Monday, 31 August 2009

He hasn't asked me to marry him yet

I am wearing very pretty knee high brown suede boots today. Flat ones, that look lovely with a denim skirt and a cuddly cardigan. When I put them on this morning, I checked carefully in the toe of each boot before I stuck my feet inside. At breakfast, I always look at the plate with a hopeful expectancy. When we make plans to go somewhere, inside I am secretly calculating the probability that he might have made arrangements of which I am not aware: preferably arrangements involving flowers, candles, planes writing giant letters in the sky, and of course a sodding great diamond the size of France being proffered from floor-level.

My mother has started dropping clanging great hints along the lines of how inexpensive rings are since the economy crashed (an event she knows nothing about but now uses as an excuse for almost everything) while my father has relaxed his hereditary and passionate Scottish parsimony far enough to actually voluntarily discuss the spending of large sums of money. Following in their inevitable genetic footsteps and taking my level of conscious neurosis to new heights I have now begun to ask where my ring is, repetitively and in a studiously casual tone of enquiry, approximately 17 times per day - in the assumption that he must have just forgotten and constant daily reminders are the only thing necessary to consummate my engagement.

Obviously, he hasn't just forgotten. Obviously (and this is based on the assumption that he does actually want to marry me; a necessary if surprising premise), he is biding his time and no tantrums or hints or blatant prods or actual point-blank demands are going to hurry him up, and I should just accept it and stop complaining (and checking his pockets). Yes, I may actually be the most awful girlfriend in the world, and I don't know why anyone would want to marry me either.

But the fact remains, that something curious happens to me when it comes to the concept of a wedding. Despite neither of us being at all religious (and in fact born into completely different faiths, which a) necessitates a very complex wedding arrangement and b) removes any actual religious meaning from any ceremony we might choose anyway), and despite the understanding that marriage will change nothing in our lives at all - we already live together, we already are planning for children, we already own a business together - now that marriage is on the cards it has suddenly become the single most important thing in the world. I have planned the guest list. I have found my wedding dress. I have already written to several venues requesting wedding brochures. And he hasn't even asked me yet.

There is a theory that something happens to women's brains when they go shopping, some hormone that is released that prevents rational thought and enables them to blindly and happily purchase without thought for cost or consequence. Despite the infuriatingly patronising tone of this concept that makes me want to do violence do something, I cannot deny that something very similar seems to happen to me when it comes to anything wedding-related. I lose any sense of perspective, financial capability, or concept of relationship survival. If any of my friends behaved like this I would consider it my duty to throw a bucket of cold water over their heads and warn them of the imminent danger of impending relationship demise - frankly, I'm surprised the boy hasn't run for the hills yet.

So why? What is it about rings and engagements and weddings that can turn such an ostensibly rational and modern girl into a raving, dribbling lunatic clutching sheafs of sample menues and gibbering maniacally about carat size? Well, I'm not going to deny that it could be something fundamentally unstable in my character. But aside from that I do think that it is deeply engrained in our feminine psyche that engagement validates us, confirms our worth by legitimising our position. It means that we have been chosen, that we are worthy to be a life partner, and that all that effort and eyebrow plucking and bikini waxing and suffocating our more psychotic instincts has not been in vain. It means that we will no longer have to suffer through the indignity of dating, or the uncertainty of relationships. It means that we've jumped the final hurdle, and attained the ultimate prize. It means that we're better than all those other girls that aren't engaged yet. In essence, it brings out all the most unpleasant aspects of the female character: jealousy, insecurity, anxiety, irrationality, superficiality, and so on. This could be just me, and I'd hate to offend anyone by making blanket judgements here, but in my brief moments of clarity, when sanity swims back to the surface and I put down the Tiffany catalogue that has been my bedtime reading for the last week, I realise that I can't help it. Despite a healthy awareness of the ridiculousness of the situation, and as much as I wish this wasn't me, it is. All this frenetic demand for security and touching belief in the confirmation of love through the spending of vast sums of money is just part of being a girl. I know it's not very politically correct to say it, but girls and boys are different. And most girls (I won't say all because I'm not mad and I don't want people to throw things at me) want a fairytale wedding to the boy of their dreams. I've found the boy of my dreams, and now all I want is for him to give me an unfeasibly expensive piece of sparkly stuff and marry me and love me and take care of me forever. That doesn't mean I've given up my independence or relinquished my feminist beliefs. It just means that I'm in love. Really, he should be flattered.

So tomorrow, I think I'll take him shopping. To a jewelry shop that sells great big rings. That should give him a hint.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The First Trip Home - I'm lying because I love you...

After a year of living on the most astonishingly beautiful, tiny, gem-like island in the middle of the South China Sea, I've returned to the UK for a few brief weeks to race around like a hamster in a ball seeing as many friends and family as possible. Most of that time has been spent parrying the repetitive and tedious question: So, how are you finding it?

The first lesson? People want you to be happy, but not too happy. Is this an English thing? I am always oh-so-conscious of the overriding need for self-deprecation when talking about our life in Malaysia. Of course I would anyway. I'm English. But it is becoming ever more obvious that while people will politely and (depending on their degree of interest and/or friendship) enthusiastically ask about 'the new life', what they all want to hear is a small but restrained eulogy of delight on how lovely it is, followed by one or more disclaimers which must include but are not limited to:

a) how much I miss England;
b) how much less fulfilling life is without a fulltime job;

and/or (usually depending on sex)

c.1) how terrible the tropical climate is for my skin/hair/weight/physical appearance in general, or;
c.2) how boring island-life is and how much I miss living in a city.

Of course, I'm happy to oblige. Self-deprecation is in my blood, and I'm terrified of coming across as a smug cow. I'm painfully aware of how lucky I am, and I'll bend over backwards to make sure people don't think I'm boasting or rubbing their noses in anything or in any tiny way suggesting that my life is better than theirs.

But. Sometimes. As I'm tying myself in linguistic knots trying to lie my way back into their good books...I can't help but think, in a small and shameful squeak at the back of my mind....oh, sucks to be you. Yes, I live in paradise. I have a fantastic suntan, and I don't have to work. I have the best boyfriend in the world, and he loves me more than should be possible. I spend my days running along the beach, swimming in clear blue waters, eating spectacular food, and playing with my gorgeous dogs. My life is amazing. So what? Are you so jealous and embittered that my good fortune makes you like me less? Does my happy, sun-filled life make you boil over in choking, twisted envy? Does it really make you feel better to hear my insincere and obvious platitudes sucking and scraping in the desperate hope that you'll still like me if I pretend hard enough that my life isn't nearly as nice as you really, deep-down, know it must be?

Unfortunately, the answer to this is probably yes. And you know what? If it was me, my answer would be yes too. It's inbuilt in our competitive nature that we want to be the best, and we want to best our friends. I understand this. My friend recently released his first book, and it went straight to the top of the best-seller list and has stayed there ever since. I sent him a voluble and delighted congratulatory message on facebook. In which I omitted to mention that I want to rip his head off and spit down his throat.

The only thing I can say, in case you care, is this. It could all end tomorrow.

The only lesson I've learned, the only real lesson, in the last year, is that life is so much more transient and ephemeral that I had ever thought. Boring: yes. Smug: possibly. Slightly American in attitude: worryingly likely. But true? Indubitably. This life, unfortunately, has nothing to do with me. It is no result of my effort or hard work or endeavour. It is good fortune, it has happened to me completely by chance, and it could all disappear again tomorrow. And if it did, I would need my friends to be there for me, and I would need them not to gloat (or at least, not too obviously). And how could I expect that, if I had gloated in my turn?

So when I pretend it's not that great, or I don't like it that much, or any of the other insincerities I spout in daily conversation, it's not because I'm lying. It's not because I'm English and self-deprecation is expected, and neither is it backhanded self-congratulation. It is genuine and it is real. It is concern for others and it is concern for myself. It's protection against future hurt, and it's protection against hurting others. When I say I miss England, I do. When I say that it's boring, it can be. I'm not lying, guys, I'm just being selective with the truth.

And the rest? Well, it's a great life. But you knew that already.