Today marks four years since I asked someone to marry me. It was such a huge moment in my life, possibly the most exciting and terrifying thing I have ever done.
We’d arrived in New York a few days prior. He’d never visited the city; for me, on the other hand, I called it my second home: somewhere I’d been visiting since I was a baby; my first true love. What better place to take him to, then, than the city which filled my heart with joy; I so wanted him to experience that with me.
He ‘got’ New York. He witnessed its beauty, he experienced the excitement I always talked about; he fully understood why the city’s vibrancy energised me and made me so happy. We did some magical things there: we saw New York band LCD Soundsystem’s documentary on its opening release in downtown Manhattan; we had front row seats at the The Daily Show taping where Jon Hamm was a surprise guest; we sat in a tiny theatre and watched fellow Brit comic Simon Amstell perform to a confused, but adoring, local crowd. I took him to my favourite cocktail hangouts and dive bars for Martinis, Manhattans and sake. We ate the best burgers and salt (corned) beef sandwiches, and stuffed ourselves with cheap sushi. We met with my oldest, dearest friends, and drank mimosas over lazy brunch. We wandered all over Manhattan, just soaking in the atmosphere, both of us laughing at his disbelief of how pretty everyone looked. We ran hand in hand through the most torrential downpour I have ever witnessed - puddles up to your ankles in minutes - and laughed till we were choking because we were so drenched: far too wet to sit in a restaurant. I have so many memories of that trip, so much laughter; it was a joy to be with someone I love in the city I love.
But it wasn’t all roses. I remember having a huge row and then us sitting apart in silence in Bryant Park, mutually seething with fury. I can’t recall what we argued about, but that coldness between us I’ll never forget. At the time, looking at all the seemingly happy people in the park going about their normal business, I felt so sad, and wondered if fighting like that was normal; whether other people argued with such anger that silence was the only possible way to cope. After a while, though, we both apologised and had fantastic make-up sex when we got back to our tiny rented apartment; a couple of days later, I proposed to him.
It was something I had been pondering for a while. When we booked the trip to New York, a thought occurred to me that it would be the perfect place to propose. We had talked about growing old together, starting a family, building a life. Why not get married? Seize the day.
On our final evening in the city, he finally met my closest friend, whom I’ve known my whole life and is like an older brother to me, and after some drinks, he and I walked to Brooklyn Bridge from the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights. What could possibly be more romantic than walking over Brooklyn Bridge and then asking someone to marry you, as the sun sets over Manhattan?, I excitedly thought to myself.
My heart was racing the entire walk and I was flush with anticipatory worry. He wasn’t perfect - but then neither was I. We both had flaws and baggage and things that were difficult to deal with: we’re just human. We fuck up, we behave like arseholes, we hurt people with our stupidity, tunnel vision and inability to compromise. But we also nourish and cherish and care and that’s what makes relationships possible; you have to give love to feel loved. So any momentary doubts I had paled into comparison with the love I felt for him right then. I knew it was the right thing to do: I wanted to spend my life with him.
As we approached the midpoint of the bridge, we stopped to marvel at the view, and I posed the question. “I know you don’t believe in it,” I began, which wasn’t perhaps the most romantic way to start a marriage proposal, but he’d often voiced his dislike of marriage as an institution, so I needed to accommodate that. “I know you don’t believe in it, but I’d like to spend my life with you, so would you, um, marry me?”
He was silent for a moment. As anyone on the asking end of this equation will tell you, a second’s silence seems like five minutes. Time expands, rapidly, when your heart is on the line. I don’t know how long he was quiet for, but he finally grinned, and said “Yes, of course I will!” Later, he told me that he paused to think; that he wanted to give my proposal proper thought, to explore any conflicting feelings he had, so as not to just instinctively respond, but to genuinely do so with heart and mind in sync. We kissed and then walked over the bridge to Manhattan with our feet light as clouds. It was lovely.
I’m glad I can look back at this with warmth. He’s no longer in my life in a meaningful way, but my thoughts of him are mostly fond. There is some pain there: it didn’t work out, which is sad, and today reminds me of that. I miss him - particularly the companionship we had, because we were best friends for years, and I still feel the loss of that closeness now - but I can see now that we weren’t right for each other in a relationship. Love isn’t enough if you can’t make each other happy day to day and also in the long term, though we tried our best.
I don’t regret proposing. It’s perhaps the boldest thing I’ve ever done. Opening your heart to someone that way is scary, for sure; I won’t be able to do that again in a hurry, I don’t think. But living a life without emotional risk, is, to me, not one really worth living. You have to experience pain to be able to value the flip side, which is joy; you have to put yourself out there, and face possible rejection, to be able to find someone with whom you deeply connect. Fear eats the soul, but love nourishes it. I hope to one day again find the sort of love which time won’t fade, but instead will fill it with colour. Here’s to making rainbows and enjoying sunsets with someone else in the future.
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