Looking after Number One: If you're not half of a couple, does it have to mean that something's always missing? Celia Dodd meets five single operators. Who wants to be a vicar's wife?

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The Independent Online
Martyn Gough, 26, an Anglican priest, lives on his own in the clergy house on a council estate in Cardiff.

YOU start to panic after a while. I'm 27 next year and there's nobody around. I haven't had a girlfriend for nearly five years.

There aren't many opportunities to meet women - or at least women who want to be vicars' wives. I went straight from a boys' grammar school into a faculty of theology that was 80 per cent men. I have had girlfriends but the relationships foundered - usually because the women couldn't cope with the idea of being married to a vicar.

My last relationship ended when I went to Africa half-way through Oxford. We tried to get going again when I came back but I'd got so immersed in the single culture that it didn't work.

I miss the love, the affection, the companionship and the fun - just doing things together and having somebody to care for. You want someone you can sit with and not have to talk to. I'm not in that situation in this parish. Here you've got to love 7,000 people a little bit, rather than loving one person a lot.

If I was in a middle-class parish there might be more opportunities to meet someone. But I wouldn't move from here, I love being on this estate. I give my time to my parishioners and other relationships have to fit round that. My priesthood is the most important thing; I'm on call 24 hours a day. Any woman would have to put up with that.

If someone from the parish knocks on the door they come in, whether my friends are here or not, and generally make themselves at home. Carrying on a relationship in that atmosphere is almost impossible, because there's someone else around all the time. I am public property, everybody knows everything about me. If you try to have a private life people get suspicious. I have to be careful how I introduce my female friends - otherwise people think there must be something going on.

Marriage preparation is a tricky business. You're telling people how to be perfect with no understanding of how it really is. I always feel a hypocrite. Couples ask me how long I've been married and when I say I'm not they say, how do you know about marriage? I say I've read about it and they say, well, it's not like that. Once or twice people have said: 'What right have you got to tell us how to run our married life, or to condemn us for living together, if you don't understand the pressures there are on people?'

There are advantages to being on your own. I love being independent, being able to do what I want, and to see people when I want, without having to answer to anybody. I like spending money as I please - on books and concerts and the theatre - without somebody else to consider.

The disadvantage is the loneliness of it all. When you're on your own you are selfish. And I am stubborn. You become like God, because there's nobody to challenge you. Independence can be wonderful, but it can also be a barrier between you and other people.

I'm reaching the age when I've got fewer and fewer single friends, and people I knew at university are having their first babies. You find you don't have so much in common with them; they now have married friends, so you tend to be of occasional entertainment value, rather than part of their circle. Most of my friends are in England, so I telephone them two or three times a week just to share problems.

People don't think men worry about being attacked. But I do worry, wandering around the estate at night, and listening out for sounds in the middle of the night.

When I got home last week and found I'd been burgled, my parents and another priest came, but at the end of the night they all went home and left me to get on with it.

(Photograph omitted)