AIDA AUSTIN: “I’m thinking marriage as a buffer”

FROM the vantage point of having been married for 27 years, I see marriage, or at least mine, as a big hold-all.

(Ok. If I must: one of those classic checked plasticised hold-alls that are used for storage or laundry. You know, the foldable ones you buy in pound shops.)

So there you have it — my view of marriage: a hold-all. Servicable. Strong. With everything in it. Chores, errands, love, appointments, sex, chat, fights.

There are various other ways of looking at it of course — joyously, muderously, as a blessing, as a curse — but I’ve never thought of it as an institutional buffer against the perils of online dating before. I haven’t thought of it like that at all — so busy have I been with the chores, errands, love, etc, I suppose.

But with my 43-year-old sister rediscovering the gay single life after a decade of being coupled-up, an old family friend dipping her recently divorced, 64-year-old toes into the internet dating world, and my mother having quite an opinion on all of this, I’m looking at marriage from a different perspective now, I have to say.

“Well of course it’s a buffer,” my mother says on the phone. “I mean look at your sister having to post a photo of herself online. It can’t be easy.”

Somehow, this conjures up an image of my sister’s face on a poster with the incongruous caption, “lovely pet, free to good home” written underneath it.

“She only got two hits so far and do you know what they said?”

“No.”

“The first one said, ‘you have no picture’, even though she said she was sure she uploaded it properly. I mean she’s perfectly competent with the computer.”

“What about the second hit?”

“It said, ‘your picture is upside-down’. I mean, as if finding a partner isn’t hard enough at 43, now you have to contend with ‘your picture is upside-down’.

“She was very disappointed. In the end she put one up but she had to crop her legs out of it. Pity. She said her legs looked good in that photo.”

She tells me about the 64-year-old family friend’s most recent dating incursion online.

“She turned up in the cafe and there was an old man hunched over in the corner with a stick. The first thing he did, she said, was show her his knee.”

“What was wrong with his knee?”

“It was swollen. All blue and red, she said. Horrible. And he had high cholesterol — she could tell, she said, because he had those sodium rings around his irises.

“Next time she said she’s going to stipulate, ‘must be able to move under own power’ — you know — in the bit where you say what you’re looking for in a partner.

“I mean honestly. Imagine a woman showing a man a swollen knee like that. I mean a woman wouldn’t dream of it. I’ve come to the conclusion men have no shame.”

My mother says it’s hard being single and gay because the pool is smaller.

“But it’s just as hard for women my age. I mean men my age just want a carer. And they always look down the age range for a carer, never up it,” she says, thereby tricking a queue of predatory old widowers out of my imagination; lining up right outside my front door, they are, right now, with ‘Carer Wanted’ placards and lascivious smiles. They’re just waiting for my husband to die.

“Not that I’d ever get married again,” she says, “I mean I’ve done it once and of course it was lovely.

“But to be honest... there are just too many things you don’t like about men, second time around.

“And really — the thought of getting to know someone else’s foibles and quirks, never mind someone else’s body. Well,” she huffs, “I mean, it’s very difficult, if you’re at all fastidious....”

And boom! In my head, thousands of widows and divorcees lie in beds, making the sign of the cross before submitting to unwelcome nuptial embraces from predatory old crocks with swollen knees.

Yes, what with my mother’s opinion, I’m thinking marriage as a buffer.

Marriage as a buffer all the way.


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