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A bachelor named Britain, looking for love

It has been forever since Britain was single, and there will be many lonesome and disorienting nights ahead.

Maybe we should fix it up with Switzerland.

Not immediately, of course. The divorce from the European Union was just announced.

The paperwork hasn't been filed. There could be a loss of nerve, a relaxing of conjugal rules, tulips from Holland, chocolates from Belgium. Greece and Portugal could promise to stop leaving dirty dishes in the sink, Germany to quit hogging the remote.

But as things stand now, Britain will soon stand apart, and we all know how that goes: exhilaration, followed by panic, leading to an age-inappropriate Tinder account. Oh, look, here's Iceland, flashing its most voluptuous volcanoes. Nah, too stony and lugubrious, and you can listen to only so much Bjork. Swipe left.

Britain on its own is unfathomable. Think of its relationship history: epic trans-Atlantic romances, audacious trans-Pacific affairs, flings in this jungle, hook-ups on that dune. It was usually dominant, occasionally submissive but always coupled - if not tripled, quadrupled or quintupled. It had a lust for entanglement, if no talent for fidelity.

But it's not the overlord it once was. Those imperial pheromones are gone. Where a crown once rested, a bald spot spreads. Britain's going to need primping, prodding, perhaps a prescription.

And introductions. So, Switzerland?

If marrying rich is the goal, marrying Switzerland is the jackpot. And Switzerland won't do what Britain loathed in its current spouse and encourage poorer, darker people to drop in for fondue.

But it's so worryingly petite. So wearyingly stand-offish, resisting the EU even while enveloped and protected by it. And it's sure to insist on a prenup longer than all of the Harry Potter novels combined. Britain needs freer and easier love than that, especially as its jowls sag and its pound droops.

Maybe that means Albania, Montenegro or Macedonia. They're the mail-order brides of the continent, dreaming of an "I do" from the EU. Surely they'd settle for Britain.

But would Britain settle for them? The bloated pride that brought it to this juncture won't allow for a significant other that's too other and insignificant, and most outsiders can't locate Albania on a map. (Go south to the heel of Italy, turn left, cross the Adriatic, hope for the best.) There are better charted, more ego-salving corners of Europe that haven't bedded down with Brussels and are still on the market.

Like Norway. It and Britain have plenty in common - they're both wintry, watery, fishy, boozy - but also bring different, complementary assets to the table. In Norway's case, oil. In Britain's, Adele.

If that's not a recipe for global domination, what is?

Britain isn't a bachelor like most. It has been married so many times that it has pretty much run through the available options.

Its predicament reminds me of the movie What's Your Number? which I saw so that you wouldn't have to. Anna Faris plays a Bostonian who believes that she has reached her maximum allotment of sexual partners and that her only hope for a husband is to circle back and reconnect with someone she disconnected from previously.

For Britain, that could be India. Australia. Much of Africa. Some of the Middle East. Its exes are everywhere, though approaching any of them would require a new humility, as the Britain of yesteryear wasn't a particularly modest or accommodating suitor. It typically got the better end of the deal, until the EU came along and the arrangement wasn't so lopsided.

America is Britain's most prominent ex of all: the Elizabeth Taylor to its Richard Burton. Should our one-time colonial master become our 51st state? If we acted quickly enough, Mr Boris Johnson could be tapped as Mr Donald Trump's running mate, creating a tandem of tresses so perversely dazzling that it alone makes the case.

This may have been Mr Johnson's plan all along.

Britain is no more geographically nonsensical for us than Hawaii or Alaska, though it's probably too long a cultural stretch. It simply lacks the requisite prevalence of gun ownership.

Which makes it a better fit for Canada. Canada is saner, except about ice hockey. It's Britain's obvious match: comparably affluent, sufficiently English-speaking. Together, Britain and Canada can laugh at the crudeness of us Americans, a favourite shared pastime and an understandable one.

Britain is suddenly leaderless, while Canada suddenly has a leader, Mr Justin Trudeau, who's an international heart-throb. He can expand his portfolio to two continents, and has tidy hair. Sorry, Boris.

And the monarchy survives! Canada never ceased its ceremonial fealty to it, and bows before Queen Elizabeth II much as Britain does. It's a source of puzzlement, but it's a bridge to Britain, which is going to need the love.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'A bachelor named Britain, looking for love'. Print Edition | Subscribe