20 seconds. 20 seconds is all it takes – for the proposal, I mean. The thing – sorry – THE thing that’s been in the back of your mind ever since the sixth date when you decided that he was a goer (we’d agreed to watch the women’s Wimbledon final in the park together – he turned up with wine). THE thing that, in the three and a half years following, everyone has asked about every time you go on a romantic dinner date, summer holiday or long weekend away. THE thing that you’re told will change everything (but will it make him empty the dishwasher?!). THAT thing – that massive, terrifyingly grown-up, life-altering thing takes just 20 seconds, give or take a few. The same time it takes to boil a kettle. Or butter a piece of toast. Or, well, count to 20.
No one ever tells you that bit. No one ever tells you that it’s all over in a flash. One second you’re normal un-proposed-to you, the next you’re ring-on-a-finger, pop-a-champagne-cork, in-it-for-the-long-haul engaged. ENGAGED!
The proposal was lovely. It was early in the morning, I was wearing waterproof trousers (chic) and we were walking along a muddy path somewhere in the Isle of Skye. I stopped to take a photograph, waiting for the typical ‘why can’t you just enjoy it with your eyes’ comment, but instead he was down on one knee. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what he said, I’m not sure I believe anyone who says they do, because – and this is another thing no one lets you know – when someone asks you to marry them, the only thing you’re thinking is ‘oh god it’s actually happening. Oh god I hope I like the ring (I did – phew). Oh GOD I’m desperate for a wee.’
Ok, that last one might just be me. Yes, my first few moments of engaged life were spent squatting in a nearby bush holding my newly be-ringed left hand in the air for fear of splash-back. Then it started raining. Hailing actually – huge golfballs of icy snow pelting down. “Protect the diamond!” he yelled (please tell me it’s insured). The battery on my phone died as we searched for directions back to the hotel. A metaphor for married life to come? I really hope not.
The hail stopped. We took an engagement photo. Is that corny? It’s a bit corny – we took one anyway.
When we got back to the hotel I called mum: “I don’t feel old enough to get married”.
"Darling," she replied, "you definitely are."
Going it alone
It might only take 20 seconds todefinitively choose a life partner, but it takes considerably longer to choose a paint colour. While Frankie commits to Ben (I know. Frankie & Benny) I am unable to commit to a colour for my living room. Or bedroom. Or hallway. Or - actually, that’s all the rooms. Is India Yellow too of-the-moment? Sulking Room Pink too millennial? Is Farrow & Ball nouveau riche? Should I be spending £400-odd on paint for a flat I don’t own? These are THE questions for me.
The biggest commitment I’ve ever made was to this flat, and spending 71 per cent of my take-home pay on rent (not including bills).
London’s property prices kept me house sharing way past the point of comfort, until another week spent sharing a bathroom with a 39-year-old trainee architect with a lava lamp, brown sheets and no bed frame, who batch-cooks anaemic sausages and chops them into overboiled, flaccid spaghetti for a week’s worth of dinners, mansplains Brexit and leaves the front door open at 4am, became impossible to bear.
I tried another share, this one with an en suite - better, but the plastic christmas tree was unforgivable, especially when it stayed up until April. And a compromise boyfriend - one to share the rent, but not the rest of your life - sounds worse than lava lamp.
And so I choose a committed relationship with my flat, and my fig tree, and my tomato seedlings. I never seem to have enough time to date, and can no longer afford a cleaner or a ClassPass membership, but somehow I do have enough time and money to go down eBay rabbit holes searching for Italian ceramic fruit pyramids (gotcha) and mid-century teak sideboards (still looking).
I stockpile linen napkins and change blown fuses, and my last Christmas tree was a sap-and-needle-dropping six-footer that nearly defeated me. The always-chipper woman behind the counter at my local Italian deli may not know my name, but she's learned to read my mood by the contents of my shopping basket: salad - good day, pumpkin tortelloni - bad day, tub of Odonno's stracciatella ice cream - take cover.
This month, Flat and I will celebrate our one year anniversary, and I wouldn’t change a thing - except, perhaps, that there’s no one to deal with spiders. But then, that’s why Frankie has the spare key.