Hilary Fannin: The most important quality in a second husband

Women's writing for Women's Day: The water pipe spurted merrily as my present husband googled ‘how to stem a flood’

What is our “deal-breaker” when it comes to finding or choosing a partner, I wondered that night, while my knees atrophied on the sodden tiles. Photograph: iStock

What is our “deal-breaker” when it comes to finding or choosing a partner, I wondered that night, while my knees atrophied on the sodden tiles. Photograph: iStock

 

My mother always said that were she to remarry, she’d marry a tall man with a stoop. This pronouncement, regularly if randomly stated, didn’t seem to be predicated on anything in particular and was usually said rather airily. 

Married to my father (a tall man without a stoop) when she first hit upon the phrase, she was still saying it long after he had died, even though, in the interim, a stooping gent had failed to materialise, let alone propose. 

My parents’ marriage, a union fairly torpedoed with incident, listed for decades but never entirely sank. It was, like many marriages made in this country in the mildewed 20th century, a one-way street; you started down it and, barring annulment, death or somebody accidentally turning your spouse into a white rabbit and pulling them out of a top hat by the ears, you had to keep going. 

Kind men

The thinking behind my mother’s optimistic vision of a second shot at the institution was that tall men with stoops were, by and large, also kind men. It should be noted at this point that my mother is barely five foot in height, even in her slingbacks, and, in her experience, men with stoops were the ones who took the trouble to bend down to talk to you, rather than the strutting variety who remained in the snowy, rarefied reaches of the ceiling where much of my father’s social life took place. 

These stooping marriageable men were, in her mind, gentle and self-effacing, not given to lofty, arrogant posturing; not, indeed, the kind of men you’d have to stand on a barstool to have a conversation with. 

I was thinking about her very specific dating predilections at 2am recently, while kneeling on the flooded kitchen floor, ladling, with my bare, scooped hands, mounds of dripping cat lit into a black plastic rubbish sack, while simultaneously ripping an old towel into strips with my teeth, in a vain effort to suture a merrily spurting water pipe. 

The entire sink area was saturated and the extra-large bag of cat lit that had been hibernating, unused, under the U-bend for at least a year had, when I tried to pick it up, turned to pulp, its contents cascading into the puddled water to create a greenish mudslide. 

Meanwhile, my husband, who is a tall man and who does occasionally stoop to converse with me, was sitting, in a relaxed fashion, on the kitchen couch with a laptop on his knee, googling “how to stem a flood”.  

Brimming over

He may as well have been googling how to build a shagging ark, or the efficacy of saving a pair of salamanders, for all the good it was doing down on the flood plains, where I had jammed the salad bowl under the pipes to catch the joyously liberated flow of water. The bowl was now full and brimming over, and I couldn’t get the damn thing out without creating a sodding waterfall. 

The site he googled was American. I could hear a Californian woman on his knee telling him that the first thing he had to do was twist off his faucet – which, at that point, knee-deep in cat sanitation, I chose to ignore.

We eventually gave up, took towels out of the wash box and stuffed them under the pipe.

I phoned the plumber early the next day. He was in a jaunty mood for a Monday morning. It was the rows, he told me, that made his job interesting; the couples unable to contain their rage for the duration of his visit, hissing and sniping at each other while he soldered the radiator pipe that a Sunday DIYer had drilled through in preparation for putting up a shelf.  

What is our “deal-breaker” when it comes to finding or choosing a partner, I wondered that night, while my knees atrophied on the sodden tiles. What is it we look for when we hook up with a mate, besides a stoop? 

The conventional wisdom is that women look for charm, humour, assertiveness, confidence and grooming, while men look for some strange soup of tits and devotion. (I’m not making this baloney up; I researched it – poorly, it has to be said – on a very strange website that also offered me penile enhancement and a fail-safe recipe for brownies.)  

I know exactly what my deal-breaker would be second time around: forget the ratty jackets and the well-thumbed paperbacks; next time I’m going for a bloke with a wrench.

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