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Ladies' Night            May 1, 2000 Open Mike topic

NEW!   Audio File   The unromantic proposal

by Jandro

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In my younger years I was stupidly romantic and shy to an embarrassing degree - a regretful combination. One lonely night it occurred to me, with the shocking certainty that makes absurd teenage realizations seem so true, that I would never get married because I could hardly manage asking a girl to dance. In a few bitter moments I discarded all hopes of my dashing proposal atop the Eiffel Tower, the picture-perfect sunset wedding on Cozumel beach, and my idyllic honeymoon on the Nile. Every ounce of my romantic energy could be forever wasted, and all because my legs would not twitch, nor my tongue stir, when it came time to say, 'do you want to...?'

Yes, I was the guy you noticed (at the disco, say, or a wedding) surveying the dance floor, searching for a sweet girl to swing with. Perhaps you initially admired how smoothly I handled the preliminaries: the casual glance, the eyes held for a moment, the split-second smile. Then you muttered, 'pathetic,' when I slunk away, not man enough to ask.

It was the fear of rejection. And if I couldn't ask for a dance, an entire life to-have-and-to-hold looked like the impossible dream.

I was pissed at the unfairness of life. Who decreed that men have to make the first move? I saw it as a vicious power struggle between the sexes. At first, the callow man would imagine he was in control: the woman at his mercy, subject to his mood and taste. But if he decided not to ask, he'd be almost as clever as the woman who withholds sex to punish her mate. So he would ask... and when he asked - then it would all be up to her. Then she'd have him in her manicured paws, ready to flick him away like a dirty fly with her derisive laugh, or her caustic, are-you-kidding-me, 'no thanks,' or her panicked, disbelieving head shake.

The hazard of such a snub impelled my creativity. I found two reliable remedies for my solitary dancing nights. A good rip of whiskey after a few beers brought out the brazen, self-confident me. His sex-appeal drew the ladies onto the dance floor - and when they refused, he lamented their loss. Sadly, alcohol also brought forth the bungling, licentious, incoherent me - and the capricious ladies weren't so fond of him.

Ladies' night was the other solution - both better and worse. It removed all the pressure of asking, but when the gentlewomen accidentally overlooked me, I did have to wait a whole week for another chance. Still, I could handle the delay as long as I didn't have to take the initiative.

Encouraged by my dance-floor exploits, I turned my attention to the slightly more momentous (if less pressing) problem of a matrimony proposal. In theory, everything was already worked out to the final detail. I had always fantasized a quixotic engagement of Shakespearean design. I would get down on one knee (to demonstrate humility and devotion), hold my girl's fair hand (firmly, to match the passion in my eyes), place a single, coral red rose on her lap (a sign of my pure intentions), open the little black box to reveal the value of three months of my salary (emphasizing my financial solidity - after all, a diamond is forever), gaze up at her face (her complexion fresh with eternal summer's golden blush, and oh so awed by the bold spontaneity of my action), and then...then...then I'd stare at myself in disgust as I turned mute and incapable of pushing the words past my throat (arrested by the dreadful possibility of a big NO).

With infinitely higher stakes, and the shock of rejection more damaging, I knew the chances of asking a woman to marry me remained quite null - my dancing success notwithstanding.

Dejected, I began dreaming of brideless altars and honeymoons for one. I wondered if I was too old to join a monastic order. My inner-Romeo was destined to wither, untapped...

This nightmare haunted me into early adulthood. I continued to seek an answer to my dilemma until, at last, I realized that a marriage proposal wasn't really such a monstrous event.

I was delighted at first - thrilled to learn that most couples discussed their potential union months, years in advance of getting engaged. I thought: this is civilized. I am fortunate to live in this modern age. I said to myself: I will have me a wife. I will take advantage of this approach. I will have a rational conversation. Proposing will be a formality, a confirmation of a resolution already made. Denial? A void alternative.

My glee was soon replaced by disappointment. If proposing was so straight-forward, how could it be romantic? What was the point of scraping my knees if there was nothing to beg for? How to be spontaneous if she knew my intentions months in advance? How to feign ardor and appear intrepid when we had negotiated it like a Wall Street merger? What use, flying us to Paris? And why bother learning Shakespeare by heart? Sure, very civilized, no rejection to fear, but at what cost!

I tried vainly to escape this baffling paradox. I listened to ingenious men who turned to gimmickry to recreate the suspense of the old-fashioned engagement. 'Hide the ring in an unexpected place,' they said. Such a sly, original ruse! Or better yet, find a painfully contrived romantic place to pop the question... In short: just add one charade on top of the other.

Alas, I am a victim of the times. Twenty-first century woman has caught on to these brilliant maneuvers, forcing me into more radical schemes. Now, I might have to surprise her by having my secretary ask for me (she'll never expect that). Or show her my darker side by sending a written proposal in ransom-note, newsprint-cut-out style. Perhaps I shall send the ring in a letter bomb, to heighten suspense. Or, to play it safer, I'll administer a heavy-duty sports quiz, like the football exam from Diner: she passes, we marry. Maybe I should demonstrate the depth of my devotion and carve the question on my chest with a rusty pocket knife. If I spell it out on a Ouija board, it will conclusively prove that even the poltergeist are with us. Or, I'll make it unforgettable by getting us on the Price is Right and imploring old Bob to wed us.

With so much to plan, I am thankful there are no serious marriage prospects in my immediate future. I need time to select from this plethora of options. I do despair though, at the sheer intricacy of the matter. Sometimes, I wish it could all be simpler - as in my younger years. As simple, for instance, as asking a girl to dance. Then, all I would need to do is go out, find the right woman, try to catch her eye and flash her my sexy smile, ingest a six-pack plus a couple of bourbons, and then pray to God - for ladies' night.

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