The second marriage.
There I was, living alone at the age of 33. Luckily, my work for the Ambulance Service meant that I was constantly in contact with a large group of people. This consisted of other Ambulance Staff, Nurses, Police Officers, and Doctors. They all had one thing in common, they worked shifts, and understood others that did. They also liked to go out a lot, have parties, and enjoy life. You would have to be completely reclusive, not to have taken advantage of all the opportunities on offer. I resolved to enjoy myself without reservation, despite the underlying unhappiness that occasionally overwhelmed me.
And for the next four years, that is exactly what I did.
To some extent, I lived the youth that I had previously never experienced. Various girlfriends, out with mates, crashing at friends; none of these had been a feature of my teens, so felt a little strange, as I approached the age of 34. I did learn something that has stood me in good stead ever since. The reality of fulfilling a fantasy, is always a little bit disappointing, and sometimes really depressing. I was waking up next to nurses almost half my age, cramped in a tiny single bed, in hospital accommodation. The idea of this happening had been a previous fantasy, long held, since the days of the Carry On films, and nurses in starched uniforms, wearing stockings, and suspenders. The reality of the experience was completely unexpected. Embarrassment and awkwardness the next day at work, (for both parties) as well as an unpleasant close-up of the dubious hygiene of some of the young women I had previously lusted after. I was disillusioned, to say the least.
After a short spell of these antics, I eventually settled down with a ‘regular’ girlfriend. Mind you, she was only 21 at the time, despite being one of the ‘older’ ones. The 13 year age gap was actually greater than the age difference between myself and her father. I should have given that fact greater thought. I was swept away though. Young, attractive, Punky and funky, outspoken and militant; she was everything all the other women in my life before had never been. She had spiky hair and fishnet tights, I was wearing a suit and tie. At best, I looked like her boss, or an older brother; on bad days, I could have easily passed for her dad. It was great though. Tremendous sex, political affinity, and holidays to places I had always dreamed of. After a while, I suggested that she should move in. I should have given that greater thought as well.
There was the usual ‘honeymoon’ period that comes with co-habitation. Constant sex, in every part of the house, contrasted with the awkwardness of those first breaking-wind, and irritating habits moments. Introductions to old friends, meeting her family, (and finding that you have more in common with her parents) and all those favourite film, and much-loved music clashes, indicating the real problem of such an age difference. That relationship is almost a post in itself, but I need brevity. Suffice to say, it did not last, though surprisingly, it was me that ended it. In many ways, it was domesticity that was her downfall, as in lack of it. I grew tired of coming home to a sink full of washing up, ashtrays full to bursting, and dirty clothes strewn around the bedroom. These things were meaningless apparently; not just to her, but to most girls of her age and occupation, used to living away from home, in cramped spaces.
Ultimately, I could not see a future. By the time I was 40, she would just be 27. I had unrealistic fears of being abandoned by a younger woman, many years in the future, and these insecurities could not be assuaged. I told her that I wanted to end it, and I was actually surprised at how upset it made her. She moved out quickly, retuning to hospital rooms. As far as I know, she has hated me ever since. If you read on, you will be able to work out why.
The same weekend that I split with my young girlfriend, I was at work, and found myself chatting to a receptionist at the hospital. I was telling her my tale of woe, about the recent break-up, and how it could never have worked. I had known this lady for some time. She was divorced, childless, and two years younger than me. She was a Londoner, born and bred, (my girlfriend had not been) and shared a flat with another receptionist, in Earl’s Court. The reception job was not her main employment, as she worked as a medical technician at the same hospital, and just did the additional job for extra money. I had always got on well with her, though had never thought of her as a potential partner. At least not until that night.
The following week, I asked her out, little realising at that moment, that I was going to go on a date with the woman who would become my second wife; and in that same year too. We got on so well from the start, it seemed as if we had always been together. The similar age group meant that we could share memories, discuss music, and reminisce about identical things from our parallel youth. She was kind and patient, nice to look at, and lacked the fire and opinionated manner of her predecessor. That seemed to me, at the time, to be a very good thing. After a few months, we got engaged, and seeing no need to wait, decided to marry that year, in late June. I went from break-up to wedding in seven months. Small wonder my ex was convinced that I had been seeing her before. I hadn’t, but I could understand everybody’s suspicions. I would have had them myself, in different circumstances.
I was now 37, and my wife-to-be 35. We felt that we both knew the ropes; we had made the mistakes, seen it, done it, and lived to regret it. This time, it would all be different. And to some extent, it was.
The second wedding was another small affair. The local Registry Office on a Saturday, followed by a meal in a riverside pub near the house. Later that evening, it was back to the tiny starter home, for drinks in the summer heat. It had been the hottest day for 23 years; by 7am it was 77 degrees, and by late afternoon, almost 90. I got drunk, and felt awful the next day, especially as we had to get up and go to Heathrow, to fly to Amsterdam for our short honeymoon. This was a new me though. Gone was the man who had been rejected in Wimbledon. I was attentive, loving, and caring. As soon as we were settled at home, I did the cooking, cleaning, washing, and ironing. I went to Tesco to get all the shopping, drove down to Kent to see my mother in law, and welcomed my new family, of her brother and sister, on frequent visits to our home. I had determined not to revisit my old ways, and I didn’t. I continued my new found domesticity, and despite working all sorts of unsocial shifts, I was pleasant at all times.
As I did all this, I failed to notice that my new wife was doing nothing. Other than travelling into work, doing her job, and returning home, she did nothing at all, except to wash up after dinner. She was asleep most nights, by 10pm, and even when we went out, to visit friends at their homes, she would also sleep. I started to think that she had developed narcolepsy, and became concerned for her welfare. It was nothing of the sort. She was just contented, uninterested in conversation, and plain lazy. Her habit of dropping off became a matter of comment, and then became accepted, eventually being disregarded. She liked to watch soap programmes on TV, and also developed a passion for games on machines, like Game Boy, or Super Nintendo. She could spend many happy hours playing Tetris, or Zelda, as I hoovered around her, or went to Tesco to stock up. But she was happy. She obviously loved me, and it showed. I had taken on all these tasks willingly, and told her not to bother with them. So she didn’t.
There was also no issue over children. We didn’t want them, and she was as adamant about that as I was, right from the start. We had some good trips, and some even better holidays, including a memorable Nile cruise. There were difficult times too. A few months after we married, the National Ambulance Strike began. Together with almost all my colleagues, I went for almost six months with no wages, facing an uncertain future, dependent on charitable donations, and all during a hard winter. She stuck by me, uncomplaining, and helping out with extra money. The following year, I suggested moving to a bigger house nearby. It would be nice to have a small garden, and the extra room, for guests. She was happy to go along with anything I suggested, and left the whole thing to me, despite my efforts to involve her. We moved that summer, or rather, I moved us that summer, as she didn’t even bother to take the day off.
Once in the substantially larger house, she was still showing no active interest in much. I was left to furnish and adorn the place as I saw fit. The end result was a masculine, minimalist look, with few ornaments, monolithic leather sofas, and black metal accessory furniture. A female friend remarked that it did not look as if a woman lived in the house at all. My wife was unconcerned, stating that she liked it the way I had arranged it, and that she was happy for me to ‘sort things out’. With the extra space, we entertained more. I still cooked, she went to sleep by 9pm. We bought a new car the following year, and she changed jobs. Tired of the long commute to work, she went for a completely new career in the City, in the financial world. This was a much shorter day, and she was now home even earlier. She still did nothing, and would wait until I got home, then ask ‘whats for dinner?’ I decided to confront the issue, as it was beginning to irritate me. I discussed how I felt, and her lack of input into the running of the home, and our life in general. She was amazed that I saw it that way, but apologised, and promised to change her ways.
For a good while, she began to help. She went shopping occasionally, on a Saturday, if I was working. I had to write a list though, and she would often say that she couldn’t get things, so I had to go back anyway. She still didn’t cook, but did some of the washing, and started to do all my ironing, which was actually a great help. I was left with the so-called ‘heavy’ jobs too, anything from hoovering, to cleaning windows. I made a nice small garden in the patio outside, but she never once sat in it, as she could not see the TV ‘from there’. Despite how this reads, we were actually quite happy. Her life was one of being cared for, and being totally dependent on me. For my part, I was doing what I would have done anyway, had I still been alone, and I had a loving and friendly wife, who was nice to my Mum, my family, and all my friends. And so it continued.
Some years later, I was about to have my 45th birthday, and I began to feel uneasy. Something inside me changed.
What happened is now commonly referred to as a mid-life crisis. At the time, I had no pat title for how I was feeling. I was being let down, that was how I saw it. The promises of a few years earlier had long been broken, and we had slid back to the same life I had experienced just after we were married. I still had to do it all, and I was older, and much more tired. Inside, I reasoned that if I had to do everything, and my only ‘reward’ was the company of a woman who allowed this to continue unabated, then I might just as well do it all for myself. This all came to a head, on the night of my actual birthday.
I had invited some old friends around to help me celebrate. I decided to prepare a buffet, so we could all sit together, and I did not spend half the night in the kitchen. For some reason, best known to herself, my wife decided to go shopping with a friend, and leave me to do all the preparation. I cleaned the whole house, went and bought the food, laid the tables, and prepared everything. I cooked pasta dished to be eaten cold, and arranged all the other stuff for self-service. I had just got out of the bath, when my wife arrived home, less than thirty minutes before the first guests arrived. I was not in a good mood, but I was also determined not to spoil the evening. It went well at first, but I did have a fair bit to drink. At some stage, a friend complemented my wife on how nice the house looked, and how much they had enjoyed the food. She smiled, and said ‘thank you’, deliberately not mentioning the fact that she had been out all day, and I had done everything. I lost it completely, and told all, in an angry outburst. That was the end of festivities, and everyone left. She went to bed, refusing to discuss anything, as I had had ‘too much to drink’.
On the Sunday, I spoke very calmly and reasonably. I told her that this had been the last straw, and that we would be splitting up, and selling the house. She was distraught, and pleaded with me to reconsider. She would change, she would do better, become more involved. I almost gave in, but hardened, telling her I did not trust her not to return to her old ways in the blink of an eye. After more discussions, and a great deal of heartache, the house was put on the market, and eventually sold. She bought a flat in South London, with a preferential mortgage, and half of my money from my ‘previous life’. I was not left with enough to buy anything worth living in, so rented a flat in Harrow, Middlesex, as it was convenient for work.
As I saw it, I had failed again, and was left with less than I had started with, but with self-respect intact. Both marriages had lasted exactly eight years. Perhaps that was my maximum, I thought to myself. At 45, I was in a rented flat, miles from anyone I knew, and at the lowest point of my entire life. That Christmas was the bleakest that I had ever experienced, and not because of the wintry weather. In the space of twenty years, I had had everything, and lost everything; and I had done that twice. The first time, I was too neglectful of my duties as a husband, and the second time, I did it all, and made a rod for my own back. I wondered if I would ever learn, and if it would ever be possible to find a way to make a relationship work, on an even keel.
I did manage to stay friendly with my wife though. One of my friends described my separation from her as ‘like clubbing a seal pup’. That did not make me feel that good about it, I can tell you. We did not divorce for a long time, and we stayed in touch, visited each other, and sometimes attended social events as a couple. When her mother died, I took her to the funeral, and the family treated me well. It sounds strange, but we actually got on better like that. When she eventually met someone else, I was pleased for her. I was introduced to him, and he seemed to be a decent ordinary man, who treated her well, so I was happy to see her settled. She married again, and moved to the West of England. She still lives there, and we are still in touch, as good friends today, as we ever were.
First time unlucky, second time unlucky; many years before the third time. That is the final part of this trilogy, and will follow soon.