They needed papers. Lots of papers. I was an English national, he was French. Forms, submissions, documents all of them notarized. Getting married in France was like trying to jump through invisible moving hoops. We had a month to go and my boyfriend started to get stressed.
“Maybe we should postpone the marriage” he said nervously.
But I didn’t want to listen. The future I wanted was so nearly within my grasp.
We met at a time in my life when I was freshly out of an abusive relationship. My new boyfriend was a dreamer and a poet. He was my best friend and we loved each other. After we’d gone out for just over two years, we were getting married but he hadn’t yet proposed.
I still don’t remember quite how we decided it. But it made sense, from a financial point of view. It might have been the wrong reason. But surely we were going to do it anyway and doing it then gave us around £5000 pounds extra in tax a year from the French government with my current level of earnings. We both saw the benefits of that. And what was marriage but a piece of paper?
“I would still like a proposal though.” I said after it appeared that we’d decided. “It’s symbolic.”
Yet as we approached the date, the proposal didn’t come. I did all the admin, I collected all the papers. He didn’t have much to do – it was easy for him, he was after all a French national. I felt like I was doing everything. We’d both decided to get married, but it was like carrying a dead horse with me. How I longed for a proposal. A ring. A sign. Anything to show that he too wanted to be married.
A week before the ceremony, I’d had the suit I was wearing altered and came out of the store in a foul mood. The French had the knack of giving back handed compliments which simultaneously made feel like the size of an elephant.
“Oh but your shoulders are so broad, so broad!” Said the assistant. “Magnifique! Like an amazon woman. You’ll have to get a plus size. French women don’t have such splendid shoulders.”
My boyfriend and I met for lunch. I dumped the bags viciously next to the table in our favorite restaurant and started to complain. The lighting was too low. The chicken was too dry. It was all wrong. Little did I know he had a ring in his pocket. If I had, I would have been nicer. He had planned to propose there, but my complaining did nothing for the romance. It was the wrong time.
He suggested we convene on a boat tethered on the Seine for a post-lunch glass of wine. Which turned into a bottle. There, he thought he could propose. But the light made our eyes squint and our heads ached from midday drinking. In the blue brightness of day, the open air boats weren’t half as romantic; the tables had cigarette burns on them and the linoleum on the floor was ripped and tatty. Then it started to rain. It was the wrong place.
It was 4pm and the bars had started to open. “One last drink” he said. I never said no to that. So we went into a darkened room in the Latin Quarter just next to Notre Dame and scrutinized the drinks menu. There were shots. Only shots.
“Oh my God,” I said. “They have a shot called cunnilingus.”
“And they have a shot called Sperm of the Barman,” he said chuckling.
“I’m having that,” I said firmly.
The barman did his best to dissuade us.
“It comes with a lap dance.” he said. “It’s wrong for a couple.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said my boyfriend. “It costs 5 euro. Who’d give a lap dance for that?”
But when the waiter came out in boxer shorts and starting wiggling his groin in my face, we realized. They did. My boyfriend watched uncomfortably from across the table and downed his cunnilingus. After the dance was finished culminating in the barman throwing the shot down my throat whilst hovering over me a little too intimately, my boyfriend decided that he was never going to find the perfect time to propose. It was all wrong. Romance was not on the cards today. So he did it anyway.
The ring wasn’t expensive. But it meant the world.
Later on I phoned my mother and told her the splendid news. And when he was in the bathroom I whispered to her for fear of being overheard.
“I’m so glad, so glad, You know until this moment I was never sure whether he really wanted to marry me. It felt wrong somehow. But now I know that we’re in it for the long haul.”
But 8 years later we were divorced and my mother confessed.
“He wasn’t going to propose. I rang him up the week before and told him to. He said he couldn’t afford a ring. But I told him that money didn’t matter. I knew you wanted the symbol, the commitment. I wanted you to be happy.”
When I confronted him he said only “I would have done it eventually. Just not then.”
We’d had enormous joy enormous love, but eventually enormous pain. And as I looked at my ex-best friend and now ex-spouse, in my head and heart I knew. It had been all wrong.