We had discussed marriage before. Our hopes, our intentions, our hesitations, our worries and our doubts. On the sofa, or at the dinner table, or walking down a deserted lane while on holidays. Private moments snatched in the present to talk about the future.
Then late in the afternoon at the very end of 2016, as the light faded and the sky took on pastel hues, my boyfriend asked me to marry him. We were sitting on a bench by a pond on Hampstead Heath. He didn’t go down on one knee because the grass was wet and it was punishingly cold – but, also, I think, because he was concerned about drawing attention to us. We were in public after all, and while there was no one within earshot, dog walkers and families and fitness fanatics roamed nearby. They could glance over and see our excited huddling, they could see the look on my face – happiness with a strong undercurrent of overwhelmed embarrassment. Those strangers could, if they wanted to, watch us as we made one of the biggest decisions of our life.
It makes sense in a way that we got engaged in a public place, out in the open with the wide sky over us and London all around us, because when you decide to get married, you are making your relationship more known to others.
After around five minutes of happy hugging and handholding, we took a selfie – as a memento, but also to share, so that we could show people that we were now engaged. I phoned and messaged family members and close friends, and I posted the photo on Instagram and Facebook so that other friends and acquaintances could know, too. A few weeks later, we went to give notice of our marriage at our local town hall, and now it’s there in black and white, displayed on a public screen: our full names and our dates of birth and our intention to marry each other before the year is out.
People congratulate us so heartily, sending us cards and their very best wishes, and it’s as though we have achieved something more impressive than simply loving each other
Of course there are all sorts of traditional and practical reasons for these public announcements – to do with land and the law and the patriarchy – but taken together, the overwhelming sense is that we’re making our relationship other people’s business. Suddenly it seems appropriate for people to grab my hand and inspect the ring recently placed on it; it’s normal to talk about the intimacies of our coupledom when we’re down the pub with friends. This absurdly hopeful well-wishing and navel-gazing is sometimes embarrassing (I never expected to be so embarrassed by becoming engaged but I find myself happily blushing all the time). Mainly, though, it’s just very nice
People congratulate us so heartily, sending us cards and their very best wishes, and it’s as though we have achieved something more impressive than simply loving each other. It’s so ordinary to love someone, and so simple to decide to get married, but it feels big. And it feels different.
There is a cessation of cynicism. My fiancé and I are in our thirties and we make mean and sarcastic jokes all the time, that’s kind of our thing. We have seen family and friends separate and divorce; we have had really horrible arguments and we know that we’ll have then again. But for now, in these months of engagement, it’s as though we have nothing more to worry about than whether we can afford a fourth canapé for each wedding guest. It’s as though love can’t turn bitter, and people can’t get tired, or resentful, or restless.
We hope that we’ll love each other forever and we tell our friends and our families about that wish. It’s silly and it’s embarrassing. But, you know what, it’s also lovely.
Love Stories: This week on The Pool, our writers are discussing love and relationships