is a graphic designer and mature student from Sandyford, Dublin
“I was going out with a girl for two or three years but then we finished two years ago and I’ve been single since. A lot of my friends are single, we’re all between 29 and 32.
“I always thought I’d be kind of settled at this stage, instead of living in an apartment with two lads.
“I enjoy the company of a girlfriend, doing things together, going on weekend breaks.
“It’s quite hard to find somebody you connect with. I’d like to have kids by my mid 30s. I’d go for someone aged over 25 to 31, or 32 max.
“I don’t internet date. I suppose I’d be embarrassed to put up my profile. But a few friends have got long-term girlfriends from it.”
My single life: ‘I’d like to get my career going first’
Rebecca Rigney (23) is studying science and health at the University of Limerick
“I’ve been single for about three years. My very close friend got engaged over Christmas. That’s unusual among my friends, but having said that, my younger sister got married when she was 19.
“ I don’t really like going to nightclubs and I don’t drink, but that’s where the majority of people get together. There is very little that doesn’t revolve around a nightclub or drinking.
“I’d like to meet somebody who is into the same kind of things as me. Definitely no one shorter than me, and they have to have nice teeth and a nice smile.
“I’d like to get married in my early 30s. For the next five years, I’d like to get my career going and do a bit more travelling. I don’t have my eye on anyone at the moment. There is no rush.
“Now, I’m just focusing on my career and myself. You can’t love someone else until you love yourself.”