Romance: A Tale of Two Proposals
(c) Dorine Houston 2007
I was engaged twice, but married (and then widowed after 29 years) once.
The first fiance was from a town in the mountains of Andalucia, Spain. We were both students at the Unversidad Complutense de Madrid when we met. He was a classic Latin romantic and swept me off my feet. He was Don Quixote and I was his Dulcinea, he always claimed.
After we had been dating for a few months, one of is roommates had a sister who was getting married at home in Granada. Early on a Thursday morning, we all piled in his car for the long drive down there from Madrid. His family put up the guys for sleeping and a friend of theirs had a spare bed for me.
To understand the rest of the story, you need to understand some things abut Granada. The city is ancient, and was one of the capitals of the Moorish kingdom of Andalucia during the Middle Ages. The Alcazar (pronounced al CAH thar), the castle, is a magnificent example of Moorish architecture and one of Spain's great wonders. It sits on top of a mountain above the city and has a large, beautiful garden called the Generalife (pronounced heh neh rah LEE fay) whose low stone wall sits on a hillside above gypsy caves where at night you can go to drink wine and listen to them sing and dance flamenco. Flamenco music can be very romantic!
The sky was clear and the moon was full. BF and I had been walking among the moon shadows in the Generalife and finally sat on the stone wall above the caves. The sound of gypsies singing, clapping hands rhythmically in the traditional way and dancing floated up the hillside. The notes of their guitars floated gently on the warm breeze, bearing their tales of loves found and lost, hearts broken and lady loves pined after.
BF made a pretty speech in the grand Latin romantic tradition asking the fair Dulcinea to marry the smitten Don Quixote.
What was a romantic young girl to say?
The following afternoon, his roommate's sister walked down the aisle of the ancient local parish church in her white gown, her hair pulled in a bun at the nape of her neck to support the high white comb from which she had draped her long wedding mantilla. He whispered in my ear, wondering when he would await me with the priest, seeing me for the first time in a white mantilla long enough to trail behind me. Later we climbed farther up the hillside to the restaurant where the wedding feast was held and he nibbled on my ear while the champagne flowed...
We remained engaged for 2 1/2 years. During that time, I found that the veneer of romance covered a core of too many unreasonable demands and too many lies about things that were silly, for which there was no need to lie, and things that really mattered.
During that time, we both lived in Madrid; we both finished studies and got jobs in education. Any time there was a long weekend or a vacation, we went to his beautiful hometown, Ronda, in the mountain range between Malaga and Sevilla. He was the baby of his family, a middle age afterthought his parents had had after some of his siblings were already married adults with children of their own. He had three nieces my age with whom I became firm friends, and his elderly mother and middle-aged sisters treated me lovingly.
After a while, I realized that I loved his family far more than I loved him, and that we had some pretty serious disagreements over important, basic issues. I finally had to take the painful step of breaking off the engagement. It was almost as hard on me as it was on him, although I am certain he would never believe it.
That year at Christmas, I decided to fly back to Philadelphia to spend the holiday with my family. There, I caught up with a nice guy I'd met several years earlier. I had actually been quite attracted to him when we first met, (when he smiled, he had the cutest deep dimples I'd ever seen) but we had simply become friends as part of a larger group and I eventually stopped thinking about him romantically. We each dated other people, in some cases seriously. When I went to live in Spain, he was seriously dating a good friend of mine.
But he had broken up with her several weeks earlier and was just thinking about whom he might want to get to know better. He knew that I had broken up with BF because I'd written to tell her and she had told him. We went out, but then I had to return to Madrid and my job.
He began writing to me. I was astounded by how eagerly I received his letters. In those days, mail delivery was twice daily, and I haunted the mailboxes in my apartment building. Letters 2-3 times a week grew to nearly every day. He mailed a gift of books he had enjoyed.
I developed a roll of film I'd shot with our group of friends during the Christmas vacation and started sighing over one that included him.
By late spring, he started to telephone occasionally. In those days, a decade before the break-up of the ATT monopoly, an international phone call was a hugely expensive commitment! One thought more than twice about a long distance phone call within the US, never mind an international call. Those were something earth-shattering!
He sent me the occasional international FTD bouquet. Then he started talking about making a trip to Spain for his next vacation, and I responded enthusiastically.
He had saved enough vacation to spend a month with me over the next Christmas. I put him up in a pension down the street from my apartment (these were the days of the very conservative Franco regime and its culture; it was daring enough that I made meals for him in my apartment) and when we didn't eat what I cooked in my apartment, we ate in restaurants. He met my friends in Madrid. I took him to La Granja and Segovia, Cuidad Real, and Malaga to meet other friends. We saw the sights in Toledo and hitchhiked to Cuidad Real together. He talked casually about a future in which we were married and I replied with equal casualness, sharing the assumption that we'd be married.
The day I saw him off at Barajas Airport for his return to work in Philadelphia during the siesta, I took a taxi back downtown for my afternoon's work and sobbed inconsolably the entire way. My students noticed my red nose and were sympathetic. They had seen him hanging around looking for me.
A few months later, after an exchange of letters, I quit my job and returned to Philadelphia. A couple of weeks later we were at a restaurant and he started talking about what kind of rings I liked and i actually said I didn't need one since they were so expensive! Later that evening while we were sitting in his car, he said the closest thing he ever said to what might amount to a proposal.
"Is four months enough time for you to plan a wedding?"
It was, and we were married in our church four months later. In between, one of his older friends, long married, had convinced him that getting me a ring was important and when he took me shopping, I had no further disagreement. He encouraged me to choose one that had a full carat diamond and said he felt bad that it wasn't even bigger!
DH never had a romantic bone in his body. He lacked the facility with words that had made BF so attractive. DH was a solid, hard-working Christian gentleman. He was totally reliable. He did not lie to me. He served in many ways in the church where he was much loved and deeply respected, and was well respected at work by both superiors and peers. Neighbors thought highly of him. He was utterly dependable. He was a man of prayer; he walked with God and served Him whole-heartedly.
Never once did I regret that I had married Mr. Stability and Reliability instead of Don Quixote. He was by far the better husband, good for the long haul, than the flashy romantic could ever have been.
I love him and respect him and thank God for the gift of being his wife. We were loyal and affectionate friends.
On March 6, 2005, his heart suddenly failed and he had gone to Heaven before I even understood how serious it was. (I knew it was enough to call 911 and ask for an ambulance, but I was packing him a suitcase for a few days' stay in the hospital, not fearing that he'd never return home.)
I miss him terribly. Even as I write these last lines, tears dampen my shirt.
I was the winner for choosing the reliable Christian gentleman who did not have enough romance in him to imagine a charming proposal over the one who stage-managed a proposal fit for a movie but did not know how to be a reliable man for the long haul.
Tell us your stories of proposals and marriage.