*Let’s Pretend We’re Married

I was thinking just the other day about the fact that the only man I’ve ever discussed marriage with – getting married to him, that is, not just talked about marriage as a concept – was ‘a homosexual’, to get all Number 96. Never fear, I knew perfectly well that the man in question was gay; it wasn’t a Mad Men situation, with me mixing him martinis when he got home from work and wondering why he only ever wanted to spend time with other men, talking about graphic design. Instead, it was partly because of this person’s sexual orientation that he and I thought it would be a good idea for us to get married.

The arrangement seemed most advantageous for us both. He (let’s call him ‘George’) was living at home with his widower father, who was an extremely masculine individual, and badly wanted to get the hell out of there. I was single at the time and going through a stage of wanting to hook up with a doctor, which was George’s occupation. He was the only doctor I’d ever known socially and I didn’t imagine that I would ever be able to meet another one. Now, George actually violently hated his job, and had told me that he used to have to shut his door every time he’d finished seeing a patient and scream to himself for a while before he saw the next one, so the likelihood was that he would stop being a doctor at some point, but I brushed away this minor detail. I am sorry to say that my attraction to doctors was entirely to do with a combination of two things: thinking just how great it would be to be able to get a medical certificate without even having to leave the house; and the release of Flatliners, a film that I saw several times, always finding it riveting when Kiefer Sutherland, or one of his crew, administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Anyhow, George and I didn’t ever get married, partly because he refused to do his grocery shopping anywhere but David Jones, a place that, with its tendency to have a pianist tinkling away in the corner, and its many other over-ambitious airs and graces, I abhor.

It doesn’t surprise me that I was contemplating this course of action, though, given my early immersion in the program Occasional Wife. When I was five years old, my family and I would cluster around the television on a Sunday evening for repeats of this, sadly almost forgotten, 1966 situation comedy. The show concerned the travails of Manhattan careerist Peter Christopher, who works for the Brahms Baby Food company, although in what capacity I, unfortunately, cannot recall. Anyhow, Mr Brahms, Peter’s boss, believes strongly in the institution of marriage, so, in order to succeed at his place of business, Peter, nearly thirty years before Ned and Stacey, has to pretend he is in possession of a wife. Therefore, he asks Greta Patterson, hatcheck girl and aspiring artist, to pose as his spouse at corporate functions and, in return, sets her up in an apartment two floors above his own and pays for her art lessons. This is a pretty good deal for her, as I am sure you will agree.

Virtually all I can remember of the show is Peter having to run up and down the fire escape between their apartments whenever (which was constantly) Greta had to pretend at short notice to be his spouse, but their whole set-up obviously appealed enormously to my infant self. Even now, I can never see a building with an exterior fire escape without feeling a frisson of excitement at its Occasional Wife stylings. So, presumably, this was the deep-seated reason why at age twenty-four, I was all afire for a marriage of convenience, even if it probably would have been lived out in a mock Tudor mansion in Killarney Heights, rather than in the stylish pre-Hair ‘Big Apple’.

What appealed to me about knowingly marrying a gay man was that even if it all went wrong, George and I would, in some ways, have been acting sensibly; that although the idea was essentially insane, at least we weren’t just throwing caution to the winds. I would have had my medical certificates, and he would have had an excuse to move out of home and not had to spend so much time going to nightclubs with names like ‘Tool’, which is almost impossible to get out of doing if you’re a gay man living in Sydney. Also, I liked the idea that if I already knew my husband was gay, I’d never have to worry about him one day revealing he was gay and therefore finding myself in the same fix as did Kate Jackson in Making Love.

The idea of acting with a cool head when it comes to marriage seemed highly desirable, because the trouble with me is that even if I were to realise, deep down, that getting married to a particular man would be a terrible idea, I know I would become hypnotised by the gee-gaws around matrimony. The gee-gaws, for me, would be others shouting me a glass of champagne when I told them I was getting married, and having my make-up done professionally for the wedding. I know enough about myself to realise that I could have a dawning awareness I was engaged to marry Baron von Sepper and yet would go through with the nuptials anyway, largely because I was enjoying being fussed over.

I would like to know if it’s all the excitement that surrounds getting married that is the real reason why people do it over and over. I can more or less understand getting married once, and possibly even twice, but you would surely have to be saying your vows with a wink and a nod by the third time around. Elvis Costello, for example, has been married three times, and the question that I always want to ask him is whether he reuses the same old wedding ring or is happy to spring for a new one each time. If he does always buy a new one, what does he then do with the old ones? He wouldn’t have such problems if he’d just moved in with the women in question, but perhaps the fellow simply enjoys being congratulated every time that he weds.

I recall, though, that members of Duran Duran in the nineteen eighties seemed constantly to have long engagements to models, with Simon Le Bon at one stage even pursuing a model while he was affianced to another one. Perhaps Costello, and other enthusiastic celebrity marrying men such as Ben Folds (currently on wife number four), could think about following in Duran Duran’s footsteps and just getting engaged the next time round. This might then stop their lives becoming a series of episodes of Oft-present Divorce Lawyer.

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