It’s just after 9:00pm in the US, which means it’s just after 3:00am in Norway and my friend Ove (who you may recall from his appearance on My Single Male Friend Friday a few months ago) is just coming home from a night out. He’s been drinking, which means his English is a bit more… creative than usual, but he’s awfully endearing when he’s drinking and tonight is no exception.
“Sure,” I tell him. “But 40 would be better.”
He agrees, based on the logic that “we r still young and beautiful at 40.” (Whereas we’ll be “old and ugly at 50.”)
I’m tempted to remind him that he will be nearly-50 by the time I’m 40 (so I’ll probably have to trade him in for a younger and more “beautiful” model) but I resist the urge because if I am still single at 40, Ove would make for a good fall back husband. I’d get bilingual kids with EU passports and dual citizenship (or so I imagine—I should probably look into Norwegian immigration law before I go making any serious plans) and they’d have cool Scandinavian names like Leif and Lars and they could talk to my dad about Vikings.
But let’s talk about the notion of the fall back husband, shall we?
Ove is hardly my first fall back husband. (This, I’m sure, comes as little surprise to most of you.) I’ve made fall back plans with nearly every ex-boyfriend (because “eventually” always seem so much more doable than “right now”) and I know I’m not the only person who does this because they made an entire movie about it, starring Julia Roberts and whenever you’ve got a chick flick starring Julia Roberts, you know you’ve got a universal theme on your hands (prostitution, commitment phobia, blended families, spiritual enlightenment and whatever the hell Knotting Hill was supposed to be about).
(As a brief aside, I hated Knotting Hill almost as much as I hated Shakespeare in Love and I really don’t know why because you’d think both films would have been right up my alley. But getting back to the notion of the fall back husband…)
With someone like Ove, an agreement of this sort is amusing; sure it’s sweet but I know it’ll never happen so I don’t put any real stock in it. If I’m still single (and blogging about being single) at the age of 40, you can bet I’ll be on the first plane to Norway but not in order to marry my charming Scandinavian friend—simply in order to… you know… do that which we’ve never actually done.
Marriage is an entirely different prospect in which, as far as I can tell, one must surmount an entirely different set of obstacles (ie. I don’t speak Norwegian, Ove’s never sustained a serious long term relationship in his life and relationships born of nightclub hookups are usually destined for disaster).
When you make a fall back plan with someone you can actually picture yourself marrying, however, things get ugly. I know this because I made such an agreement several years back with a boy I met during my junior year abroad. We had been going back and forth for ages—he was never single when I was single, and vice verse— and it took me years to figure out that even when we did occasionally experience a brief period of overlapping singlehood, we were completely wrong for each other. (As in he was a manipulative *sshole whose only real talent was in making me cry.)
But he had a way with words and he talked his way around the phrase “I love you” so many times and in so many different ways that I thought he was just being poetic. (In truth, of course, he never actually loved me, and I never actually loved him but this didn’t stop us from having the “If in ten years we’re both still single…” conversation.)
Here’s the thing with the fall back plan: if you have to introduce a buffer zone of ten or twenty years into the relationship, you’ve got issues. Serious issues. There’s a difference between saying “Let’s wait until we graduate from college” and saying “You know, I think I like you but I’d like to sleep around—I mean shop around for a bit.”
The former says “I’m trying to be responsible about building a future with you,” whereas the latter says, “If I don’t find anyone better in ten years, then we’ll talk. Maybe…”
The anthropologist in me is curious to know if there are any exceptions out there—has the fall back husband actually worked for anyone?— because as far as I can tell, it’s one thing to joke about one’s marital prospects. It’s an entirely different matter to actually enter into such an agreement (we all know what happened to Julia Roberts).