A few weeks ago my sister bought me a ring. A beautiful single diamond ring in lieu of a birthday present. Except that it was not a real diamond. “Just a promise for the real one” she said smiling. I gave her my rehearsed look of scepticism and a smile. She smiled back and said “You know I wore fake diamond rings until I got a real one.” I put it on and it looked so amazing on my finger. As if that’s where it was meant to be all along. The more I looked at it, the more I was flooded with joy, happiness and contentment. It made me so happy. The feelings went beyond any intellectual reasoning. It was like finding a favourite pair of shoes or jeans with just the right look and feel. I started to feel what it must be like to be loved by someone so crazy that they are willing to spend thousands on a piece of charcoal which handled pressure so well that it dazzles the eye. I have a romanticised view of such things. Of course a diamond ring is not the most important indicator of love. Listen here.
BUT IT’S BEAUTIFUL! WE GASPED
“Now I know which ring suits your finger” she said with a conviction which surprised me. We stood there together mesmerized by this shiny little thing in the middle of the shop where we’d gone to get her supplies. Despite my commitment to being sad, I found myself bubbling with joy inside. I was smiling, from the heart at how ridiculously happy I was just by wearing the damn thing. The more I looked at the ring the more it felt real. There was nothing fake about it on my finger. The more I started to feel like someone who actually deserves to wear one. The more I looked at my finger, the more I thought of all the strain I have been under, the pressure. The more I started to wonder if I, like the diamond will one day look as glorious and hypnotising as a result. I wondered if I could make someone else as happy as I felt in that very moment, just because I exist. Until my three-year-old niece who had been watching me all along got tired of my private smiles and said with a level of authority which belied her age “Jedi, stop looking at your finger!” I who was once a critic of the institution of marriage because of its historical and current transactional nature. I still, felt happy at the thought of being engaged, at being loved. Despite all the negative things that could, can and have been said about diamonds and their procurement (bloody, conflict ridden, insurgents, poverty, rape, corruption, corrupt governments, politicians, multinationals, starving children, women, men), and marriage (ownership, slavery, patriarchy etc.) I still loved the sentiment behind all of it.
THE FIRST PROPOSAL
In my adult life I have been fortune enough to receive three marriage proposals which have also led to my cynicism about love and marriage. The first proposal or rather an attempt at a proposal came in small hints, here and there. “You’re my queen” he said. “I want to marry you” he said. “Let’s stay together” he said when I was tired of being alone in the relationship. And then finally “I’m sorry” when he’d shown me that I was not a priority in his life. I was in love with him. I was willing to do the work we needed to do to build a relationship, even though it was daunting. But despite everything I could not stay, because he was not willing, he was not there with me. It took a long time and a lot of courage for me to get over the disappointment but I did. Soon after, I decided that a commitment of love from another person, a man especially, was not something I could reasonably expect. So I took what was available for as long as it was available. I fell in love with a woman. She became my companion, a friend and everything in between. I had no expectations of her to be more than what she was. Until, she was no longer there and then of course I could not continue to be in a relationship with someone who was not there. I could not admit to myself, that deep-down inside, I wanted more. Prognosis: Married, Separated and soon to be Divorced.
THE SECOND PROPOSAL
Was a dream. I still wake up with feelings of utter love for this man. Ours was a friendship born out of a broken heart and a need for shelter. We shared a lot in common. When we met he was in a relationship, so our interactions were platonic, brotherly and sisterly. We loved each other’s company. He made me laugh. I made him laugh, smile and whistle as he walked up the stairs back from a long day at work. We talked politics, compared notes on stories, listened to music. Hung out with his friends who played soccer video games while I typed away. We lived under the same roof with his brother and sister in law. He made coffee for us before going to work every morning, we had lunch together whenever work allowed, and we had dinner together every night with the family. We gravitated towards each other. I watched him play soccer. We played basketball together, we drove on his motorbike like two people with no worries in the world. We were happy together. One day he went away. And the separation was unbearable. I couldn’t help feeling that I was missing something, he was missing. “I miss you, really” he said in a text later that evening. I missed him too. But it was a different miss. “Really?” I responded my heart flooding with an emotion I had long forgotten exists. When he came back it was fire-works. We fell in love. Then one day while we were out with friends at a concert looking for something to do he asked “If I asked you to marry me, will you?” I looked at the sand. It was the 12th of May – the night sky was clear – black with only the full moon as light. His friends were trailing behind us. “Are you asking?” I responded. “I want to know what you will say if I were to ask you” he said smiling mischievously. I laughed. “Ask me” I said. A year later, he asked “Are you ready for forever, with me?” “Yes” I said. He was Muslim. His mother called. His family had chosen a wife for him. He must marry her. I would have to convert. There were four other women in the running. I had packed my entire life to be with him. I was scared. We couldn’t work it out. Prognosis: Married. Happily.
THE THIRD PROPOSAL
We worked well together. Telepathic almost. A perfect meeting of minds. He was my intellectual equal. We played mind games. Then heart games which led to soul games. We hardly slept, we stayed up all night working and talking. We stayed up all day talking and working. “I hate goodbyes” he said after the work was done. I kissed him on the cheek, unable to form words, not wanting to break the spell, the complete acceptance and love I felt in his presence. I had a flight to catch. Our first conversation was flawed. I told him everything that was wrong with me. I confessed all my weaknesses, I was broke and broken. I had nothing to lose. The story was more important. I needed to get out of my way. I told him my hopes and dreams. I laughed at my silliness. At my unashamed honesty. He also shared his nakedness. There was no thought of our partnership being more than what it was. I just wanted to be free of all my limitations, to be freely me. Take it or leave it. We continued talking over the phone when we both returned to our separate homes. “I’ve been looking up all the things we can do together when you get here” He said. “I want to visit your library and write” I said. “We have a new beautiful building” he said. “So it’s good that we’re on the same page”. Then without skipping a beat, as if he was asking me if I wanted some more coffee he said “Will you marry me?” I laughed, I couldn’t believe it. “Of course!” I said unable to think. I didn’t think at all. Soon after that trip I went to visit my parents and on arrival my mother followed me into my room and right inside the toilet where she watched me curiously while I peed. “Something’s happened tell me!” She said impatiently. “What do you mean?” I asked trying hard to contain my joy. “I have never seen your face like this, not since you were a little girl! Tell me what happened? Are you in love?’ I stood there shocked not quite sure what to say because my mother had never said anything like that before. I smiled. “Yes!” I’m in love, and he’s beautiful and he wants to marry me” I said without shame. “Did you sleep with him?” My mom asked. “no” I said and this time it was true. Then as the weeks went by, he stopped calling, texting, emailing. Until there was nothing left but a deafening silence. Prognosis: Winning Awards. In the Forbes List.
DO I HAVE A HUSBAND?
When my sister gave me that ring, I had just come up from a year of mourning. I tried to figure out what I did wrong in all these failed relationships. What could I have done better, who could I have been. I went back to all the people I have ever loved and tried to evaluate who I had been to them. Most of it I am afraid to admit was not pretty. I had failed. In a million ways, but the one thing which I never failed to do – was to give it my all, my very best and at times to the point of putting myself and sometimes the other person in harms’ way. Even though my efforts to love may have been inadequate, rudimentary and insufficient at the time, it still was the best I had to give, all I had to give.
Could I love someone like me?
Could I reasonably expect to be loved? What does love mean? As I went on with my daily life doing what I do while wearing the ring, people; strangers and acquintances started asking me “So who’s the lucky guy?” Who is the lucky guy indeed, I wondered to myself. Does he even exist? It never occurred to me that someone could think themselves lucky to have me, when it seemed so easy to let me go. When all my yeses spelled goodbye to relationships. Then “where is the lucky guy?” The questions came flooding in and I smiled mysteriously. Should I have said no? Then it occurred to me that it’s not really about the ring. It’s about the person who gives it. My sister didn’t have to think about whether I deserve one or not. She knows me, she knows all my flaws, my weakness and she still loves me. She still thinks that I’m worth spending time with. I am worth seeing. Worth being with. Worth fighting for. Worth staying with. I am not obsolete to her, I am not a means to an end, a temporary fascination, I’m not passé, I am not a has been, I am forever new. The feelings I felt when I wore that ring, where attached to that knowing. She made me feel special, loved and appreciated. After a while, the ring fell out of my finger. I lost it somewhere. I missed it and what it represented. I wanted to buy one for myself, not to pretend that I was engaged when I am not or to pretend that I am in a relationship with someone when I am most certainly not in one. To behave like this would be the stuff of genuises like John Nash. No, I wanted to buy one for myself because I wanted to give myself something beautiful.
Illogical Beauty. Incalculable.
I have to remind myself of course that love is not about rings or any material thing including power and ownership. It’s about being vulnerable. Being open. Being there. Choosing to stay there. Every single day. It’s about showing up. It’s a choice. It’s about what you do. It’s free and freeing. It’s also about the material, the physical, the present, its transcendental. It’s everything. It’s what we know and don’t know. Without love most actions are empty, void and vacuous, not matter how elaborate or expensive. The ring my sister bought me was exactly R20 (about two dollars), it was a fake diamond ring. But it made me feel like a million dollars. Each time I looked at it, it reminded me of her. Of what she thinks and feels about me. She thinks I am precious. She thinks I’m worthy. She loves me. I love her. It was a reminder of a love that has been there for me since the beginning of our time. The love I now recognise in myself, even when I’m behaving badly. A kind of love that is essentially priceless and infinate. A love that is, with or without a husband. Or a ring for that matter. Prognosis: To be confirmed.
“love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope” – Maya Angelou