Most Irish people are not into public displays of affection, grand declarations of love, or anything else likely to mortify us or make us ugly cry (‘ugly crying’ is a curse of the soft Irish complexion). Like a lot of Irish people, my feelings are best communicated in writing (we’ve all written the L word on a card, at least) or not at all. Romance is well and good but only for people who can handle the type of overwhelming embarrassment it involves for everybody concerned, without even a drink to soften it.
In a world in which most relationships are between two equals and the concept of being ‘spoiled’ by one’s significant other as a matter of course is just a bit squirmy, it’s difficult to see where the traditional idea of romance fits in.
RTE broadcaster Claire Byrne recently told an interviewer that her fiancé proposed to her while he was doing the dishes. Claire has not only recently had a baby but she’s busy presenting two of RTE’s flagship current affairs programmes, so I’m glad to hear he’s useful around the house. Because when you’re that busy, the sight of a man getting down on bended knee probably just fills you with the hope that he’s going to fill the washing machine.
The problem with romance is, it’s totally subjective – and what’s romance for the goose may just be heart-stoppingly cringeworthy for the gander.
Traditional romance gets you to the point where the gom of a boyfriend you weren’t entirely sure about, anyway, appears beside you while you are being interviewed live on stage by Daithí Ó Sé in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and you are forced to say yes to his proposal. Surely there is no worse nightmare than that?
The only problem with this type of practicality is that most 21st century of feelings that might afflict you afterwards. It’s a bit of an Irish mammy thing, that ‘ah now, don’t worry about me, I don’t like a fuss’, which you entirely mean at the time, but regret afterwards.
It’s similar to what used to be known as regret, but today we call it ‘FOMO’, or ‘fear of missing out’.
Say you’re a prosaic personality type and your other half takes you at your word and proposes to you one morning while you’re brushing your teeth, or when you’re buried inside the fridge, cleaning it. Is there a danger that, afterwards, you’re going to regret missing out on the fireworks, fairy lights and the rest of the fandango? Especially when you see the carefully styled and professionally done ‘engagement photo shoots’ that your more glitzy Facebook friends will have organised for themselves complete with engagement outfits, new hairdos, and a castle in the background. (Engagement photo shoots are a real thing. Honestly).
I’m a terror for the FOMO, and luckily, himself is well aware of this. At some point (can’t honestly remember exactly when and where but it was over a few months and in the course of conversations otherwise focused on groceries, whose turn it was to walk the dog, and whether we needed wine) we’d agreed we’d get married, booked a date, and sorted out a celebrant.
But he was determined I shouldn’t tell anybody until there was a formal proposal. So I didn’t. Well, outside of the dress shop lady and the florist and the friend who’s taking the photos and few other important ‘stakeholders’ in the whole thing.
I was glad, afterwards, that he’d stuck to his guns, because when he did propose, it was a surprise and it was very romantic. And nobody else was there, and there is no evidence on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Vine that it ever happened the way we both remember it happening. And there’s nothing more romantic than that kind of privacy, or the fact that he knew what I wanted without me knowing myself.
Which makes me wonder about Claire, after all. Maybe she is telling the press the full story. Or maybe she was totally swept off her feet in an incredibly romantic proposal, but is preserving it properly. Romance isn’t dead; it’s just hiding.
First published in The Herald, 26 March 2014.