The great freedom that the introduction of divorce laws seemingly brought has become a real curse. People now feel they can just ‘give it a go’ and if it doesn’t work out they can simply get divorced, says Alessandro Tomé
THE BIG POSER
It has been described over the centuries as anything from the most romantic to the most daunting or perhaps most defining moment in a man’s life. Trepidation, anticipation, fear, panic, second and third thoughts, excitement, delight: all these and much in between are felt when preparing for this dénouement, which is in fact just a beginning (you hope): popping the question.
I for one can attest to going through many such emotions (bar the second and third thoughts — those, I feared, might well be more part of Angel Wife To Be’s thought processes). Of course, many of these emotions are driven by the strongest of them all: fear. Little fears, like messing it up, fluffing your lines, stumbling when trying to get on your knees, the fortune cookie containing the question or, worse, the ring ending up at the wrong table.
Medium fears, like picking the wrong romantic location for that special weekend, choosing the wrong stone or the wrong ring size. Big fears, as in semi-rejection (I have to think about it) or, if kinder, outright rejection. (Kinder because the first always ends up in the second, only messier.) Or perhaps the worst fear of all: your own fear, as swirls of words and thoughts entangle your mind and stop you from finding the utopian certainty you seek — that you’ve found ‘the one’ to cherish and be cherished and put up with all of you.
But today romance is a forlorn word of a bygone, dinosaur era, some will say, and they seem sadly right. Because the biggest fears today seem to be not romantic but practical. Yes, there is still the fear of how long before sex becomes a tedious, dutiful bi-monthly (or is it biannual?) event, ranking way below nappies and school runs on the priority list, of being relegated to fixing the Sky, driving and taking the bin out.
To help us hedge ourselves, we have come up with what people seemed to regard as the ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. But the great freedom that the introduction of divorce laws had seemingly brought has become a real curse. It has cursed us in the way that people now feel they can just ‘give it a go’ and if it doesn’t work out they can simply get divorced — as I was recently told by a young woman about to get married. Most of all, though, we have slowly come to realise that it isn’t free, morally or financially. And that has become the real curse, for today the biggest fear is ‘how much?’, followed by ‘when?’.
Which leads me back to where I started: when and how to pop the question. Let me caveat that: the question is no longer ‘Will you marry me?’ but ‘Will you sign a pre-nup?’. And if it’s hard to answer, it’s almost impossible to ask. Should you ask this of the lucky chosen one before you pop the romantic question, or after, or at the same time? And if after, how long after?
A straw poll of a very relevant sample of friends wasn’t helpful. Most start with a definite answer, evenly split between ‘before’ and ‘after’, ‘at the same time’ being the clear lagger. But as they ponder it, there often is a radical swap between the ‘befores’ and ‘afters’ and back again. In short, no one seems to be clear as to how and when. Everyone would rather not have to ask but seems compelled to do so nonetheless.
Hard-nosed wealthy unromantics, who seem rather pragmatic as to some of the issues before their (more likely than not second or third) marriage, clearly go for the ‘before’ answer, on the basis that they are just not going to marry unless that is in place and will read much into their potential partner’s response. They are also helped in the ‘why’ by being able to blame past bad experiences and trustees or lawyers for the ‘unromantic’ question and its timing.
More gentle types seem to hope that postponing the question as late as possible ‘after’ will somehow make it go away or make it easier. They are usually either genuinely in love or wet. One is endearing, the other annoying.
Parents, usually in the form of a mother, are the useful ‘how’ in many of these cases — let them ask the question. Genuinely useful for the ones in love, perhaps less so for the wet ones. Lawyers and trustees still play a minor role, but bossy, overbearing mum can often come to the rescue.
My hunch is that there are more and more of the romantic ones, who pop this awful question conditionally, with the idea of ripping it up together in a liberating ceremonial burning of the document shortly after they are married. They want to take their chances unfettered by the pressures that come with what is slowly becoming an employment contract, rather than a bond of trust in one another’s choices and judgments.
They are our hope for marriage as a genuine expression of mutual respect and commitment to one another, for better or for worse.
May they be the beginnings of a tide that will push English law back into a less interfering, biased and extreme attempt at regulating how much love is worth. As for the ones who don’t feel that way, I think they should only bother with one question: ‘How much?’ And when to ask it isn’t that important any more.
BEARING GREEK GIFTS
When it comes to romantic locations to pop the question, the Amanzoe resort in Greece has to now be part of the European shortlist. It’s an acquired taste for some, but on a recent visit with friends there was unanimous approval of its ancient Greek romance, albeit modernised. An unassailable location with breathtaking views over the Peloponnese makes every sunset between not-so-Greek concrete columns and friezes, water, flames and olive trees a likely knee-dropping moment.
The fact that mostly lithe women seem to be in charge of attending to every whim, reminiscent of the priestesses of the holy mysteries, I guess, completes the testosterone-light serene feel of the place.
We even managed to have a lovely dinner there mixing tradition with modernity, imbibing first cocktails so divine I assumed they had been sent down from Olympus, then interesting (not unpleasantly so) but expensive local wines. I didn’t know they existed, but they do here.
And at those prices, it had better be the Nectar of the Gods. Which, after several self-harming experiments, I am still seeking. Definitely should have gone for the 21-year-old local red at €350 per bottle, I guess. Not.
The odd thing is that it was a mighty struggle to actually get a table for dinner at all, but then it was a struggle to see anyone else there other than the 27-year-old American still wearing his baseball hat backwards at dinner and his dippy sister insisting on doing FaceTime on loudspeaker so everyone in the restaurant (just us) could share. And they still wonder why we would rather they stayed their side of the pond.
But at least Amanzoe has a reasonable excuse. It does not cater for non-guests at dinner, except in the low season. I felt it was somewhat silly and a little pretentious and definitely bad business. But on the other hand, if I were a guest there, I might be more approving of this slight snobbery.
Anyway, how can I comment on this when I live in London? It’s the capital of the Vanity Restaurant, where the customer gets reviewed or critiqued rather than the restaurant itself. Where so many restaurants feel who eats there is more important to them that what they give you to eat. Where you can’t get a table until no one wants to go there any more, by which time neither do you or should you. Where your face is more important than your taste. Couldn’t we do with a bonfire of these Vanities?
You’re smart — I don’t even need to tell you where I’m thinking of. Now, back to Amanzoe’s chilled atmosphere, fiery sunsets and peerless house style.