Sigh. Yeah, that's right. Sigh. Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a piece about the world's bizarre insistence on marrying me off, prompted by three separate incidents in which strangers chuckled at my shambling incompetence and suggested that what I needed was a proper sorting out, which could only arrive in the form of a wife. Cue much indignant spluttering on my part. For one thing, how did these strangers instinctively know I wasn't already married? Even gargoyles get hitched, sometimes. And for another, I didn't actually want a wife, thanks for asking.
Nothing beats living alone. Why shackle yourself to a fellow human being for the rest of your days? Because you're in love? Don't be a wuss. That'll fade after a few years and all you'll be left with is a walking catalogue of tiny, grating quirks gleefully pointing out your shortcomings. To avoid murdering each other, you'll have to keep yourselves anaesthetised with DVD boxsets and the occasional holiday. Life partner? Joy thief, more like.
But maybe that's a lie, the kind of lie you live by in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. There are a billion valid reasons to avoid settling down, but the root cause of most commitment-phobia is something else entirely. Namely terror. Raw terror. The terrifying prospect of falling in love in the first place.
Love can be genuinely awful. Worse than the norovirus on a coach trip. When it goes wrong - and it usually does - it kicks a hole in your ribcage and voids its bowels in your soul. Get burned badly and from that point on, falling in love is like inviting a werewolf into your home: you sit there fascinated, watching it eat at the table and admiring your curtains. You make conversation and share private jokes. But try as you might, you're not quite relaxed and you're not quite yourself; you're on tenterhooks, aware that any moment now it's going to turn round and bite your throat out.
In the face of love's potential destructive fury, you're left with three options. 1) Pull down the emotional shutters and try to avoid it. 2) Find someone you admire or like, rather than love, and try to make do, rendering both of you miserable in the process. Or 3) Throw caution to the wind and gingerly place your fragile, beating heart in the hands of another human being and hope they don't crush it in their fist for giggles. On paper, the first option seems like the only sensible choice.
But gah and damn and blast and argh: it isn't. Not really. To carry it off with any degree of success involves suppressing all vestige of romance, which ultimately atrophies your insides and turns you into either a loner or a bastard, or some maddening, alternating combination of the two. And you can't entirely kill off the romantic impulse. When you're queuing in the supermarket on your lonesome, clutching a basket full of meat and veg, all of which has been carefully weighed and packaged into portions big enough for two apparently just to underline the folly of your isolationist policy, it's hard not to gaze enviously at the couples in front of you, even if they're bickering over a cheap jar of pasta sauce. They might be unhappy, but at least they're united by misery. The rest of us have to pick holes in ourselves. They get to share.
So maybe a wife isn't such a bad idea, I figured, as 2009 started to dawn. The problem is finding one. I've fantasised before about a society in which single people are assigned partners arbitrarily by the government.
But that's not going to work, because my checklist of desired attributes is impossibly lofty: I refuse to be satisfied with anything less than a clever, funny, misanthropic supermodel who spends 98% of her time ignoring my existence (because basic psychology dictates that nothing's going to maintain your interest quite like being dangled on a string for eternity), and the remaining 2% offering sickening reassurance. Thus far the universe has stubbornly refused to offer this up, and since no one on earth can possibly match up to this deluded ideal, which I don't deserve anyway, perhaps it's time to widen the net by aiming low. By which I mean below the realms of the human. Animals are out: they don't live long enough to make the social revulsion your union would provoke worth bearing. Unless you count tortoises, but they're too hard and aloof and ultimately unknowable to seriously consider settling down with.
No. A robot wife will do just fine. It wouldn't have to be terribly advanced: a crudely animated face on a stick offering relentless criticism and the occasional rude limerick would probably keep me sufficiently entertained to the grave. I'm aware even that might be aiming a bit too high. I'm not getting any younger, so give it a few years and I'll be content with a bag of gravel in a hat. Although just to keep things spicy, it'd be an open relationship: I'd let other men have sex with my gravel-bag wife, provided I could point and laugh as they did so.
Pour all your romance into a bagful of gravel? Yeah, I can see that. And it is, I suspect, the only conceivable future in which true and lasting happiness lies.
• This week Charlie bled all the radiators in his flat: "Which is as close as I'm ever going to get to a starring role in a Victorian steampunk thriller." He saw Che: Part One at the cinema "as part of an ongoing attempt to have some semblance of an outdoor life this year, even if doing that ultimately involves sitting indoors, albeit in a different location to the norm".