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.