If you’ve applied for a job and the company is weighing you up against the other candidates, what do they look for? Potential? A nice suit? A certain je ne sais quoi they’re prepared to wager the future of their business on? Wrong. What they want is experience. And when you look down my marriage CV, that’s exactly what you get – not a novice finding his way in the world, but a proven performer with a number of high-profile roles under his belt. Some might even say I’m overqualified, but the bottom line is that you can’t buy experience, and that’s exactly what I bring plenty of to my fifth marriage.
Look at it this way: if you were running a marathon, would you just pitch up on the day with some trainers and a sense of enthusiasm? Not unless you want some career-ending blisters and roadside CPR, you wouldn’t. Any responsible athlete will tell you to prepare for it with a long-term training programme that culminates in several lengthy practise runs. Several exhausting, acrimonious, spirit-sapping runs. You’ve got to build up for the big one, and with the hard yards of marriages one to four in my legs, that’s exactly what I’ve done.
Of course I didn’t realise that when I was getting married the first, second, thrid and fourth times. With the confidence of the rookie, I thought I had what it takes for the long haul. But looking back today with the wisdom I have now, I can see those early-season outings could never have ended in success. And thanks to a closet lesbian, a back-stabbing best friend, the vigilance of the staff at the Vietnamese embassy and another lesbian, that’s exactly how things panned out.
What’s important, though, is not falling into the trap of being too hard on yourself. It would be all too easy, with the benefit of hindsight, for a lesser man to blame himself for the recurring marital themes of profound sexual inadequacy, consistently unreasonable behaviour and prolonged professional failure leading to intractable financial problems – especially if this is topped off every time by in-laws and spousal friends prone to rushing to unfavourable judgements. That would not only be wrong, it would be oversimplifying things. And where would it get you – certainly not down the aisle for a fifth pop at the cherry.
Life is a complex business, and so you mustn’t underestimate the role played by downright bad luck. There’s only a one in three chance a marriage will end in divorce. Those are pretty good odds, so you can imagine what a run of bad cards you need to end up with a royal flush of four consecutive decree absolutes in your hand. That’s a one in 81 chance! I thought I’d had my fill of bad luck at the roulette wheel where I spent much of my second marriage, but it turned out not. Little did I know that Fate had lined me up with eighty other guys, marked me out for special attention and then let every other single one of them walk away before wife numero quatro could take their home, their car, their pension and their masculinity.
But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. (Nice try though, Cathy, if you’re reading this.) The important thing is always to learn from what life throws at you, and you don’t get hitched a third of a dozen times without picking up a few pointers along the way. There are simple lessons, lessons like it’s always worth making an effort to scrub up on your wedding day and not drink till after the service because you can count on some joker bringing along a camera. Lessons like make a note of the date you get married because you’re expected to remember it next year. And lessons like never suggest an ex-wife as a bridesmaid. These are little things you can only learn from experience, and I’m more than happy to share them with you.
But there are also bigger lessons, lessons like it’s important to have shared interests (but not your best friend Geoff), like you should always show each other respect (even if one of you has just sold an irreplaceable family heirloom for £50 or made an obviously ironic pass at your sister), and like – and this is crucial – not marrying evil, manipulative bitches who thrive on your misery like a vampire on your blood and will screw you for every last penny you have.
Most of all, though, as I approach the altar with hope in my heart for another honest shot at marital bliss, what four marriages have taught me is this: if things don’t work out you can always try again later with someone else, so you mustn’t put yourself under any pressure to succeed. They tend not to make a big deal of this on the day, but it’s well worth remembering for future reference.