A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear or aversion to something. Common phobias include arachnophobia, claustrophobia and having green things stuck in your teeth, all of which I suffer from. I once drank a spider while stuck in a tent after eating pesto and it was the most terrifying 15 minutes of my life. Recently I’ve developed another, new phobia which has me in a state of high anxiety: fear of proposals. I know, I know, women are supposed to crave these like cupcakes, wear full makeup at all times from the moment a man first asks us out, just in case an engagement photo opportunity crops up; however, and call me a monster, I don’t. Gamophobia is the fear of marriage, in case you were wondering. I’m not scared of marriage: my parents are married, it doesn’t fill me with revulsion. I’m not scared of being engaged either, I’ve been engaged five times (just a girl who can’t say ‘no’ – especially if you ask me in a crowded restaurant). It’s the popping of questions I dread. Pop a balloon beside my ear, I’d probably scream less. And I’ve been screaming so much lately, mostly “Nooooooo!” that I’ve actually lost my voice.
It’s like this: The younger man has never been married, thus never divorced, hence never halved and consequently embittered. He remains Bambi-eyed about matrimony while I have become a hunchbacked old cynic, crouched over my stuff like Golem waving a pre-nup. “I’m going to marry you one day,” he says constantly. I find this vaguely menacing, as if he were saying “one day I’m going to cut you up and hide the pieces in the offal pit.” Being rural, he thinks that wifedom is a prize above all others, the most marvellous thing in the world. I don’t quite see it that way, don’t think the opportunity to cook and clean for someone for the rest of my life is akin to winning the lottery and so to mess with me he has started a campaign of fake proposing. Basically, being extremely outdoorsy, every weekend he takes me somewhere beautiful, waits till I’m gazing at the view or revelling in the splendour, then pretends he’s going to ask me to marry him.
Getting married, as I said, is not on my bucket list, so this behaviour makes me very very nervous. I have developed a twitch. Whenever he murmurs ‘Lisa would you...’ I do a squeak of fear, the love equivalent of light bladder leakage. I go around constantly ducking, like a woman in a science fiction movie featuring low-flying pterodactyls. Cage diving with great whites was on my bucket list, until I did it off Edwards Island, where 100 of them congregate, eating fat seal pups and tap and gap-ing and I was more scared of being affianced than of a shark ripping my arm off at the elbow. My biggest worry is if I drop my guard, cease my eternal vigilance because I’m tired or tipsy, I’ll accidentally end up ‘spoken for’. It’s like one of those Freddie Kruger movies where you can’t fall asleep or you’ll lose your independence.
We were out paddle boarding in the surf when he dropped to one knee, and fortunately, fell off.
At Slope Point, after a trip to the Catlins, I could see his lips were moving but the wind whipped the words away.
“You know, it’s time like this when a man pauses to reflect on what’s important in life…” he said at Freshwater Hut on Stewart Island at the end of a 3-day tramp. I ran outside and into the arms of the sandflies.
Tramping, camping, biking: who knew there were so many special places in this goddamn country? Everywhere is bloody special. Rather than spending my days in McDonalds to avoid the nefarious advances of the world’s biggest hairiest vegetarian, I’ve come up with a strategy, a system of proposal avoidance. First, I counterfeited hand eczema to avoid any ring moments. The cheese grater will never be the same. Next, I change the subject or deliberately misunderstand everything single thing he says (“You really are deaf, aren’t you?”), then hint at Bridezilla expectations of massive karats (he only deals in carrots) baronial wants and super-sized wedding parties. Finally, as a last resort, I plan to fake an injury, or injure him, giving an extra frisson of unknown (on his part) danger to open-air activities.
Over the top? With good reason. I know I’ll say ‘yes.’
Luckily my laryngitis means he probably won’t hear me.