Why I proposed to my boyfriend after swearing off marriage

I was never going to get married. Ever. My parents went through a particularly gritty divorce. Think Kramer vs. Kramer. Think years in the same house living under the same roof while headed to court to continue the custody battle over me, my older sister, the house, the car—even down to the lampshades and the vinyl records. Imagine the house being divided into living quarters for her and for him and then the mutual ground for us. Not pretty.

I was never going to let myself anywhere near that kind of situation. Marriage was something to run away from, not something you say yes to. That’s what I’d believed ever since I was tiny, and held on to throughout adolescence, and my twenties, when I met my first love and when I finished with my first love, when our relationship rekindled and burnt out once again, when I met another love and said goodbye to that one.

That’s how I felt when I met Oscar in Barcelona, too. I knew early on that I loved him hugely and deeply. But I thought “things never last, do they?” So when we moved in together after six months I was petrified and wondered if I was nuts. But I told myself to go with it, carpe diem, enjoy it while it lasted.

So I did: We were in a wonderful kind of honeymoon bubble for six months, rushing home to be together, to make three course meals together enjoyed with a bottle of wine. Even after that wore off, we still had lovely evenings together—one course, wine-free. We called our 45-meter-square apartment our castle.

Then we decided to quit our jobs and go traveling – something I’d dreamed of doing for a long time – and planned to wander for five months through Mexico and onto Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. “That’s an awful long time,” people warned us. But we went anyway.

We spent five glorious months side-by-side, every day, all day, and they were the best months of my life. I didn’t tire of him for a moment, didn’t get annoyed by his idiosyncrasies, didn’t get bored by his conversation. By now, I had told him he was the love of my life. My soulmate. In Spanish, he told me, they say ‘half-orange’.

After our travels, I got a job in Madrid. We lived in a tiny attic with no heating and the smallest of kitchens. We watched our pennies, got to know the Spanish capital and set about making new friends. It was hard. I adjusted to early mornings, a desk, and a tense work environment. While he was still looking for work, he picked me up every day and we walked home hand-in-hand.

We often said to one another that we wanted to be together forever. Of course, there is no forever. We are finite. But we expressed a wish to have babies and buy a house and grow old together, but not to marry. I always wanted to retain my freedom, to be able to run at any time if or when needed. To be able to pick up my belongings, knowing which were mine, and walk away.

Until I realized that, instead of being free, I was in an invisible prison I had built around myself. I wouldn’t allow myself to give fully, to commit fully, I was always on the edge, half-ready to flee. I was living in the ugly shadow of my parents’ pain.

For months I played with the idea of proposing to Oscar. Every time I thought about it I would get hot and go red in the face. The idea—like living together after six months, like traveling Latin America together, like moving to a different city—was a scary one.But I knew I wanted to do it. I just had to work out how.

I considered a few different options—picnic in the country, casual dinner—but in the end it was during a lunch at a nice restaurant funded by a bet he had made on the World Cup. I put on a nice dress and red lipstick, and trembled throughout the entire tasting menu, nervously gulping my wine.

When the bill was paid we went outside to the patio and ordered gin and tonics. We chatted for a while, and then I set my glass down, and got down on one knee. The pebbles hurt so I put the other knee down too. I cried as I told him he was the one for me, that I wanted us to grow old together.

“Will you marry me?” I asked. “Yes, of course,” he said, scooping me up into his arms. I hugged him tight, and sobbed.

Now that we’re engaged, not much has changed. Don’t get me wrong, I know the statistics. I haven’t forgotten how painful it is when marriage ends in divorce. But to me, it’s worth the risk. I hope that we’ll grow old together, and I think we have an excellent chance. But it’s not about the end destination, is it? It’s about the journey.

Miriam Foley writes for an online publication and her short stories and poetry have been published in several literary journals. She has recently completed a novel set between London and Ireland.