I’m Steve, and I made my move on a Friday evening. It was at our normal table of friends. There are usually eleven or twelve of us, sometimes more if someone has a new boy or girlfriend to introduce. It’s just a couple of drinks after work, typical for a Friday evening for a lot of people. Work done for the week so plan the weekend, have a few laughs and generally relax. Most us are still single with two couples, one couple married and the other pair at the six month mark of living together.
The big table is at the back of the pub and is a decent walk to get another round in. But it also means it’s not too popular so we usually can get it just for us on a Friday evening.
I waited for the appropriate time, when any current serious subject had been talked about and the conversation was about to drift onto new minor subjects.
I rapped the table with my empty bottle and spoke loudly so they would all look my way. ‘My friends I have an idea I would like you all to hear about. Actually it’s an old idea so you may have heard it before, or something like it. And it is because of this idea that I now I intend to take a new direction in my life.’
‘You’re getting another job,’ Joe yelled out, ‘and about time too. Hitting nails into bits of wood is not a proper job.’
‘But selling people clothes that don’t suit them is better, Joe?’ called Abe.
‘They’re good clothes,’ Joe protested.
Abe shook his head. ‘Not good enough for some of us.’
Before the conversation could degenerate into another friendly exchange of insults I spoke out loudly, ‘No, Joe, something more serious, something life changing.’ That had their attention so I added, ‘It’s about marriage.’ That definitely had their attention and there were exchanged glances, particularly amongst the girls.
‘The usual procedure for marriage is that you meet someone, and you go on dates and become lovers. And then you fall in actual love with them, which can happen after the first date, but usually later. Then you get married or move in together, which is basically the same thing because now you are committed to being together.’
‘Then you become friends. But sometimes that goes wrong because you don’t become friends, because a lover is not automatically a friend. There might be things you don’t like about them, or them not liking in you. Or you have different attitudes to life or long time goals. And as time goes by it’s enough to make one or both of you fall out of love with the other. Then you split up, and get divorced or no longer live together.’
There were several there who that had happened to already so there were wry expressions to show that they were remembering their experiences. ‘So you fell in love with someone who was not the sort to be a friend, but you assumed they would be because you loved them.’
‘True,’ Suzie said nodding her head as she was one whose lifetime relationship flopped miserably after a year or so.
Jackie chimed in with, ‘Have to agree with that.’
Bill’s eyebrows shot up at what Jackie, his partner, had said. ‘Not for us I hope.’
Jackie patted his knee. ‘No, darling, we are forever.’
‘Oh here we go again,’ someone groaned, ‘just six months of kissy-kissy must mean it's forever.’
‘You two should get a room.’
‘What do you mean a room? They’ve got an entire house together.’
Lucy held up a hand. ‘Can we please all shut up because I would like to hear where Steve is going with all this.’ There was a general consensus to stop talking over me and I was able to continue.
‘So the idea is to do it more logically, or perhaps I should say more practically. The general idea is that you pick a friend, someone you have been around long enough to know them well. All their little ways are familiar to you, and there is nothing really horrible there because if there was they would not be a friend, just an acquaintance.’
I had all their attention now, and apart from a few more exchanged glances all the attention was on me. As I spoke I kept sweeping my eyes around my friends ensuring I did not meet the eyes of any of the girls, single or not because I did not want any of them to get ideas.
‘So it should be someone you have probably known for quite a while, maybe even back to schooldays together. Then you marry her. Being married you will be physical lovers, and hopefully living the rest of your lives together your friendship will develop into actual romantic love. And if it doesn’t, then at worse you will still be spending your life with your good friend.’
‘Now in my case there are five positive qualities I would like any friend who becomes my wife to have. And I’d like you to know what they are first before I go on to my reason for telling you all this.’
‘This’ll be good,’ Joe interrupted and for this he got a mass, ‘Shush!’
‘This is in no particular order, but I will start with intelligence. That’s got nothing to do with education. What I mean is someone who can see things for what they are and realise what is really important in life. Someone who will not collapse when faced with a problem in life, but will use their brain to come up with a solution. It means she can set goals both for herself and combined with me for our marriage. Goals which are logical and practical. Above all I want someone who I can talk to about anything.’
‘Next is to be good-natured. That means not being a drama queen.’ Here there were a few laughs and lots of grins and friends nudged friends, both female and male, as if implying they were drama queens. ‘Instead she thinks well of people, unless they are proven to be not nice. She is someone who does not automatically take affront at what I might say, which men will often complain is what most women do.’ Heads nodded here in agreement, both male and female. ‘Being good-natured means she does not get angry easily, and when she is angry it’s for a good reason.’
‘And not because I left the toilet seat up,’ said Brian.
Pat jabbed him in the arm. ‘I don’t get angry over that.’
‘But you always complain.’
‘Because you always do it.’
‘For God’s sake you two,’ snapped Lucy. ‘Stop bickering or Steve will never finish.’
‘And so does your dad.’
Once the table had settled again and I continued. ‘Next is a sense of humour.’
‘For you, Steve, that’s a definite requirement,’ Abe called out and there were cheers of agreement which was very nice.
‘Thank you. A sense of humour does not just mean getting the joke. I think it also means looking on the positive side of life and to laugh at problems to lessen the negative impact they have. It means ridiculing nasty people so they are weakened. It means she would rather laugh with me than cry. Laugh at her and my foibles rather than sulk over them. Laugh with people rather than at them.’
I paused a few seconds for affect. ‘But do people have a sense of humour because they are good natured, or vice versa? Are they actually two facets of the same thing? I don’t know, but I want my wife to have them.’
I took a sip of my drink. Keeping them waiting would only increase their interest in what I was getting to at the end of my speech.
‘The other two are physical. There is the expression ‘fair of face’, and I like that expression because it sums up something that is hard to describe. Truly beautiful people are like truly ugly people, they are rare. And more important to me than beauty is a girl who is fair of face. To me that means someone whose normal expression is pleasing, and so I want to look at her face because it is nice to see. Also she looks at me with pleasure, with affection and it shows in her expression. It’s the face I want to see across the breakfast table, that I want to see on the pillow next to me. The face I look forward to see coming through the door after work.’
‘But is it that they are fair of face because they smile a lot? Because it’s smiles I prefer to see, and it’s the face of a good-natured person I am looking for. And again are these parts of the same thing?’
‘And finally a girl who is slim with curves, because that’s what girls are supposed to be like. Now this could mean a girl who is buxom or plump, but not obese. Some girls say they are flat chested. But they are actually small breasted, because no girl is actually flat chested in the way a man is, so a small breasted girl also has curves.’
‘A curvy girl is what a heterosexual man wants. When he is hugging his girl or being hugged by her he wants to feel soft curves pressed against him. And when she is asleep in his arms, her head on his chest, he wants his arms around those same soft curves.’
‘I have made no mention of wealth, neither the girl’s present or future potential earnings, as having money is no guarantee of happiness. Neither is her height important nor the colour of her hair, skin or eyes.’
‘So finally I believe I have a friend with all those qualities, which is the reason why,’ and now I am looking straight at my friend who I made sure was sitting directly across the table from me, ‘I am formally asking Christine to marry me.’
There were gasps, cheers, laughs and a few ‘Oh my God!’ and ‘Yes!’ shouts and everyone was talking at once, except poor Christine who was pink faced, open mouthed, wide eyed, stunned and not taking her eyes off me.
It took a minute or two to get some sort of silence so I could finish, and once again it was Lucy who got the noise reduced by first swearing some really rude words and repeating several times, ‘Do we want to find out what happens next, because I don’t think this is over yet?’
I had to make myself clear to Christine so I leaned forward to look straight into her eyes. ‘This is not a joke, Christine, I am completely and utterly serious about everything I have just talked about. I have six reasons to want to marry you. The first is that you are my good friend, and the five qualities that you have make up the six reasons I want to marry you.
‘I am sure you are embarrassed now, and I don’t want to make it any worse for you by staying here. So I will leave. If your answer is no then I will accept it without comment or complaint. I will not sulk or hold a grudge, because that is not my way and you are being honest with me.
‘If you say no then it would be awkward both of us still being in this group, and you should not lose your friends over me. So it’s only right that as I was the one who set this all off that I should stay away if it’s a no.
‘Of course if you want to talk about this later, either in person or by text or email, to help you make a decision then let’s do so. I leave it all up to you.’
I stood up and walked towards the door. There were a few calls to me from our friends to stay but I was determined to do what I had planned. And I had spent a long time making sure that I knew what I wanted and how I would carry it out. I could only hope now that Christine and I would soon have some long, long talks.
Then one of my friends called louder than the others, ‘Steve please wait!’ And the voice that called me was Christine’s, and I had to stop for her.
I looked back to the table. Christine was standing now, still pink faced but apparently over her initial shook. ‘Please come back and sit down.’
I was not sure what was going to happen now, but I went back and sat down. Our friends were all silent now, their expressions a mixture of hope and concern.
‘Go through the five again, Steve,’ she asked.
‘Go through the five qualities you are looking for, because my mind is a whirl and I want to get it right.’
‘Intelligent, good natured, sense of humour,’ I recited with other voices muttering as our friends joined in, ‘fair of face and slim with curves.’
‘Love those curves,’ Joe muttered then grunted as someone’s elbow went into his ribs.
Christine smiled, an over wide smile which made me suspect that she was going to say something sarcastic, a massive put down which I would endure without complaint as I had put her in this position without any warning. I now thought that maybe I should have made my speech only to Christine and not an audience of our friends.
‘So, Steve, can this list be applied to what a girl seeks?’
‘Yes,’ Jackie called out before I could reply.
‘Yes?’ Abe asked, ‘You mean a girl also wants soft curves, Jackie? Does Bill know this?’
‘No I don’t,’ Bill said.
Jackie stuck out her tongue at Abe. ‘I mean with modifications for another gender.’
‘To her or the list?’
‘What do you think, dumbo?’
‘I don’t know; that’s why I am asking.’
‘Someone is going to get a severe smacking soon if they don’t shut up,’ snapped Lucy holding an empty bottle by the neck in a threatening way.
I shook my head. ‘I hadn’t thought of that, Christine but why not?’
Christine nodded. ‘Then I will go through it, but it’s what I want in a man if he is to be my husband.’
‘Let’s go, Christine,’ one of the girls called and was hushed.
‘Intelligent was first? Yes, Steve, you are. Good-natured? That’s definitely you. And there’s sense of humour? Do we think Steve is funny?’
There was a roar of approval from our friends.
‘The majority are in agreement there. Fair of face? Now that can apply to female or male, and you always look pleasing to me, Steve. So that’s fair of face ticked off. Now what’s last?’
‘He’s slim and curvy,’ was the shout accompanied by a wolf whistle that I’m sure made me blush.
Christine continued. ‘No, but lean and muscular is how I want my man. Not weight lifting muscles all bulging out of his clothes, but enough so when my head is on his chest there’ll be two strong arms going round me, holding me close and making me feel safe.’
She cocked her head on one side. ‘Would you keep a girl safe, Steve?’
She smiled. ‘Yes, and I’m sure you mean that, and anyone as your wife will always feel safe with you around. So I listened to your idea of friend first and hopefully romantic love later, and I found myself agreeing with it all. It is obviously logical and will possibly lead to a happier marriage than one founded purely on romantic love. And as you said the worse that can happen is I will still be spending my life with a friend.’
There was just a few seconds pause before she finished with, ‘So my reply to your formal proposal is yes please.’
The cheering, shouting and laughter was so loud that every head in the bar turned to look.
I just stood there for what seemed like ages so stunned was I that Christine would give me such a quick and positive answer. I don’t know if it was me went round the table to her, or she to me, what I did know was that my lovely Christine was in my arms and we were kissing like our lives depended on it. But what I was sure of was that I was crying as much as her.
The wedding was a massive success, and one reason was the video cameras which I had got the manager’s permission to set up and kept secret until the wedding. For my bridegroom’s speech I said, ‘Just watch this.’ I had paid an expert to put the two videos together so they played side by side on a screen at the end of the hall where the reception was held.
On the left I was making my speech, on the right was Christine listening. It caught the whole thing very well, and the expression on Christine’s face when I asked her to marry me was utterly marvellous. Also marvellous was my expression after Christine had gone back through the five qualities and told me, ‘Yes.’
Both Christine and I had more tears at us crying together. Our mothers cried, and our fathers were damp-eyed at least. Our friends and relatives joined in so everyone was at least wiping their eyes.
Now of course Christine and I disagree over who loved who first. What we do agree on is that we are spending our lives together as the very best of friends-who are in love.
About the author
Peter was born in London but his family emigrated to New Zealand when he was a teenager. In middle age he set out to be published. Now retired Peter enjoys not getting up early to go to work and dreaming up more stories.
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