Being on your own on Valentine's Day: four singletons speak

As Valentine’s Day approaches, the pressure to pair up is strong – but some are resisting the pull

Pauline Shanahan, in Dublin. “I’m performing a stand-up show entitled What’s Cooler Than a Hipster? A Spinster, because I think the word ‘spinster’ needs reclaiming.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Pauline Shanahan, in Dublin. “I’m performing a stand-up show entitled What’s Cooler Than a Hipster? A Spinster, because I think the word ‘spinster’ needs reclaiming.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

There’s a view that true happiness can only come with finding a relationship. Funnily enough, it’s a view put about most often by those in relationships – and never more determinedly than at this time of year.

However, a recent study presented to the American Psychological Association found that being single is a lot more than it’s cracked up to be.

“The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude,” says Bella DePaulo, a scientist at the University of California in Santa Barbara, who is calling for “a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life” and an end to what she dubs “singlism”.

DePaulo examined the findings of 814 studies and discovered that single people have a heightened sense of self-determination, and are more likely to experience “a sense of continued growth and development as a person”. Single people are more connected to others, and value meaningful work more than married people, she found.

One in four Irish households are single-person households, and 44 per cent of people in their 30s ticked the “single” box on the 2011 Census, although this also includes cohabiting couples. A more accurate portrayal of the depth of experience encapsulated in that little box – not to mention an end to sympathetic glances over their unattached state – can’t come soon enough for many of Ireland’s single population.

Here, four men and women talk about the benefits of the single life: freedom, time to pursue their passions, deep friendships. And, “no one’s burnt us for witchcraft in ages,” says Pauline Shanahan, a self-declared spinster.

Pauline Shanahan

Writer and comedian

“The perception is that if you’re single, there’s nothing going on in your life, or that you’re not as nurturing, or as nurtured. But that’s not true at all. I have close friends, and as busy a social life as I want. I really love coming home to an empty house, actually. But you do have to make friends with yourself, so that if you are alone, you’re happy alone.

“I’m performing a stand-up show entitled What’s Cooler Than a Hipster? A Spinster, because I think the word ‘spinster’ needs reclaiming. It’s a very vibrant word: ‘spin’ and ‘stir’ is how you make a cocktail. It needs to shed that sad patina of a meagre, half-lived life.

“I’m not saying the spinster life is all amazing. There is a loneliness there at times, no more, I’m sure, than there is at times in a marriage. Both lives are valid, and the single one needs celebrating equally – there is already a lot of celebrating of marriage.

“It’s kind of sad that we’re selling people a lie about being in a relationship being the answer to everything. Some people may be getting married who shouldn’t be getting married, simply because they are terrified to be on their own.”

What’s Cooler than a Hipster? A Spinster, a 30-minute stand-up show, runs at Smock Alley in Dublin on February 21 and 22 as part of the Scene+Heard festival of new writing.

Ross Golden Bannon: “I did a 14-day hike across the Cevennes on my own, following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, and I was so happy.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Ross Golden Bannon: “I did a 14-day hike across the Cevennes on my own, following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, and I was so happy.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Ross Golden Bannon

Food activist and publisher

“I think I wasted a lot of my youth chasing some romantic dream that didn’t necessarily exist. I didn’t make a conscious decision to be single, but that’s where I ended up, and I’m very much at peace with that now.

“I do get the head cocked to one side and the sympathetic voice saying, ‘Oh, are you still single?’ In return, I’d quite like to put on a sympathetic voice and say, ‘Oh, still in a relationship? Can’t hack it on your own?’ It completely invalidates my life as a single person.

“I don’t have to keep checking in with anybody, I can make decisions on the hoof about stuff I want to do – everything from going abroad to not coming home for dinner and going to a movie instead. When I’m away, I love diving into cultural things on my own. I did a 14-day hike across the Cevennes on my own, following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, and I was so happy.

“I’ve been in relationships on and off over the years, but for some reason they didn’t work out. Some people aren’t great at relationships – so what? Some people aren’t good at tennis. It’s greatly denigrated, but I’m really quite content to be single.”

Mary Kate O’Flanagan: “When I competed at the Moth GrandSLAM storytelling championship in Los Angeles, 36 people from the city came to cheer me on. Their genuine affection means more to me than winning.” Photograph: Conor Horgan
Mary Kate O’Flanagan: “When I competed at the Moth GrandSLAM storytelling championship in Los Angeles, 36 people from the city came to cheer me on. Their genuine affection means more to me than winning.” Photograph: Conor Horgan

Mary Kate O’Flanagan

Screenwriter and two-time Moth GrandSLAM storytelling champion (Dublin 2015 and Los Angeles 2017)

“I didn’t set out to be single. I dated in my 20s and 30s. But I made a few bad choices and hurt myself quite badly. So I spent some time single, but when I started dating again, I found I was making the same mistakes. I’m currently in a period of being consciously single – I choose not to be in a committed, romantic relationship and not to be physically affectionate with any man.

“I’m gregarious; I used to need company all the time. Being single has taught me that solitude is a pleasure and necessary to restore my spirit. Turning the key in my front door and knowing that only I will be on the other side of it is one of the great pleasures of my life.

“I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had if I hadn’t been single with no children. I travel the world reading people’s stories, and working with screenwriters and producers to find the best versions of them. Both the training I did and the work itself involves being overseas for weeks at a time; if I’d been committed to raising a family I don’t see how I would have kept the wheels on. I also have time and energy for my own writing that I wouldn’t have if I had a family.

“When I competed at the Moth GrandSLAM storytelling championship in Los Angeles last month, 36 people from the city came to cheer me on. I’d never been to LA six years ago, but being single I have the time to invest in new friendships. Their genuine affection – and the knowledge that these friendships will endure, means more to me than winning.

“Love and romance is a part of the human experience that I don’t want to miss out on. I have been in loving relationships and I assume that I will be again. But I am not going to miss one minute of my beautiful life regretting the fact that I am not in a couple right now. Life is my sweetheart.”

Pat O’Mahony: “I said on Facebook, ‘What’s the story with this online dating malarkey?’ I went on Tinder, and PlentyOfFish. I ended up having three cups of coffee out of it.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Pat O’Mahony: “I said on Facebook, ‘What’s the story with this online dating malarkey?’ I went on Tinder, and PlentyOfFish. I ended up having three cups of coffee out of it.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Pat O’Mahony

Freelance TV producer and director

“I would rather be single than in a relationship that wasn’t fabulous. Lots of people seem more interested in being married than being in a great marriage.

“Marriage was never on my radar when I was younger. I went to London in 1998, and I was gone for 11 years. When I came back, all my mates were married and living in suburbia. So we don’t go out as often as we used to, and there aren’t as many opportunities to meet people.

“The longest relationship I’ve been in lasted about a year. I’m not ecstatic to be single, but I’m definitely aware of the advantages. I have one son who is 26 now, so I can come and go as I please, and I don’t have to organise my time around anyone else.

“A few months back, I said on Facebook, ‘What’s the story with this online dating malarkey?’ I thought I’d give it a try. I went on Tinder, and PlentyOfFish. I ended up having three cups of coffee out of it – but one of them was with a woman a mate set me up with.

“Do I see a relationship in my future? You know how to make God laugh? Tell him your plans. I’ve no idea. If there is a relationship around the corner, I’m open to it, with the right person. If there’s not, I’m with that fine too.”

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