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"If I leap, I will probably break both my legs." Not the ideal thought to have when being proposed to.
My boyfriend and I were on our guesthouse balcony when I realised he was about to do the deed. Champagne had just been delivered, it was sunset and he’d just had his first shower of our holiday. My spider sense twitched. Something was awry.
I was seated in a corner, an iron table and The Boy with a diamond ring blocking my exit. The alternative escape route? A 15ft drop to the cobbles below.
As The Boy wobbled down on one knee – five months of his careful planning coming to a climax – I begged my heart to somersault. It didn’t. One big coronary belly flop later, I was saying ‘Of course!’ and embracing my wonderful boyfriend just like I’d seen them do in the movies, all the while searching for vocabulary other than FUCK. SHIT. SHITFUCK.
In the moment that most girls dream about, I was freefalling without a parachute – my future life flashing before my eyes. I was engaged. I was freaking out.
Before all the want-to-be-married ladies start throwing their wedding scrap books at me, let me provide some context. I love my boyfriend very much. He is definitely The One, in so much as anyone can be sure of that sort of thing.
We talk about our future together – what we hope for (kids, clear skin, one of those giant garden seat pods they sell in Habitat), and what we hope to avoid (going on cruises, matching dressing gowns, cancer).
We have never talked about marriage. I’d assumed it might happen somewhere on our life path. In the same way terminal illness might happen. We’d deal with it, when the time came. But I had zero idea it was about to show up brandishing a platinum ring one seemingly innocuous evening in Crete.
It’s a tricky thing, marriage. On my list of easy-to-understand things and really-hard-to-understand things, it ranks somewhere between bloody confusing and too much to think about. I think it’s because I’m bewildered by the idea of 'forever' being a positive notion.
The only things certain to endure in my world are acne, death and taxes. I find marriage a magical, but never the less terrifying pledge of faith. I’ve tried to overcome this assimilation of marriages’ finiteness with death, taxes and bad skin, but sadly I’ve been institutionalised by my dysfunctional family.
My parents split up when I was a late teen after a catastrophic relationship of 18 years punctuated by alcoholism, hurled crockery and snoring in separate bedrooms. The stress drove my complexion to a dependency on Clearasil.
Later, my mother passed away after a particularly heady argument culminating in a car crash and a toxicology report to make Amy Winehouse wince. I wasn’t exactly brought up to understand that despite its ups and downs, marriage can be a special and harmonious union with blissful longevity. If you want it in a nutshell, marriage causes spots and, potentially, death.
A psychologist couldn’t be blamed for lying me down and blaming my Cretan freak-out on an acute fear of recreating the chaos of my kidulthood. But, I must confess, as I struggled to get the beautiful art deco ring on my heat-swollen finger, there was also another more selfish part of me that was screaming: ‘If I marry you, I’m going to lose the bit of me I like the most. The part where it’s all about ME’.
As a result of said parental screw-ups, I spent much of my childhood looking after myself. There was a phase where I longed to be part of a family that had conversations around the dinner table rather than stale vodka and cigarettes. But as I got older, that passed without too much fanfare – much like virginity or wanting heeled jelly shoes – I realised it probably wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Before long I’d convinced myself that being out there alone was way better. It meant you could do what you wanted, when you wanted, without having to explain or answer to anyone. Independent and self sufficient, I adopted the mantra: you’ve got to look after number one. And I’ve become pretty good at it.
So much so, that at times I find being in a relationship stifling and have to assert my need to fly solo (usually returning home sheepishly soon after, admitting that life is always more fun as a two). There was the time, for example, when I didn’t want to go to bed at Glastonbury, so ran out into the night totally spangled, danced around declaring my freedom before spectacularly face-planting in a muddy puddle and returning to the tent, soggy tail between legs).
When The Boy said ‘will you marry me’ all I heard was, ‘no more twilight raving for you, missy’. I should also mention, in case you haven’t already picked up on it, Miss Independent (aka: Selfish Cow) is also a total control freak.
I’m not OCD – I don’t go round tapping fridges. But, like many self-important young women gallivanting around London, life balances precariously around routines, schedules and carefully constructed ideas. If one thing falls out of place, the rest tumbles like Jenga (only with more wailing and likely a broken Blackberry).
I have a terrible habit of art directing scenarios in my head, then if the actual event doesn’t go exactly as I’ve anticipated – you can expect a meltdown. An example: my entire morning can be ruined by a some poor guy getting my mega-wanky-double-coffee-skinny-milk-with-a-caramel-shot latte order wrong.
So, even though I had never thought about what a marriage proposal might look like, when it started happening, the control freak in me reared its ugly head, screeching: "STOP. I’m not ready yet, this was not in the plan! I thought tonight was eating our body weight in feta then going to bed and pretending to have a headache?"
As a newly-betrothed, the following days lumbered by. I love my ring, but in the beginning it rubbed against the stack of family jewels I’ve worn on my middle finger since my mum passed away. I wanted to tug my engagement ring off and return to life Before Proposal. The Boy wanted to shout our news from the rooftops, but I was still in shock.
Like the first time you smoke pot and assume everyone knows, I twisted my diamond into the palm of my hand, certain that if I didn’t I may as well have a neon sign flashing above my head: Engaged And Terrified.
In an age where we share our dinners on Instagram before so much as prodding it with a fork – I honestly didn’t want anyone to know we were engaged. I needed to process, digest and generally overthink the whole ordeal before I could lay it open to public consumption.
For the first three days I felt like a fraud, pasting a smile on so as not to upset my wonderful Boy. My inability to embrace being engaged made me certain I was a substandard girlfriend and a poor excuse of a woman. I love my boyfriend dearly, yet couldn’t reconcile the joy we’d cherished for the past five years with this new chapter and all the uncertainties it ushered in.
All the recently engaged friends we knew were a picture of toothy grins and too-much-sex cystitis. All the films I’d watched involved orchestras, weeping and passionate face licking. The women’s magazines profiled sturdy singles and disgruntled couples, what about unsure-about-being-engaged wierdos?
Where was my Caneston prescription? Why couldn’t I hear the whine of a violin? Why had nobody told me that on being asked those immortal words it was perfectly normal to want to fling yourself off a balcony? Please tell me I’m not the only woman on the planet to feel utterly horrified at being proposed to? Why don’t the other girls talk about the abject fear? Surely I’m not the only person repelled by such a massive commitment?
Thankfully, there is a happy-ish ending. It took me some time, but I am coming to terms with being engaged. There are even moments when I let actual joy rush in – admittedly this is usually lubricated by three bottles of red and an equal number of best friends excitedly planning a debauched hen do.
Small incremental changes have made a big difference too – like transferring my mum’s rings to my right hand and letting my diamond live free. Importantly it was also after revealing my breakdown to The Boy and him being totally understanding, patient and kind.
But mostly it was realising that even after so much childhood unhappiness, we all deserve light in our lives, no matter how alien it may feel. And happiness is as much about someone offering it to you on a plate (or wrapped up in a diamond ring) as it is accepting we are worthy of experiencing it (see, I even got my own violins in the end).
What did we do to celebrate? Run off wildly into the night of course, only this time, together.
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