Having dyed my hair a shade somewhere between deep aubergine and mangy fox for my entire adult life, I can't tell you whether blondes have more fun. Maybe it just looks like they're having fun because they're easier to spot in a dark room. Gothy types like me are probably lurking in a corner, wondering if absinthe will render us blind or merely provide an interesting diversion.
This, you see, is the kind of behaviour I can indulge in, with only partial disapproval from onlookers, because I don't have children. This week saw the release of a new study by the Economic and Science Research Council which suggests that childless couples are happier with their partners than couples who have children. Amazingly, in spite of being on the receiving end of an almost constant parade of criticism for everything they do, mothers are the happiest of us all, at least among the 5000 people sampled by the study. But they aren't so happy with their partners: whereas the childless — and the study made special mention of those in LGBT relationships — turn out to be happier with their mates.
At least in part, you have to assume that it's because childless couples have nothing to keep them together if they're not happy. No one has to stay together for the sake of anyone (pets and ruinous mortgages notwithstanding), so we stay together because we continue to want to be with one another. Well that, and the fact that I can’t ever leave my partner because I last read an instruction manual seven years ago, so I know how nothing in the building works. I’m basically the Noble Savage from Brave New World.
When asked who the most important person in their lives was, only 47% of fathers said it was their children. Dads were more likely to consider their partner their most significant other: just over half of them picked their wives. Meanwhile, almost 75% of mothers picked their children. This makes it all the more astonishing that mothers notch up so much happiness. The thought of having your attention focused on someone so small seems terrifying to me. The more I think about it, the more it seems a triumph that any mother allows their child out of their sight at all. Why are they not all standing at the school gates, howling?
This, in case you're wondering, is why I don't have children. I spent last year writing a book in which someone experiences my greatest fear — losing the love of her life in shocking circumstances. There were times when I could barely stand to see my partner leave the building in case something similar happened to him. And he is tall and has had years of practice crossing roads and not getting into fights.
The study went on to observe that small acts of intimacy — cups of tea in bed and watching telly together — tend to have a greater impact on our happiness than grand gestures. And that, of course, is what child-free couples can spend their time doing. No worrying about babysitters before deciding to go to the pictures. No arguing with a small fascist about the virtues of eating vegetables before sitting down to dinner. You can dedicate that time to being nice to each other instead. The only person who has to finish homework before sitting down to a DVD marathon in our flat is me. And being responsible for yourself is much easier than being responsible for another person.
The sheer logistics of being a couple rather than a family of, say, four work in your favour. Two diaries fit together pretty easily. Throw in violin lessons and beginners' judo, and suddenly it all goes wrong. So perhaps it's no surprise that couples without children are happier with their other halves. They're all we have, all we want, and we cherish them accordingly.
You can keep your Golden Globes — this week sees the unveiling of the short list that critics want to be on: the Hatchet Job of the Year, which pits contenders like AA Gill (taking time out from not liking Mary Beard's outfits to review Morrissey's autobiography) against Rachel Cooke, who was similarly underwhelmed by Ann Widdecombe's reminiscences.
The prize organisers reward wit and integrity, and tend to prefer those critics who tilt at the biggest windmills (Zoe Heller's famous take down of Salman Rushdie was unlucky not to win last year). But living as we do in an age where everyone is a critic and can prove it with wit, intergrity and succinctness on Twitter, I can't help but think I'd prefer a prize which valued the lauding of an obscure or overlooked work — uninfluenced by shared agents, publishers or beds — instead of more snark, and more publicity for household names.