Marriage had always seemed like something that happened to other people. Like having children. And death. Intellectually, of course, Chris had always known that marriage held a certain statistical inevitability. Like divorce. But belief and knowledge aren’t always the same thing.
He knew that North Korea existed, and that every morning Kim Jong-un woke up and went to the toilet and brushed his teeth and oppressed his people, but to Chris personally, North Korea was no more real than Narnia. It was a strange land that existed only as words written by other people. Marriage was like that. A thing he knew about which had never quite existed in his personal reality. And then one day he was buying a ring.
He’d been with Claire for five years, and she’d been with him for five years, and neither of them were in their twenties anymore. This was what everyone agreed happened next. Soon he would be having children for roughly the same reason. There was a script for people like him, and he’d got to the end of the first act.
The next bit was a little more open to interpretation. Simply finding a someone with no better options and getting married wasn’t enough anymore. Now you needed a great engagement story. Helicopters, celebrity look alikes, faking your own death then jumping out of the coffin at your funeral and proposing. These days every good marriage needed a foundation of crippling debt.
They’d met at the Ivy. It was her favourite bar, so he’d never told her he hated it and had only been there at all as a joke. They went there for every anniversary, birthday and special occasion. It seemed the safest way to give her a story she wouldn’t hold against him. So he booked out the top floor with money he didn’t have (he’d already bought a ring he couldn’t afford, what did it matter now?) and invited everyone she knew. He even flew in the friends who’d escaped to other places.
The more he thought about it, the more important it seemed to spend as much as possible. Years from now, when he wanted to stay late at work to avoid coming home and having to face his life, he’d be able to use it as an excuse. I want me to be home for dinner too, darling, but we need the extra money. Relationships are about making each other happy. Marriage is a about minimising the opportunities to make each other unhappy.
So he bought the ring, and hired the venue, and invited her friends and family, and only invited his friends if she liked them, and took her out as if it were any other night. She pretended none of her friends had told her what was about to happen, and he pretended not to notice she spent twice as long as usual getting ready. And then her friends and family yelled ‘surprise,’ and she turned around and he was kneeling, ring in outstretched hand, and he looked up at the woman he happened to be dating when he turned thirty, and said ‘Will you marry me?’
She looked into his eyes and thought ‘when his parents die, I’ll get half their house in the divorce.’ She said ‘Yes.’
He was the most recently engaged man in the room.