An Cailín Rua
THERE are two times of year when you’re reminded that being a single person is not a good thing. Those times are in the run-up to Christmas and the run-up to February 14, also known to some of us as St Valentine’s Day. If you’re a woman in your mid-thirties, the chances are you’ll get a well-intended bonus reminder on your birthday, too. So by today, the singletons among us will already have had their fill of all things pink, fluffy and rose-flavoured. (But not chocolate. You can never get your fill of chocolate.)
It’s a funny feature of our society that being single is seen as a negative thing. That if you’re not in a relationship, you’re somehow missing out. Despite the fact that one in four Irish households is a single-person household, it’s seen as the path less travelled, and brings, alongside the pressure to conform to the ‘norm’, the rather unpleasant inference that you are somehow ‘lesser’ alone. And of course, being unattached is a far worse crime for a woman - just look at the connotations of the word ‘spinster’ versus those of ‘bachelor’.
As someone who’s spent a bit of time single in recent years, I’ve had on occasion to deal with the implicit sense of pity, the insinuation that being single equates to being lonely, and the implication that being in a relationship is the answer to pretty much everything. Fortunately, that time out also encouraged me to try new things on my own, value my independence, and ultimately to become content with my own company. Backing yourself is the most liberating feeling of all, and the freedom has been a whole lot of fun. Yet single people are somehow to be pitied? Go ‘way outta that.
Sure, that alone time brought moments of loneliness, as is human nature. But it would be naïve to think that such moments don’t occur within relationships too. It’s also quietly struck me more than once that sometimes, people might just be more interested in being married, rather than being in a great marriage – but of course, that’s not for me to judge. But I’m happy now to just roll my eyes at the small-mindedness that warns against the perils of loneliness rather than acknowledging the profound benefits of spending time on your own. Dipping your toes back into dating after time out can be daunting, but also straightforward. There’s nothing like some time out to focus your mind on what you want – and don’t want - from a relationship, and you’ll very quickly recognise both.
Saint of commercialism
On this most romantic of days though, I can’t help thinking that if Saint Valentine could see the palaver that has manifested itself in his name, he’d be spinning in his grave. (The only problem there is that no-one quite knows for sure where Saint Valentine’s body really is – his skull apparently resides in Rome, with other bits of him interred in a church in Dublin’s Whitefriar Street.) Indeed, who even is the ‘real’ Saint Valentine? There are actually about a dozen recorded Saint Valentines, who, as well as watching over loving couples share among them the responsibility for being patron saint of fainting, travelling, the plague, beekeeping and epilepsy. Romantic, eh?
Meanwhile, the commercial monster that is Valentine’s Day grows and grows, with card, flower, chocolate, food and champagne companies cashing in. And more power to them.
But how hard it can be to look the people you love in the eye and tell them how much they mean to you, without paying €5.95 for a piece of card with a saccharine verse to do it for you? Real romance lies less in a bouquet of overpriced roses, and in more simple, ordinary moments. A hug, a cup of tea after a long day, a thoughtful message, a kiss, a belly laugh. A day in the hills with only each other for company. It even lies in a row or a good cry. But also, importantly in the quiet confidence that comes with knowing that, should your ways one day part, you’ll still be just grand on your own.
So keep your Hallmark Holiday, give me Independence Day any day!