Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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Love & Marriage

This column appeared in The Dubliner in February 2002.

It's probably a grave insult to the world of commerce for a columnist to address the joys of celibacy in the month of Saint Valentine. But the world of commerce has insulted me often enough so why shouldn't I? I first discovered I was a bachelor when a social magasine published my name along with 49 others and misguidedly hailed us as "Ireland's Eligible Elite". I was 22 and ¾'s at the time. The fact my name has not graced any such listing in subsequent years leads me to mournfully conclude that my star has long ago waned.

There was a time when being a bachelor was a perfectly normal profession. A proper bachelor was a man of wealth and taste who enjoyed the freedoms of life so often curtailed by marital vows and fatherly duties. His smile alone betrayed a life of overwhelming self-contentment.

It's not like that these days. If you're not hitched by 30, then your mother thinks you're gay, your friends fear you're cracking up, your boss has you pegged as a selfish bum and girls start muttering dangerous deceits about broken heart and tiny willys.

This month sees me tumbling into my 30s with, I confess, about as little cop on as I had when I turned 20 a decade ago. But one of the few memories I have of my 20s is of a young and scatter-brained ejat possessed with a tremendous sense of personal freedom. Inspired by the despairing look of early girlfriends, I avoided long term relationships with a passion. They didn't seem natural to me. I wanted to travel the world and I did. I wanted to be my own boss and I was. I wanted to swim without guilt in fresh and ever-changing eyes. And I swam. Doggy paddle mainly but at least I tried.

I reckon I can get away with this sort of selfish deception for a few more years yet. So long as I am careful with the drink. The greatest danger to a single bachelor is the drink. The drink will fell you every time. It brings on lust and lust is the father, son and holy goat of a bachelor's downfall.

Indeed, I doubt there's any in this country who can honestly say they got it together with their loved one because they were sober. It just doesn't happen like that. When Irish lips meet for that first sweet ice-breaking kiss, Bacchus and Saint Arthur are way ahead of Cupid every time. And that's absolutely fine. We're a shy race. We need to get langered before we can contemplate asking one another to dance. We're not like those tactile Mediterranean types who can bawl their eyes out and laugh ecstatically in the same sentence.

Perhaps I speak too much for myself. For, looking back through the years, I see my own sexual peak occurred when I was an inky-nosed 8 year old playing Kiss Chase in the Lower Woods, rugby-tackling pigtailed girlies as they skipped merrily through the buttercups en route to piano practice, holding hockey forwards hostage in the Hollow Tree and, ho-hum, the occasional game of nookie n' seek para dos behind the bike sheds.

Christ, it was so much simpler then! Ah now, the illegible bachelor lets slip…

I did once attempt to play the Romantic. I courted a girl who worked at Interflora. She had lovely ankles and I found her terribly sexy. I was convinced she was the one for me. And so I vowed to make her a unique conquest; I vowed to seduce her without getting utterly plastered beforehand. Our first and only date was disastrous. I was so nervous I couldn't eat. She kept asking what was wrong. I rapidly lost the ability to speak. She became increasingly concerned and even more lovely. I snuck out the room, yielded to temptation, tore the head off a bottle of vodka, added bitter lemon and ice, drowned myself in the stuff and then embarked upon a horrendous lunge at the poor lass who duly recoiled like a wounded banshee and galloped away. I sent her a red rose by way of apology but seeing as how she worked in Interflora, I didn't reckon it'd amount to much. A few months later she stumbled upon me in a state of considerable disrepair. I'd been putting the world to rack and ruin with a Communist and a carafe of Scotch. I was in a very bad nightclub, I'd just been on bended knee before the Goddess of Armitage and I could no longer walk. She held my hand and beckoned me into her eyes and I followed her trance like into an uppity downy merry-go-round of a relationship that ended conclusively when she emigrated to a small village in north east Wales.

I have that effect on women. My first love fled to Australia, married an electric guitarist and works ER shifts in an outback hospital. My second fled to northern Africa, hooked up with a beardie Pom and teaches tribal sprogs how to build long-drops. And my third fled to Wales. Wales, for Chrissakes! Am I that bad?

But God bless them all anyway. Because that's fine by me. Really. The mantelpieces of this world are overloaded with ominous invitations from gleeful parents beckoning congregations to witness the stern rules of matrimony being cited to their beloved offspring as their friends and relatives sing in joyous harmony. I have trembled and roared and drank my way through too many of them in recent years. They invariably leave me feeling overjoyed at my spirited bachelordom, desolate with jealousy for the happy couple and, without fail, rampantly hungover.

In truth, I am greatly impressed by those who can commit their present and future tenses to another. It strikes me as profoundly courageous. Personally I can't do commitment. I run from it with Linford Christie legs. And that, I guess, is the crux of the bachelor's challenge. Everyday he must fight his impulses, extinguish his lusts, diffuse his infatuations and dive behind the nearest sofa whenever there's the slightest chance of being nabbed by a spell-casting soul-mate. For, despite my noble resistance, I fear that one day my vision will be so distorted by soft, lingering sober kisses and the quixotic hues of romantic dementia that I too will find myself waddling hypnotically up the aisle, intoning the "I do's" with a Blairesque grin as all about me weep and clap and say welcome aboard, sonny.