Saturday, December 03, 2005
Here it is. The cover to my book (well, almost - Bloomsbury Books have changed the subtitle, and made the little women-figures more varied. But you get the picture). At first I hated this cover, but then I was told by a number of expert and neutral people that it was 'extremely commercial' and that somehow changed my mind, like Elizabeth Bennett's opinion of Darcy after she sees the grounds at Pemberley.
Are you excited? Bet you are. If you're not, here's a sample chapter from the book (which is about my lovelife, and internet dating) to whet your appetite. It's the introduction....
Millions on Women are Waiting to Meet You
How do you propose? I mean, what is the best way to propose? What's the right stage in a relationship to do it? Why, how, who? Where? Hello?
I'm stuck. I have this strange feeling that I want to propose to my girlfriend, Claire, right now, right here, on the roof of my flat as we sip warm Spanish champagne. But the momentousness of it is holding me back. I'm 39 years old and it all seems too remarkable, too unexpected and frightening. Frankly I'd come to the conclusion that this moment, THE moment, might never arrive. And maybe I never wanted it to arrive, for such a long time. And yet somehow the moment seems to have sidled into my life like a sweet little kid sneaking in the backdoor of the cinema.
I've been thinking of proposing for a while now, I've even had a few daydreams as to the best place. Last week I had plans to do it in Venice, in a gondola, under the swooning Adriatic moon. The week before that I considered taking my girlfriend to Paris where we could do it walking the Tuileries amidst the lilacs. Then I looked at my bank statement and thought that the local park might be nice, as long as it wasn't drizzling. But here I am sitting on the roof of my flat in London and I have a sudden urge to do it anyway, right now, right here.
My sudden urge to propose, and my scuppering of my Venetian daydreams, is partly perhaps based on the proposal experience of a friend of mine. The other day when I was discussing my plans for popping-the-question, he told me his proposal story.
My friend did it properly. He did this big build up to The Question and took his girlfriend to a beautiful part of Greece. Then he set up a lovely dinner with candles and chilled retsina and moonlit views of the twinkling Aegean. Then when he leaned forward across the crisp white tablecloth and took his girlfriend's delicate hand and said 'I have something to say' his girlfriend started weirdly trembling and then when he said 'My God what's wrong?' she said 'You're going to finish with me aren't you, that's why you've brought me here! You bastard!'
With that she went into a spaz-out, and disappeared into the loos for three hours, and had to be slowly coaxed out, and told that no, her boyfriend wasn't going to finish with her. My friend finally asked the big question in the back of a scruffy minicab on the way back to their Greek hotel.
So what does this tell me? I think it tells me that portentous build-ups to romantic moments can be somewhat counter productive. And so that's one of the reasons I am suddenly thinking: Now. Here. Do it. A further thought that is egging me on is that somehow this is the right place, in a weird way. In the city I have lived in and loved all my life. Next to the loudly humming air conditioner of the Pizza Paradiso restaurant, next door.
Setting down my wine glass I go over to Claire and we kiss a little. We kiss some more. It's a good stalling tactic. I can keep this up for a while, as I work up the courage to DO IT. But then Claire starts gasping for air and so I have to let her go.
But the urge is still with me. The blind groping instinct to ask the fateful question. This urge feels a little weird. It's a bit like knowing you're going to throw up when you are a kid. You want it to happen - and yet you don't. Anyway, here it comes. Stepping back, I open my mouth and...
And I close my mouth again. Because Claire is squinting at me oddly. And this has got me thinking that maybe she's a bit squiffy, after three or four glasses of champagne. That's a concern. Should I propose to her when she's had a fair number of drinks? Won't that nullify anything she says? Will her answer be legally binding?
Worse still, will she even remember my question tomorrow?
What, you proposed?! When was that?
The problems in my head are multiplying. I should have come out with it a few seconds previous, when I had the queasy urge, the nausea feeling. Now it comes to it I can see a host of other complexities. Like: just how should I phrase this telling question?
On reflection, 'Will you marry me?' seems kind of forceful, rather aggressive and blunt. Slightly too close to 'you will marry me!' But maybe that's a good thing? Honesty? Maybe candour and frankness are called for here? Not cold calculation? On that basis, perhaps I should run across the roof terrace and fling my arms open and just say 'Oh marry me!' in a kind of passionate and impetuous outburst.
What am I saying? We're on top of the roof. It's five storeys down to the busy London street, where I can hear the pizza waiters chucking out the prosecco bottles. If I start shouting impetuous stuff as I leap across the asphalt, Claire might topple over the edge in surprise and fall to her death. Which would be a pretty brief engagement.
There's no choice. I've got to build up to it slowly. Start again.
Going over to Claire I smile, and kiss her on her neck. Then I pull back and tuck some stray blonde hair behind her ear, in a vaguely soppy way. I say something in a low whisper. We laugh. I can feel the moment swaying towards me once more, across the disco floor of life. So I take a deep breath and I look at Claire. Her eyes are shiny and languid in the night; the champagne is giving her golden hiccups.
I have adopted a profound, wise and loving expression. The look of a man you can trust, in a lifelong kind of way. Claire squints at me.
'Yep. What is it Babe?'
'.... Claire I've been wondering...'
Her eyes widen.
I let the words hang in the air, like the scent of flowers in a warm moonlit garden. I am aiming to get my timing right. So I pause for a few more seconds and then I think about opening my mouth. It's going to happen. I'm going to say these words for the first and hopefully the only time in my life; I am going to say the words that will change our lives, that will commit us, that will ennoble our love and deepen our affection. And so I lean forward and I extend a hand and I open my mouth and Claire says:
'Shall we get pizza?'
I stare. She adds:
'Oh sorry. You want Thai, right?'
My mouth shuts. I nod and sigh. Then I turn away and walk across the roof terrace and sit on the ledge that looks over the road. Claire puts a hand to her mouth and says:
'Sorry darling. You were gonna say something?'
'No. You were. What?'
'Oh... you know.... Just thinking.... maybe we could get a DVD out or something.'
Claire tilts her blonde, pretty, smart, 29 year old Scottish head.
'... at midnight?'
She is skeptically drinking her champagne, with her arms crossed. I watch her sip that delicately tilted flute. I watch her sigh with contentment in the warm summer air. Then she peers across the Bloomsbury rooftops and with a giggle she says 'I forgot you can see the British Museum from here!', after that she wanders airily over in her nice sexy dress and she sits down close to me.
There is something odd and superior about Claire's demeanour this evening. It is as if.... she knows something, senses something. While I listen to the late night drinkers whooping in my road I wonder if sweet Claire senses what I am trying to do. Could it be? Maybe it's her female intuition? Or maybe I'm being obvious? We've been going out a year and two months: is that when men always propose?
Leaning forward I stare at the gravel of my primitive 'roof terrace'. Then I get another ardent and surprising urge: to get down on one knee. Perhaps if I did that it would be obvious what I was trying to do and then Claire might help me out by just saying Yes before I even have to produce the difficult words, the no-going-back statement. But getting down on one knee seems over-the-top and cliched. Why is it one knee anyway? Why not two? Is that to stop you falling over?
If only I had a ring to hand across. That would give me a prop. Yes. Maybe I should have bought a ring. Or maybe I should have got that tee shirt with 'Will You Marry Me?' stencilled across it. Or.... or maybe I should have got married years ago.
I think that might be the problem. I am 39. It's an age thing. When you are 19 and impulsive you can say Will You Marry Me without a thought because life is nothing but dewy promise and happy prospects. When you are older you see the pitfalls. And the divorces and separations of all your friends. And then it takes more guts. To take the risk. Because you know the risk.
So if it's a courage thing, have I got the guts? I think so. I've done a few brave things in my life. I've spent a Sunday in the Outer Hebrides. I've watched an entire evening of Italian television. I think I have the cojones to do this. Let's do it!
Then I notice that Claire isn't on the roof terrace. It is possible she has fallen off. But then I would have heard the crunch. Going over to the open hole in the roof I lean past the rickety ladder that leads down to the landing.
Her delicate voice floats up.
'Fuck. Have you got any gin that isn't warm?'
'Er... no... erm... Darling??'
Another aethereal reply:
'Bollocks. No ice either.'
'Could you come up?'
'Just getting some more glasses..'
Moments later she re-emerges, her pretty blonde head coming up the ladder, like an albino meerkat scanning the savannah. She periscopes her head, then she sees me and laughs. Then, when she is safely on the roof again we sit down on the ledge side by side together and.. it just happens.
I ask her.
What I say is this:
'Would you marry me?'
I wait. Claire is staring at me. The streetlight is white across her face. She is smiling. Gratified, I sit back. I've done it. I have committed myself. I have made that commitment I have been fearing to make all my life, yet wanting all my life. And it feels GOOD.
I notice that Claire is still smiling. Then she says:
I am taken aback by this. When you ask a girl to marry you there is a very small number of possible answers you expect to receive. 'What?' isn't really one of them.
Claire shakes her head, then she clocks my frown and says: 'Sorry babe - couldn't hear you.' Her head tilts back, indicating the air conditioning unit, which is loudly buzzing as it goes into overdrive. It must be a hot night down there in the pizza restaurant.
She grins. 'Anyway. Whatcha say again?'
OK. To hell with it. I've done it once. I can do it again.
'Claire... what I was saying was.. was.....how do you feel... you know....
about....' I close my eyes and then I open them again, '.... about marriage.'
There. Claire looks at me and nods and says:
'Well, I've always wanted to get married. I suppose. But nobody's ever asked me. Ah well!'
She lifts her glass of gin and chinks my glass. And then it strikes me. Oh God. She hasn't understood. I've screwed it up again! 'How do you feel about marriage'? What was I thinking of?
Right. Stapling my manhood to the mainsail, or whatever it is Shakespearian heroes do, I decide to have one last attempt. I think I've got one last bash left in me, and then if that doesn't work I'm gonna seriously hit my flatmate's lukewarm gin.
'No, Claire, what I mean is. Would you marry me?' I pause, and then for emphasis I add: 'What I am saying is: Will you marry me? Will.. you... marry..... me?'
Silence ensues. Even the pizza restaurant air con seems to go into a respectful hush. Claire is staring into space, ahead of her. Her face is blank.
And then it thumps me. Of all the possibilities I have been entertaining, the one, the most likely one, the obvious one, hasn't entered my stupid head. She's going to say No. Of course. Of course she's going to say No. Naturlich. Why the hell should she say Yes? I might love her dearly, and I believe she loves me, but there are so many reasons why she will say No.
Not least, the fact that we met on the Internet. Can you, should you, propose to someone you met via a broadband connection? Can you find true romance in a relationship that was first established through an underground cable? Well, can you?
My heart sinks. I look at Claire. She still hasn't said a word. She looks kind of sad. It's obvious now. She is going to say No. And, as she turns her beloved head and gazes at me I realise I cannot blame her for saying No. I'm ten years older than her. I've had a very checkered lovelife. I'm a man and she's a woman. We're too different. Asking a woman to share her life with a man is like asking a zebra to shack up with a wineglass. What am I thinking?
Suddenly, I'm almost angry. If Claire is going to say no, I wish we'd never met. I almost wish I'd never started seeing girls, become pubescent, got into love. There's just so much pain in romance; so much weirdness and confusion in sex. I could have become a monk, or a lighthouse keeper. So much easier.
Claire is still staring at me. I am thinking of the moment this all began. I am thinking of that meeting nearly two years ago, and everything it led to. I am also thinking about love, and life and sadness and hope. And I am wishing we could just get a Four Seasons pizza.
Posted by sean at 2:13 pm