We're engaged, so is the phone

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The Independent Online
TWO weeks ago my boyfriend asked me to marry him. He was partly inspired, he now admits, by the quantity of champagne on offer at the drinks party we had just left. I was inspired by the fact that we now had a wonderful excuse to justify our appalling lateness to a dinner date. I said 'yes' immediately, just as we turned off the Chelsea Embankment into Chelsea Harbour and it was a fait accompli - or so I thought.

The following morning Matthew - for so my fiance is called - went to see my father in his office. In an airless room they had a 15-minute chat whose contents, irritatingly, were not revealed to me. All I know is that my father, thank goodness, said he was pleased.

Thereafter began the most intensive barrage of telephone calls, letters, visitors I have ever encountered. Advice ranging from 'Don't do it,' to 'Have children early,' poured in from all quarters, while my mother, who, to be fair, knows my shortcomings better than anyone, rang twice to tell me to carry plenty of notepaper at all times during the next year.

I began to sympathise with Lisa-Marie Presley and Michael Jackson for getting on with it and keeping stumm. So public had our little arrangement become that I could do no work on account of the incessant ring of the telephone. For some ridiculous reason, people kept making me feel guilty.

'So he stopped the car to ask?' they panted with anticipation. 'No, no, he just carried on driving,' I replied, wishing I could make something up to meet their approval. They seemed so disappointed. Only one friend giggled and described it as the biggest knock for the anti-drink driving campaign they had ever come across.

Congratulations poured in - mixed with what I, in my delicate state, considered to be rather barbed comments: 'You're so lucky; hearts are breaking everywhere.' (Nobody said that to him).

There were panicky calls from friends who warned me off a certain date a year hence because it had apparently already been booked by another couple. Even worse were warnings from anti- wedlock friends: 'We'll have to put you on the top table with the grown-ups now.'

The older generation, along with the few people of my acquaintance who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of marriage, were bluntest: 'You've got him' (with that awful emphasis on 'got' which makes it sound like an animal hunt). There was also - shudder, shudder - the occasional ludicrous suggestion, that I should give up work - no disrespect to Matthew, but how on earth could we manage?

And this was only the first stage. The second stage began two days later when the same bunch of people rang up all over again to inquire about the finer points of the nuptials which in this case are a whole year away.

For this obsession with detail, I blame Four Weddings and A Funeral. Maybe I am an unweddingy person, but I have never, in previous years, heard of anyone asking newly-engaged couples what the colour of their marquee will be. We were.

There were even direct comparisons. 'Oh no,' groaned one of Matthew's bachelor friends, when asked to be an usher, 'the next few years are going to be just like that film,' and one girl even asked me if I was going to have a dress like Andie MacDowell's.

That first weekend I received nine inquiries about rings and 15 queries about where the wedding would take place. There were also two ferocious arguments with my parents about the church, the date and the bridesmaids. (My father, sweet man, could not help letting slip that he had already gone to the church and counted the pews.)

Meanwhile, a friend of Matthew's had warned him off pink marquees, organs that sound like sick animals, country weddings with bad choirs and a lunchtime do - my parents, of course, had secretly decided on all the above.

At my wit's end, a week later, I was close to eloping. While I had no doubts about Matthew, I had had enough of exposing my life's plans to all and sundry, and - worse - changing them to meet their approval.

Suddenly, I remembered someone telling me that marriage should be 'an extension of one's own space'. 'If it's anything less, don't do it,' she said.

My space had already been swallowed up into a black hole - but, significantly perhaps, Matthew and I had not once disagreed in the face of all this intrusion - which made me think, for the first time, that this whole palaver is the ultimate, and quite deliberate, pre-marital test, a trial that certainly should be endured.

Inevitably, the telephone calls did begin to dwindle. About 10 days after PD (proposal date) life became pretty normal again. And you know what? I actually miss all the excitement.

The other night I did something I haven't done since I was a teenager. I looked at the telephone and willed it to ring. When it didn't, I sighed. There was nothing for it. I dialled my mother: 'Now, mummy,' I said happily, 'let's discuss the marquee . . .'

Maggie Brown is on holiday.