Louise O’Neill

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Feature - @oneil­llo ‘I would be cu­ri­ous to know if a group of men who en­joyed sim­i­lar suc­cess in their early thir­ties en­dured that same pres­sure to ‘set­tle down’. Louise O’ Neill is the au­thor of Only Ever Yours and Ask­ing For It

Ihad an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion at the farm­ers’ mar­ket re­cently. Yes, I have be­come the sort of per­son who a) goes to the farm­ers’ mar­ket and b) has in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions there. It was a Fri­day, the weather was tol­er­a­bly pleas­ant for an Ir­ish sum­mer, and I bumped into a woman I hadn’t seen in a while - “hi, hi, how are the kids? ... Oh, very good... Yes, still at the writ­ing, ha ha, may as well keep at it at this stage, I sup­pose.” She asked if I was sleeping prop­erly be­cause I looked a bit ‘tired’, she won­dered if the movie adap­ta­tion had been cast yet (“would there be a part for me, now?” she laughed and I had to pre­tend she was the first per­son to make that joke) and then she en­quired as to what veg­eta­bles I was buy­ing. I thought I might have to pro­duce my birth cert (the long one) for her to in­spect when she sud­denly changed pace.

Her: Are you go­ing to X and Y’s wed­ding to­day?

Me: No. (Lady, would I be here in my leg­gings and hoodie if I was go­ing to a wed­ding to­day? I’ll ad­mit I’m lazy when it comes to per­sonal groom­ing but I haven’t quite reached that level of sloth­ful­ness yet.)

Her: That’s such a pity. Are you not friendly enough with them to have been asked?

Me: Eh... I guess not?

Her: And have you any ring on your fin­ger at all?

Me: No, I’m nother: Ah no, isn’t that a ter­ri­ble shame? And at your age too!

Reader, I mur­dered her. And there’s not a jury (of 30-some­thing-year-old women) in the land that would con­vict me.

My last se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship broke up six years ago and while I have dated on and off in that time, it hasn’t been my pri­mary con­cern. Since 2012, I have writ­ten four nov­els (two com­ing your way in 2018!), co-writ­ten a treat­ment for a tele­vi­sion show and have worked on the screen­play for Only Ever Yours.

There are stage, movie, and TV adap­ta­tions in progress, all of which I’m in­volved with to vary­ing de­grees and I write a weekly col­umn for this news­pa­per. I think it’s fair to say that I’m busy. I’m just try­ing to take over the world here, y’all. The men can wait.

When I look back over the last num­ber of years, I don’t have any re­grets. This isn’t a crappy Life­time movie where I find my­self alone on Christ­mas Day, sur­rounded by di­a­monds and fur coats in my fancy New York apart­ment, and I have a Come-To-Je­sus mo­ment of re­al­i­sa­tion that none of it mat­ters be­cause I’m still sin­gle. In the movie, I would travel back in time and marry my high school sweet­heart and live on a farm in Kansas with our twenty-five chil­dren and a dog called Billy. In real life, how­ever, I’ve worked re­ally hard and yes, some per­sonal sac­ri­fices had to be made, but I love my job. It can be over­whelm­ing and stress­ful at times, as all jobs can be, but I feel in­cred­i­bly lucky to be able to sit at my desk ev­ery day and tell sto­ries for a liv­ing.

It’s in­ter­est­ing that some peo­ple still be­lieve that a ful­fill­ing ca­reer is worth­less un­less you have a ro­man­tic part­ner to share it with.

I was hav­ing din­ner with a group of my friends re­cently - all dy­namic, am­bi­tious, driven women - and this very topic arose.

Four out of the seven present were sin­gle, hap­pily so, and de­spite their con­sid­er­able suc­cess in the work place, each of them said they were of­ten made to feel in­ad­e­quate be­cause they didn’t have a boyfriend. I would be very cu­ri­ous to know if a group of men who en­joyed sim­i­lar suc­cess in their early thir­ties en­dured that same pres­sure to ‘set­tle down’. Some­how, I doubt it. Un­mar­ried men be­come happy bach­e­lors, women deemed pa­thetic spin­sters.

In 2017, why do so many peo­ple still be­lieve that a het­ero­sex­ual woman with­out a man by her side is some­one to be pitied?

Why do we con­tinue to pro­mote mar­riage and chil­dren as the ul­ti­mate prize to be won for women, but not for men?

And, as Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie said in her TED Talk We Should All be Fem­i­nists, when our ob­ses­sion with teach­ing young girls that mar­riage is the goal that the rest of their lives should be cen­tred around, what hap­pens when those girls be­come women who are ‘pushed to make ter­ri­ble choices’?

I have been in re­la­tion­ships where I have been des­per­ately un­happy.

In others, where I have felt lone­lier than I ever was by my­self. I have al­lowed peo­ple to treat me with far less kind­ness and re­spect than I de­served be­cause I was ‘in love’ with them and couldn’t bear the thought of los­ing them. (Note to any young peo­ple read­ing this - real love is easy and it doesn’t hurt. I promise you.)

A bad re­la­tion­ship is never prefer­able to be­ing alone. I wish that we were en­cour­aged to de­velop a deeper con­nec­tion with our­selves rather than con­stantly search­ing for some­one or some­thing out­side of our­selves to com­plete us.

There is no amount of val­i­da­tion that some­one else can of­fer you that will ever be as pow­er­ful as what you can give your­self.

As for me? I might never meet The One and I’m gen­uinely okay with that. I might be god­mother to dozens of chil­dren and I might ca­su­ally date un­til my late 80s when I be­come an ec­cen­tric recluse and live off the grid.

I have reached a point where I truly be­lieve that if this is all I have - this body that con­tin­ues to thrive no mat­ter how much dam­age I tried to in­flict upon it, this job that gives me such a sense of joy, th­ese friends whom I be­lieve to be my true soul­mates, this fam­ily that I would hap­pily die for — then I will have had an ex­cep­tion­ally good life.

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