Ur Place

February 29, 2008

What happens when the woman proposes

Filed under: Lifestyle — halfevil @ 5:40 pm

Just when a chap gets comfy in a long-term relationship, along comes the day he dreads – when she can propose

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Today tradition permits women to pop the question to men. This custom has dubious origins. In 5th-century Ireland, St Bridget, then the Mother Superior of a nunnery, demonstrated her ignorance by complaining to St Patrick that men took too long to propose, and that women should have an opportunity. Refusal hit the chap in his pocket to the tune of a 100-punt fine, which sounds like a small fortune

But this is small fry compared with how much a modern guy can lose if he says “yes”. A long-term relationship with a woman who doesn’t display signs of borderline personality disorder can be fantastic. It offers companionship of the “you and me against the world – we attack at dawn” kind, foible-driven sex, a pleasant-smelling home, admission to your social set’s “couples only” dining club, and the cool confidence needed when dealing with work experience girls in backless dresses.

In the 21st century it’s not uncommon for couples to go as far as procreating and/or mortgaging without tying the knot. We men love to jam ourselves into a cosy little rut – witness the indentation of our butts upon the sofa – so the functional long-term relationship is pretty much an ideal situation. But wedlock comes with financial obligation. The bottom line is: if you’re married, she can have half your money. Maybe more.

“I expect that more women than ever will be proposing in 2008,” says Dr Sheri Jacobson, a relationship counsellor at Harley Therapy in London. “I think that attitudes are shifting and there’s more room for women to assert themselves.” How much more room can there be? “Women might seize on this chance to propose if they were already entertaining the idea and either want to get things moving quicker, use it to express their deep affection, or feel they want to take charge.”

But don’t forget the real reason. “They may also have in mind that it might make for a good story when recounting a proposal to friends.”

When it comes to matters of the heart I’m a complete coward. As are most men. The most successful cowards operate by avoiding terrifying situations – such as being proposed to – before they even arise. So here are some sure-fire ways to avoid today’s doomsday scenario.

Preparation is key: before you read this article you should already have employed some short and long-term tactics, such as bonding with her creepy stepfather over a shared admiration of the radio host Jon Gaunt, or insisting that easier trips to Ikea is no good reason to buy a car.

Avoid Wales: the alarm bells should have started ringing the second that she suggested going on a romantic sojourn, but girlfriends bang on so much about overpriced hotel breaks that you could be forgiven for missing a trick here. However, if she has booked you into the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel, you’re screwed: the hotel is offering a special package today whereby if you say “yes”, it will give the pair of you a complimentary bottle of grand cru (they don’t say which grand cru, but it is Wales). “However…” continues the blurb, ominously, “if he says no, burly hotel staff will escort him from the premises and present you with a cuddly Welsh dragon, a box of tissues and some chocolates to comfort you.” She still gets the bottle of grand cru – although maybe the hotel will switch it to a sparkling rosé, the husband-famished modern girl’s favourite tipple, instead.

Head to Greece: the Greeks believe it’s bad luck to marry during a leap year, which may be enough to put the notion out of her superstitious little head.

Oversee all activities: considering that you can’t even cower at work, where colleagues will be more than happy to conspire in your emasculation, you’ll have to go all-out to find some place where she can’t pop the question. You are not even safe taking your nephews to the local branch of Games Workshop for a few rounds of Warhammer – she will get the shop assistant nerds to let her write “Will you marry me?” underneath all their area of effect-damage templates (ask nephews). Only a modern “high-class” orgy will dampen her plans – the last thing she wants is for your (inevitable, gutless) acceptance to be celebrated by a round of applause from a bunch of naked “heedonists”, as Larry David calls them. Don’t admit that it’s an orgy either. When she brings up the fact that everyone’s getting it on, say: “Sex party? What are you talking about? These are my friends from university.” Then offer her a bowl of fusty peanuts.

Definitely avoid soap operas: last time round, in 2004, Stephanie Smith won a competition organised by The Sun and Nescafé Gold Blend. The prize was a prerecorded proposal, introduced by Cat Deeley, that went out during the commercials in Coronation Street. A bewildered Adam Roll said “yes” – after blithering “What have you done?” – and a Sun man bearing champagne was knocking on the door straight away.

Avoid even football: if you watch Corrie with your girlfriend, your fate is probably sealed. But you aren’t safe even at a Scottish football match. Carrie Gattens used the scoreboard at Celtic Park in Glasgow to propose to her boyfriend, Celtic fan Gary Blease. “Gary … will you marry me?” came up on the giant plasma screens. “I can’t say I answered straightaway,” murmured a sheepish Blease afterwards. He eventually said “Yes”, of course.

Scorched-earth policy: a friend romances by the maxim: “When it comes to women, always do the exact opposite of what you think you should do.” So if you want to get out of her proposal, say “yes”. Seize her in a manly embrace. Present her with your grandmother’s engagement ring and tell her that it’s only a stop-gap until you get to Paris (to buy a “proper one”), but that she can keep it anyway. Get Vivienne Westwood to make you up four swords with her orb on the hilt for your ushers. Book Skibo castle. Your fiancée will undoubtedly call it all off, citing that the relationship was so “intense” that it must also be “destructive”.

Don’t count on a silver lining: you won’t even have the advantage of not having to shell out for a ring. She will take advantage of the numb state that will envelop you when you realise that you’ve been had and could do nothing about it. And besides, you may be surprised to know that a tradition dreamt up by other chicks doesn’t insist that the woman buy the ring. Suzanne Kelly proposed to her husband Eamon during what would otherwise have been a magical trip to Florence in 1992. “After he recovered, we found a jeweller and he bought me a classic diamond solitaire,” chirruped Suzanne, smugly.

If this doesn’t work: there’s only one thing more unstoppable than a modern British woman, and that’s a modern Russian woman. Immediately arrange a business trip to Moscow. Shortly before the pricey and unnecessary engagement party, begin sending letters to yourself with the address in Russian (just put all the “Rs” the wrong way around). Simple text on the letters inside should read “I cannot stop thinking of the way you are not evil or a semifunctioning alcoholic. If you do not marry me, my brothers who have tattoos of partisans riding boars will kill you.” Russian women, highly educated by the former communist system, have a wonderful sense of humour forged in hardship and cooled in frozen vodka, and dress like transsexual prostitutes.Even the type of woman who proposes today – who, according to Dr Jacobson, “is likely to be confident, assertive and risktaking … and, psychologically, likely to be resilient, since it takes a lot of courage to go against widespread practice”, will realise that she doesn’t stand a chance and plump for some beta male (“he’s so calm”) who works in a Majestic wine store.

But all this sniggering is really just to cover up the fact that, in truth, all proposals are made by women. “I haven’t come across any instances where a woman has formally proposed,” says Dr Jacobson, “though I have heard of women inducing a proposal. In these cases it has been an explicit nudge for the man to get on with proposing.”

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship of more than a couple of years knows this. After a couple of dates, she works out whether you’re boyfriend material (you usually are) and can be forced to watch the Hollyoaks omnibus. After 12 months, she decides that it’s time for you to cohabit. And after two to three years, it’s a ring or you’re out.

A man proposing is merely an illusion of control, and getting down on one knee a cruel irony. Women have always made the decision to get married. It’s just that on February 29, we have to acknowledge it completely.

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