‘Sometimes I think I’d be less lonely living in an enclosed convent than in small-town Ireland’

Those living alone are not simply ageing bachelor farmers, we are out there in the middle of everything

 

The downpour comes out of nowhere, cats and dogs hurtling from the skies, so I’ve abandoned my daily walk and am pulling up in my the driveway where I find myself saying: “Don’t worry, Áine, you had a big walk on Bertra beach yesterday. You eejit.”

Nothing unusual about that.

Talking to myself, I mean. It is when the conversation continues that I stop in my tracks, chuckle to myself.

“How about some kettle bells before dinner?” I’m asking the arched eyebrows in the vanity mirror.

“Then, you can have one glass of wine.”

“But that’s it, just one,” I add emphatically.

Sometimes I think I’d be less lonely living in an enclosed convent than in small town Ireland.

I am an expert tutor of existential angst

It may be an 11th-hour vocation but at least in the fading cloisters of religious orders there would be the connectedness of a communal prayer, the clatter of dishes during dinner, that faith-filled feeling there is a God somewhere out there in the cosmos being benign and benevolent over a bedraggled species called humans.

Of course, I know I’m not alone in my sole searching solitariness. I am an expert tutor of existential angst. Just ask my O’Malley daughters: the pirate princesses. When they have had their moments, bad hair days, their hearts broken by un-empathetic assholes, pre-menstrual surges, I easily access some of my life-experience files and dole out advice like a grand matriarch waving her wand.

“Life is like a Samuel Beckett play, girls. We are inevitably going towards the Endgame while Waiting for Godot!”

Naturally, they raise their eyebrows in a “what the hell is she on about now?” way and change the subject to talk of surf forecasts – the middle princess; whether Lenny, her cat, is gay – the youngest princess; and pregnancy heartburn – the oldest princess.

We sometimes wear looks of inscrutable mystery or, if the caffeine hasn’t kicked in, casual indifference

The 2016 census found that 399,815 people in Ireland live alone, with the number of people aged over 65 having increased by 102,174 over the previous five years, more than twice the rate of the 15-64 age group. The reality is those living alone are not simply ageing bachelor farmers tending to cattle far up some grassy boreen or Peig Sayers lookalikes who smoke clay pipes and pine for De Valera’s vision of comely maidens and céilis at the crossroads.

No, this expanding constituency is out there in the middle of everything: in boardrooms and offices, classrooms and gyms, supermarket aisles and airplanes. We have children and chihuahuas, ex-husbands and new lovers, plans to cross the Alps barefooted and fantasies about George Clooney tiring of Amal, and lots of Marks and Spencers dinners-for-one in the freezer.

We are there in cafes reading our books or scrolling through our phones. We sometimes wear looks of inscrutable mystery or, if the caffeine hasn’t kicked in, casual indifference.

We are the ones who are super friendly to the waitress, smile at the baby in the high-chair at the next table, say, “No, of course it is no problem if someone else sits at the empty sit opposite us”.

We are the ones too who decide to have another coffee. “Best make it decaffeinated.”

Their self-confidence is not blighted by post-colonial schizophrenia. Civil War politics is a vague chapter in a history lesson

Pretend to be engrossed in our books while we are really earwigging the couple at the next table.

In today’s case, the hot looking dude has just had a cryotherapy session, the pain in his groin has eased and she’s happy about that, but still thinks he could do with another deep tissue massage.

“Fancy that spicy tofu and kale dish this evening?”, she says touching his knee.

He nods approval, stands up – a little stiffly – and heads towards the counter to pay their bill.

Their coupledom is like a corporate logo. It’s all American Apparel, Converse and Levis and lots of lean muscle. They are the generation of influencers. Their self-confidence is not blighted by post-colonial schizophrenia. Civil War politics is a vague chapter in a history lesson they yawned through in secondary school.

Out of the blue an image of broadcaster Olivia O’Leary flashes before me. She repeats a comment she made in an Irish Times interview two years ago: “I think that the world generally has become a bit more ageist. As you get older, you suddenly realise that you become invisible to people. You’re not used to that.”

“But it’s not just ageism, is it?” I mutter to my coffee dregs.

Lonely living doesn’t discriminate against anyone.

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