Part 160: Second Wives

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I’m very tedious on the subject of weddings. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been somewhat cynical about love in general these past few years, and wont to tarnish the sheen on other people’s happiness by penning cutting observations and (my favourite) thinly veiled digs at former mates who have committed the terrible crime of marrying and having babies. (In case you were wondering, I have especially resented the PR-career girls, using their marketing expertise to splash news of their happiness all over the internet, thereby rubbing my face in what should remain private contentment, and causing me to target Bad Vibes right in their direction.) (The truth is, I just can’t cope with anyone being more successful and contented than I am. At least in the romance/domestic arena.)

I laugh with a cold, hollow bark – like a knowing, icy wind – at the sad, open desperation of wannabe princesses on Don’t Tell the Bride, who sing the praises of their mediocre grooms and grimace weakly at the cameras when they realise he has blown half the budget on a stag do in Poland, and that they will, therefore, be married in the conference centre of a budget motorway hotel on the A2, wearing a second-hand dress that cost £90 off eBay and doesn’t quite fit. (My all-time favourite was the one with the groom who spent the entire three-week planning period in Vegas with his mate, flying his bride out last-minute to marry in a gaudy chapel, far away from the friends and loved ones she had dreamed of spending her ‘special day’ with. Closely followed by that episode with the ginger wide-boy who made his soon-to-be wife to jump out of a plane in full wedding make-up, despite her fear of heights, minutes before the ceremony.)

Imagine spending your life with someone who cares for you so little. This is what relentless exposure to heteronormative dating culture has done to us. We just want to be loved by a man. We don’t even care if cares about us, so long as he’s vaguely handsome, in a certain light.

‘Fucking weddings!’ I always say if the subject ever comes up — by way of you inviting me to yours, for example, or telling me about a beautiful one you attended last weekend, up in Scotland — ‘they’re a load of old conformist bullshit and I wouldn’t be seen dead participating as anything other than sexy, drunken bridesmaid or morose guest, begrudging you a gift because it cost me £400 to get here and, more to the point, you asked for cash, which isn’t a gift, it’s greed.’ (Whatever you do, my darlings, please realise that sending me — who will very likely be sat on alone on my yellow sofa, in an under-heated flat, receiving a non-committal text message (‘Wot u up to?x’) from my latest squeeze, mourning the decline of my fertility and really trying not to smoke another fag in case this cough turns out to be lung cancer — a thank you card from the Maldives, or an email note with a photo of your new kitchen, which my donation has kindly enabled. This is what the Americans would call a ‘dick move’. It is the kind of smug, cuntish behaviour that, if there were any divine justice in this world, would precipitate your immediate, public downfall. You can blow £25k on wedding? Babe, you really don’t need £50 from your guests. (What? I never said I was a nice person)).

From now on, however, you’re best advised to ignore anything I say about weddings. Because the truth is that I want a wedding as much as the salivating sad-sacks on Don’t Tell the Bride, as much as all the vapid PR professionals of my acquaintance, as much as those little girls dragging dusty net curtains behind them in a makeshift veil. I am not immune to the lure of contentment. The other day I saw a cartoon where fat little animated people in stripy pyjamas cuddled up on a sofa and loved each other and I cried. Also, I would really like to wear a massive red skin-tight dress while I’m still young and hot enough to pull that off, and to have a good man stand up in public and tell people he loves me and then take me home to indulge in unspeakable acts that will result legitimate, fat-faced babies. I want it now, before it’s too late. I have only been pretending otherwise as a kind of prolonged sarcasm, prompted by a couple of heinous relationships and a fear that True Love might not exist.

I’m starting to think that I might have been foolish.

The problem is that the good men are all married off now, more or less. The ones with the ability to show up on time, display passion for anything other than Fifa and commit consistently, for the long-term. The ones who really believe in love, who you could take home to meet your parents and invite to dinner with your very best friends – they’ve already found a bright-eyed peer to pair off with – or else they’re waiting for someone younger and better looking than you.

If I wanted a happy marriage, I should have agreed to one a long time ago. (Nobody was remotely interested in marrying me when I was in my 20s, or indeed, now. But let’s not let that get in the way of my regret.)

The good news is that I recently remembered about second marriages and they’ve made me feel quite optimistic about love again, just when I was on the verge of chucking myself out the nearest window.

If you are here because you are similarly forlorn and hopeless I would like to remind you of the following: the chances are at least some of those kind, eligible young men who you fucked off a couple of years ago, because you were too scared to love anybody then, are in empty sham marriages that will not last.

It is a statistical certainty.

I don’t want to fuel the paranoia of all the wives who already mistrust us single ladies and — because we are funnier and better company (if only due to novelty) — remain on guard, whenever we are in the vicinity of their men, but I can’t but help admit: we are looking at your husband and wondering how he’ll fare between our bed sheets. He is not off-limits, in our febrile imagination.

I mean, like, we aren’t going to seduce him now. But nothing lasts forever and one must have one’s bases covered. Especially when one is on a straight, direct path to dying alone in one’s flat and silently decomposing in a puddle by the radiator.

I quite like the idea of being a second wife (second mind. Anyone who agrees to being a third wife is involving herself in a cycle of shit from which there is no escape). Second wives don’t need conventional good looks, because, the second time around, men are likely to realise that funny and clever lasts longer. And, having been through the trauma of a divorce (or bereavement), he is likely to understand that a functional relationship needs work. Best of all, we won’t be expected to form shallow friendships with the wives and girlfriends of his mates, because they’ll likely still be invested in wife number one.

What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m facing the New Year with cautious optimism. Just as soon as I finish this mince-pie*.

*Just jokes, I hate mince-pies I am eating Walker’s cheese and onion crisps, as per every other day of the year.

**The header image is of a Vera Wang wedding dress, circa 2012. This is how I will look at my wedding, should it ever occur.

Part 159: Acne

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Do you remember that kids’ board game where you had to whack little neon-coloured, protruding creatures on the head with a plastic mallet? You’d hit them and they’d disappear and then one would pop up somewhere else and you’d whack that and others would pop up and you’d bash them – Blam! Blam! Blam! – faster and faster, until they’d submit or you’d give up and go find something better to do? (When I conceived of this post, I thought that game was called Hungry Hippos, but I have just remembered that Hungry Hippos is the one where you manoeuvre a hippopotamus head to gobble up marbles. The name of the one I’m on about escapes me. Perhaps I’ve made it up.) Well, imagine that game turned biological and you have just pictured the 19-year battle I’ve been waging against my skin.

It started somewhere in my preteens, with blackheads dotted across my nose and chin, which my Dad would gleefully squeeze, despite my protests. (He’d display the tiny, spongy tubes on the end of his fingernail; calling other family members over to inspect my emissions, as though they were fascinating, deadly insects he’d found on a rainforest expedition.) And then, the summer before I turned fourteen, a violent outbreak of spiky yellow pimples, right across my forehead. Then came the fuchsia zits on my chin and cheeks; the giant, bruise-coloured cysts on my jaw and hairline. Sometimes, if I poked and picked at them they’d become infected and erupt, oozing green pus until, finally, they’d fade to a deep, red scar that’d hang about for months, or years, or, sometimes, forever. At some point in my late teens – just as I had begun to tame my horrific, pizza-like visage with topical medication and makeup, so that boys wanted to have sex with me, finally – the spots spread to my shoulders and down my back. And then, in my mid-twenties, when I had accepted that my face and back would never be entirely spot-free, but with daily intervention were just about manageable – I began to erupt, for no discernable reason, with cystic boils, right between my cleavage.

There have been good and bad days.

When I returned from a particularly glorious holiday in August 2014, my face completely clear, and I managed to snap the only selfie that has ever made me want to fuck myself. That was a good day. The time when I had a purple pustule, the size of a two pence coin, smeared right across my cheek, and an old drunk came and sat by me on the bus, staring intently at my face before whispering, ‘I’m looking at your spot’. Bad day. Any time a friend or family member tells me, ‘skin’s looking good!’ Bad day (if you want to complement an acne sufferer, DO NOT mention our skin. Compliments only serve to remind us that our skin usually looks so fucking terrible, it’s the first thing you notice).

Boyfriends and lovers have mostly been silent on the subject of my acne, preferring to compliment my peachy arse and pert, perfect titties, lest I shun sex with them. (Apart from the most recent, who occasionally asks, ‘how’s that spot on your shoulder getting on? Talking yet?’ I don’t think he likes me very much. But I’m not really ready to tell you about him. Too raw.) Still, it matters, nonetheless. I blame my acne for the terrible state of my love life because my bad skin is all tied up with my low self-esteem and my general sense that life’s great purpose – to meet and procreate with a kind, reliable, hot-backed male – will elude me, forever.

I never got over the trauma of being a teenager (which was when all this shit started. I was a self-assured, smooth-skinned, if precocious, child), despite my now having not been one for longer than I was one. But how are you supposed to get over your teens when you are – for all intents and purposes – still, actually, a teenager? With the bad skin, and the unsuitable boyfriend who doesn’t really care about you but it’s too painful to admit yet, and the borrowing £80 off your mum because you spent all your wages on a dress you didn’t need because you want to look beautiful even though you don’t really go anywhere, and the Nike Air Force, and the relentless self-obsession, and the social smoking, and the petty falling outs with your oldest friends, and the mouldy sandwich under your bed, and the inability to cope with any emotional upheaval whatsoever, and the sobbing with self-pity in the street even though you are safe and warm and well fed and intellectually fulfilled and there are people dying in wars and watching their babies starve to death right this very second, and the sporadic, disappointing sex, and the bitmoji conversations with your bffs, and the Taylor Swift fixation, and the feeling that real life is really, really far away, and the kind of believing things will get better, even though you’re in your 30s now and you watch the news and it’s pretty clear we’re headed for a nuclear apocalypse and, oh, did I mention my terrible skin?

Someone call a therapist, or a dermatologist, quick. Only proper medicine can help me now. That much is crystal clear (unlike my face).

* I think the header image I’ve used, ‘Acne is Enemy of Woman’, by SweetCrisis at freedigitalphotos.net, is the best thing that’s happened to me this week – scrap that, it’s the best thing that’s happened in my entire life, including the time my sister’s mate told me I look like a Sleepless in Seattle­-era Meg Ryan.