For as long as I can remember, I've known what the man I would marry would be like. He'd be tall, dark and with a strong, chiseled look. He'd be incredibly intelligent, witty and very well educated. He'd be funny. He'd be elegant. Think Cary Grant.
None of my boyfriends fitted this bill. My teenage crush was a little short, and round, and not the witty type. He also didn't like me that much. My high school boyfriend had light brown hair, was incredibly smart but highly strung to the point of being neurotic. Not one for the quipping, he was too busy having a nervous breakdown and then getting off with my good friend at a party. In front of me. The first guy I slept with was tall and dark and very handsome, although he had a horrible line in slip-ons and white socks (it was the eighties, after all), and although he was smart it was in a wise-cracky kind of way, rather than the high minded intellectual quips I wanted. He was also a wanker, so that didn't last long.
The man I nearly married was tall, blond, incredibly smart, a wonderful cook, a painter and musician, very very funny...and gay. It took him the best part of the three years we were together to find that out. I moved continents, and he went down the local gay bar and asked a cute boy for a light. He's never looked back. He now lives with his two boyfriends in San Francisco and has an interesting selection of...well, that's another story.
After TMINM there was an eight year period of bad relationships. Not necessarily horrible, but ones that weren't going anywhere for some reason. And if you'd managed to make me be really honest at the time I was in each of them, I knew they weren't right for me. At the same time they kept me out of a relationship that I might have to commit to.
Eventually, at the age of 34, I had had enough. I knew I wanted children, and that with my job there was no way I was going to meet someone. I joined an introductions agency. The kind you pay £1000 for. I wanted somewhere which would have on its books men like my dream man. I joined, then didn't go to set up a profile for nearly nine months. I just wasn't yet ready to have that serious relationship with my dream man.
In the spring that I was 35 I finally got my act together. Got a photo taken, filled in what I thought was a pretty good profile, and went in to chose the 12 people to whom they would sent my profile. I was left alone in a room with books containing nearly 500 profiles. It was hard to chose. None of the men I'd been in love with had represented what I thought was my desired profile, so why should I now be able to pick him out of a lineup? I picked 12 possibles, being hassled regularly by some rude staff members who thought I was taking too long, but didn't want to help.
The 12 men received my profiles in the post. I waited for the calls. Only three calls came in. I went on two dates, neither of which were fabulous. One was possible, one was pretty bad really. In the meantime I wasn't getting sent any profiles, which meant that no one was picking me out of the profile list. I wasn't good enough for these men. What was wrong with me?
I went back to the agency to complain that they hadn't treated me well the first time I came in, and to ask why I was apparently so unattractive. I saw a very nice woman who apologised, gave me some advice about my profile, and said she would set me up with a phone introduction to make it up to me. Sure enough, a week later a piece of paper came through the post with a name, and a phone number. And no other information. A few days later this nice-sounding man left a message on my machine. I called him back, but he was in the middle of cooking for friends. He called me back and we had a good conversation, but I was about to go on holiday. A few days later I was on my way to the airport when he called again and we talked for over an hour. He laughed at how many books I was taking on holiday. When I got back, he was about to go on holiday so I called him to wish him a good trip, and we said we'd go out the Friday after he got back.
The day I called him I was at a company retreat. And at that retreat a guy called Kegan came to train us in a technique to help people change their behaviour. Kegan's hypothesis is that if you aren't changing towards something you want to be/do, there has to be an equal and opposite force preventing you from doing so. He teaches a technique to help you uncover what that force is. In the ensuing coaching session one of my colleagues helped me figure out that I was not open to a relationship, because I was terrified of having to look after someone else, when I felt I needed to look after myself. My job took/takes a lot out of me, and I had learnt to use the weekends to recuperate. The thought of having to look after someone else instead was unbearable. Through the conversation I realised that I might be able to have a relationship with someone if I didn't have to look after them. Perhaps they might even be able to look after me? That would be a big change from earlier relationships.
Two weeks later I went out for dinner with H. He had booked a restaurant, and, when he couldn't get hold of me to speak to, as I was so busy at work, he figured out that text messaging was a good way of getting my attention. He picked me up from the tube station and I thought, "Well, he's a bit overweight, and he's not dark, but he is tall and he is cute, and he's got a lovely smile." We arrived at the restaurant, and were shown into the sitting room they use pre- and post- dinner. We were handed menus. Mine didn't have any prices on. "Wow," I thought, "he's really pushing the boat out." H blanched, and said, "I had no idea this would be so expensive, please let me treat you to dinner." (For the 75% of you who are American, it is not common practice for men to pick up the tab for all dates here). I laughed and pointed out that I was happy for him to treat me, as I had no idea how much anything was going to cost!
We had a lovely evening. H had a cheese souffle that seemed to be about 12 inches tall. We just had to share it...we talked about our families, what we wanted out of life. We closed the restaurant. Two days later he called me, we went out again the following week and had a very romantic afternoon that turned into an evening of visiting various locations along the South Bank. He drove me towards home, and dropped me outside Harvey Nichols so I could get a cab. As I went to get out of the car he kissed me. Not, as I had expected, on my cheek, but on the lips. And oh, the chemistry. I was surprised by how strong that kiss felt. I think we both were.
Things progressed quite fast from there. Because I was so busy at work he would often drive into London late, pick me up from work, bring me back to my house where he'd cook dinner while I worked. When I said I needed time alone at the weekend, he took himself off to see friends. He arranged a trip to Paris to see an art exhibition I'd mentioned (once!) that I wanted to see. He took me to Stockholm for New Year. We went to Venice for my birthday, and to Chile for a friend of mine's wedding in February. Everyone asked me whether they should buy a hat yet.
But, I wasn't sure about H. Because although he speaks Chinese, which he learnt at university just out of interest, he's not intelligent in the way that I am. He isn't quick-witted. He's funny, but not in the way that my dream man was supposed to be. It takes him time to think about what he wants to say. And I wasn't sure that I could spend the rest of my life with someone who wasn't smart in that bookish, intellectual kind of way. Someone who couldn't recognise a Shakespeare quote, who had never read T.S. Eliot. I tried to hold on to something my shrink had said about 7 years earlier. "If you're waiting for someone to come along who is smarter than you, you're going to wait a long time." But I was waiting for that person. Why?
Everyone told me how much happier I was since I'd met H. My family fell for him. I felt I loved him, but I still wasn't sure he was perfect. H knew I wasn't sure. He tried to reassure me. In one critical call he said: "You have to know that what I feel for you is not dependent on what you feel for me. You can take your time to figure that out." That had a big effect of lifting the guilt I was feeling at potentially stringing him along.
Over the summer we decided to buy a house together. I was pretty sure H was the best thing that was going to happen to me. He loved me intensely, and he was lovely, and I loved him. My dream man wasn't coming. Because I wasn't beautiful enough, or thin enough. Because I was too old. H was it. I decided to be happy with that.
On the first anniversary of the day we met, H took me back to the restaurant where we'd had our first date. In the meantime he'd confessed that he had found it via a list of "London's most romantic restaurants", not on the advice of a friend, as he'd said the previous year. After dinner we retired to the sitting room for our coffee. When the tray came the waiter fussed around pouring my tea, then unfolded a napkin that was in the centre of the tray. The waiter beat a hasty retreat as H reached over and picked up the small box that the napkin had uncovered. He got down on one knee, and told me that he'd never felt like this before. That he would be honoured if I would be his wife. I hugged him. He got back up on the sofa, and realised he hadn't actually asked me to marry him. He got back down again but somehow couldn't get the words out. We hugged and cried and cuddled, and drank our tea and talked about the future.
Nine months later we were married, and I got to give him a ring. I was very happy to be marrying him. I loved him. I felt he was the best man that I was going to find, and I knew he would look after me, that he was passionate about me. But a small part of me wondered if I would have met the dream man if I'd been thinner or more beautiful. I kept it squashed down, but I knew it was there.
And then infertility happened. Over the last year I have truly fallen for H. I hasten to add that I'm not saying this is the mythical good thing that was supposed to be my learning from infertility. I think, I hope, I would have figured this out eventually anyway. I'm glad I figured it out sooner rather than later, because I feel a lot more married, a lot more at peace than I did on my wedding day. I know that is sacrilegious, but it's true. I know now that he is my dream man, I just got the specifications wrong earlier on. This is the person I was meant to be with. No other man could have supported me through this in the way that he has. No one else would have understood so well what I needed, every step of the way. This is who I was meant to be with. This is who I will have children with. This is who I will spend the rest of my life with.
Part of the engagement ring fashion parade. Visit the others.