I got my first boyfriend the summer after 5th grade, when my crush Jason called me up and asked me if he could come over and visit me (this came after a long year of teasing from my end on 'when he was going to sneak out and come see me,' undoubtedly inspired by Mariah Carey's 'Always Be My Baby' music video). I said yes, but when he asked how to get to my house, I suddenly panicked and said, "If you really like me you'll figure it out" and promptly hung up on him. We worked through this setback, but that situation set par for the course of the next 12 years of my love life: awkward, at times hilarious, and fairly random.
But never has it been under such scrutiny as it has the past eight months. My marital status has been the topic du jour for women over 70 since the day I landed in Belfast. Rare is the week when Olive, Sylvia, Mae, or some other woman who apparently has a vested interest in my getting married forgets to pester me, “AWK LOVE. Have you found yourself a man here yet?” And then I have to explain the American concept of dating (no comprende is the general response. Either you have a boyfriend or you don’t, missy) and my intense fear of marriage before 30. They just don't care if I'm dating sporadically, if I met someone travelling, or if I want to become a nun. They won’t rest until I settle down, before their very eyes, with a nice Belfast boy, whether or not I want to be in Belfast, and whether or not I want to settle down. It’s pretty funny, because no one in my own family really gives a flying rat’s ass if I have a boyfriend or not. My grandparents always talked about the careers they thought I should go into rather than where I should locate Mr. Right, and I love them for it. But having a gaggle of old women who couldn’t be more concerned about my marital status is pretty cute for the time being.
Then Marlo landed and set the rumor mill alight. Apparently, the concept of dating is as foreign as the concept of roommates in North Belfast: if you're living together, you're TOGETHER.
This is the exact conversation we had last week with our neighbour Mark:
Mark: My friend here wants to know if you’re lesbians.
Me: Exqueeze me?
Friend: No I didn’t. I’m not even getting embarrassed because I never said that.
Mark: He wants to know if you’re lesbians.
Marlo: (gasping for air)
Mark: So are you?
Me: Sorry to disappoint. We’re not.
This entire exchange was, horrifyingly, conducted in front of his four kids. The next day, Luke, the five year old, asked me if Marlo was going to see my boobs after I went to work. Genius! Discuss grownup issues in front of your kids who have minds like sponges!
Then the husband hunt really kicked into full throttle on Saturday. The story needs a proper setup, so here's what happened:
We were wandering around Botanic Gardens in south Belfast when suddenly we heard rap blaring from behind some bushes. Naturally, we gravitated toward it, being white girls who wish they were black. We ran smack into one of the most extensive African weddings mankind has ever seen. It was a sight for sore eyes (sore eyes being ones that have only seen skinny ghetto white guys for the last 8 months). There were three cornrowed guys standing by a Benz with The Game blasting out of it (we think it was The Game, anyway) drinking what looked like Miller Lite and daaaancing. With rhythm. We had no choice but to pop a squat on a park bench and turned our attention to the wedding pictures that were being taken a few yards away. I don't want to be too graphic when describing the pictures, nor do I want to be catty, but I will say the following:
Bridesmaids: Pantylines O'Plenty, socks with strappy heels, and tiaras.
The park bench right across from us: old ladies speaking a mix of Dirty South (weird, since they weren't American) and some native Nigerian dialect. Legit.
The guys in the wedding: HOT.
Everyone seemed really happy, so we were happy too.
So this is where the story kicks into gear: standing near the wedding limo was a middle aged dude who was all too happy to pose for cheesy pictures involving thumbs-up and car hoods. He also decided he wanted to come over and make best friends with us. Or, as good of friends as you can possibly make when your intro line is:
"It's your time soon." After getting our instinctive laughter under control, we politely told him that "our time" was a bit further in the distance than "soon," thank God. He proceeded to introduce himself as the pastor of a church in Scotland who came to Belfast frequently to do weddings. And without any provocation or encouragement on our part, he boldly announced that he was going to "pray for husbands for us." He also invited us to come and visit him in Scotland and come to his church, where "the boys won't leave you. They'll marry you." Quote of the year. Finally, they all drove away after the pictures were over, rap blaring, horns honking, and our hearts on the windshield. It was the most amazing day ever.
Moral of this common thread is that apparently, being single isn't an option in Belfast. You're either meant to be 'going steady' with some crazy lady's nephew, shacking up with another chick, or engaged to an African prince.