You want to know how this works? I can tell you.
First, find a beautiful girl. I mean turn-your-head, stop-your-heart, get-run-over-while-staring gorgeous. Make sure she’s out of reach.
Hang around enough, without exuding stalker, creep, or pathetic wanna-be vibes, to figure out who she is beyond stunning. This means you have to get past being stunned (or learn to function while stunned), make interesting conversation, find out what she does, likes, thinks, and believes, and somehow be interesting enough that she wants to know about your life, too.
Fall in love with her. You can also do this step first. You likely won’t have a choice.
Then spend about a million hours, give or take thirty, trying to figure out how you could approach her, get to know her, demonstrate that you’re not just another guy who thinks she’s hot. You have to become friends with her without having her think of you as “only a friend.” I know that sounds impossible. It gets worse.
Listen to her. Support her through difficult times, make her laugh after she finally dumps the loser you knew was rotten even before he started eyeing her friends (or mom, or both). Tell her she deserves better. Now, somehow switch from “I’m your friend and I will always be here for you” to “I’m in love with you and want to be that better guy you deserve.” It’s a lot like jumping from a train and trying to stick your landing through the window of another, running in the opposite direction.
If you survive this transition with minimal fractures and retain the ability to be in the same room with her, proceed to get to know her better in this capacity. DO NOT make moves or do anything else to undercut your message that you are different from all the scumbags you battled through to get here.
Next, somehow let her know, without freaking her out or completely losing her, that you want to marry her. Ideally, you will work this into an argument or some other volatile interaction. Make sure she knows that you’re serious but don’t scare her off by having her take you seriously. If that sounds contradictory, you’ve got it! This move feels akin to stripping naked and streaking across the White House lawn without getting arrested. Don’t worry, it’s harder than it sounds.
Assuming you’ve made it this far, somehow you need to take the next step by proposing marriage. I can’t really offer good advice here, because I doubt my experience translates. But if you also can find the means to have her initiate, or charge forward when you drop a hint, let me know and I’ll clarify this step. I’m presently working under the assumption that I had lottery-win-level good fortune and telling you to try it would be the same as suggesting “you have to play to win.” Technically true, but a cruel hoax nonetheless.
If you’ve made it this far intact, Congratulations! One step remains:
Tell her you’re not ready to get married. See how that goes.
“Hi, Paxton. I was hoping you’d call early. Want to walk by the river today? I was thinking about packing a picnic. What time do you have to work at the school? Or are you taking today off?”
“Ummm…how many questions was that?” She sounds excited. I still have to resist the urge to ask her what’s going on that she’s so happy. The first few times she just laughed at me. Then she asked me if I were fishing for compliments. It took me a minute to work out that she hadn’t given me a non-sequitur.
Oh, you’re talking about me! You’re glad to be with me!
Yeah, I didn’t say that. How long until I grasp that she likes me?
“Three, I think. The picnic statement could be taken as a question, since I wanted your response. But I think four questions in a row sounds needy.” She giggles.
Needy Guinevere. Right.
“I’d love to walk by the river and have a picnic with you. What do you want me to bring?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, I’ve already started getting food together.”
“So I guess that one wasn’t a real question.”
“No, it wasn’t. Unless you have some other fiancé offering better plans. And even then, she’d have to be a better fiancé.” Guin has been dropping the “f” word almost as often as she mentions sex.
“I guess it would depend on how much better the plans were. Or she might have just asked first.”
“Oh, my God, she’s totally putting out, isn’t she? That’s why you’re picking her offer over mine. I’ll kill the tart! What kind of sandwich do you want?”
“Liverwurst and sardines? With sauerkraut and jalapeños? We have anything, so you might want to rethink that. I think my parents have sushi packed away here somewhere.” I can hear her clonking around in their fridge. It’s smaller than a barn but bigger than a tool shed.
“Peanut butter would be great. Or turkey.”
“Turkey and Swiss? Turkey and provolone? Turkey and cheddar? Or turkey and cream cheese?” Have I ever eaten “provolone?” Swiss has holes, but I’m not certain I’ve tasted that, either, unless I have at her house.
“Provolone. And just lettuce. Thanks, Guin.” She likes piling exotic (to me) vegetables on sandwiches. I’ve got to get used to all this. Or do I?
“You’re welcome, Sweetie. Do you remember that I asked you two other legitimate questions?”
“I do. I put in extra time yesterday, so I was waiting to see whether today or Sunday would be better not to work. I’ll go in early and get everything done so I won’t have to be there late. Sounds like today will be long, what with our picnic and having to wait until later to see her…”
“Who? Oh.” Click.
She hung up on me. Over my imaginary other fiancé. Maybe she makes up reasons to be jealous to try to keep us balanced, since I have constant actual reasons.A few of the guys at school have decided that Guin just needs the right offer. Or maybe they’ve set up a pool to see which of them can sway the engaged girl.
I hate high school.
But no one has laid a hand on her, I suspect because Jeff made a joke about putting a price on the head of whoever tried. Or maybe it’s my proximity to Phil. Plus, Trash punched a guy last week who made a comment about her being pregnant. Trash. Somewhere in the Guys’ Manual (or maybe one of Dad’s lectures) it says I’m supposed to fight my own battles. But I’m a school employee and bloody well cannot afford to lose that job, which I would if I were caught fighting, on or off school property. That’s the main reason I’m not fighting. I believe myself.
Plus, Guinevere just laughs and tells them she’s got more than she can handle in me, usually delivered with her sneer. That helps.
The sky looks like it wants to pick a fight when I get to the river. She’s waiting for me on the rock where we always meet. It’s a small enough town and we’re doing enough walking that we have all our meeting places set. That makes me feel like we’re really in a committed relationship as much as anything.
She smiles when she sees me, so I scramble up the rock and kiss her. She kisses me back for a while.
“Hi,” I gasp, trying to get my breath.
“Hi, Hon,” she says. Gretchen often calls Noel by affectionate names. Expectations.
“You hungry? What would you like to do first?” She wiggles her eyebrows. So I kiss her some more.
I usually hold her hands while we kiss. I don’t know exactly why she’s so taken with our chastity, but one way or another I’m in this boat and hoping to stay in, even if I’m the one about to make waves, even if we capsize or plunge over a waterfall. Sometimes she pulls her hands back, which means I’m crushing her fingers. That’s a good sign I’m done kissing for a while.
Today, she’s gripping harder than I am.
“You okay?” she asks.
“Oh, yeah. Great. You?”
“You didn’t meet up with her earlier, did you? She better not have tired you out already.” This smile means she wants to joust more. I’m tempted to tell her it wouldn’t matter, since my real-life fiancé’s not planning to use any of that energy, anyway. But really I’m okay that we’re not having sex. Mostly.
“Sweetheart, I’m savin’ all my love for you. You know that.”
“Want to walk now? Or…?” She pulls out a sandwich and waves it under my nose.
“Let’s eat something while we’re walking, and we can finish the rest on the other side.” The path by the river has a pedestrian bridge. The view from across the river is a little better and there’s a section with some trees that feels a lot more secluded than this.
She hooks two fingers through one of my belt loops, pulls me me over to her, and nibbles on my earlobe. For about thirty seconds.
Now I can’t walk.
“We could just eat here.”
“Any progress on our Treasure Hunt?” she asks. We don’t say Amethyst’s name in public, even when we think we’re alone. A couple of guys snuck up on us to see if they could catch us in the act—did I mention I hate high school?—while we were talking about her. I did almost hit one of them, but they ran away. At least that felt manly. She said they were band guys. Semi-manly.
“No, nothing. I have to get back to the library and find more contact info. You know, even if I called the right workplace, they might not tell me. That means we can’t even narrow down which haystacks we’ve looked in.”
She leans her head on my shoulder. Sometimes her non-answers help more, especially when I’ve spun around the same circles eighty-five times since breakfast.
“Okay, turkey and provolone. Want a peach?” She hands me a fuzzy ball. Until I ate one at Guinevere’s, I thought peaches tasted like corn syrup. I also thought green beans were brown and peas were mush. The benefits of a school cafeteria education.
“Thanks for bringing lunch.”
“You want to talk about plans?” she asks. Wedding plans, of course.
“Yes, Paxton?” She’s back leaning on me again and we’re both staring at the water. The river is running high today and looks like it could take out some houses with one good rain. It often looks like this and it could.
“I think we need to talk about, um,” and I’m stuck.
“You want to just start by telling me her name?” Guin asks.
“Don’t split your infinitives.”
“Do you want merely to tell me her name and allow me simply to wring her neck?”
“This is going to be serious.” Oh, Bloody Living Hades. I’m Dad starting a “talk.”
She gets up, turns to face me, and sits down so that we’re staring at each other a foot apart.
“Let’s do it. What are we to seriously talk about?” Her eyes look like they did when I first asked her out. Waiting. Even though she just mocked me again, she’s ready.
“Guin, do you think we might be rushing this?”
“Paxton, do you think you might have cold feet?”
“No, that isn’t it.”
“You’re not sure you want to marry me?”
“I am sure. I want to marry you more than I want anything else.”
“You’re parents and my parents have both agreed. What am I missing? You don’t think I want to marry you? You need me to convince you?” She’s straining not to make fun of me.
“It’s not that.”
“Is it about the Treasure? You said that wasn’t a deal-breaker, but I get it’s complicated. I mean, how could you even know how you’d feel about it? Are you discouraged about not finding…’it?’”
“No, well yeah, I’m discouraged, but I’m not—this isn’t about Treasure Hunting. But thanks.”
“All right, then I’m lost again.”
“What if we’re too young to be ready and we’re too young to know that?”
She nods a few times and rocks forward and back like she does when she’s working out a math problem. Is there anything that isn’t sexy about her?
“Okay, that makes sense, except: how would you ever know if you’re ready, if you can’t know if you’re right about knowing? When do you figure out that you can trust yourself for real?”
“I don’t know. Don’t you think at some point you know for sure that you are finally mature? I mean, it can’t feel like this when we’re fifty.”
“Feel like what? Not knowing or knowing? Is your problem that you aren’t confident or that you’re too confident and so you don’t believe it?”
“I just don’t want to make a big mistake that will hurt you.”
She studies me. I have to turn back to the choppy current.
“Do you think we’re making a mistake?” she asks quietly.
Come on, think, Paxton! This is serious and she’s taking you plenty seriously now. Do you want to talk her out of marrying you?
“Okay, let’s walk,” I say. We stuff plastic sandwich bags into the basket and I grab the handles. “Guinevere, I’m just trying to figure out what’s best for both of us?” I mean to state it, but it comes out a question.
“Really? That’s what my mother keeps saying. She wants to help me figure out what’s best for both of us, me and you, except it sounds a lot like figuring out what’s best for me, from their point of view, which also happens to make them look good.”
“It’s not the same thing. I’m just—I mean, I’m trying to–”
“Nope, I don’t know what you’re trying. But tell me this: do you think my parents would have gotten married if some older, wiser, more mature counsel had directed them? I don’t. I think they would have been told to wait. Then, who knows? Maybe it worked out, or maybe they forgot each other and went totally different directions and I’m not here. I keep asking them this and they don’t have any response except ‘that’s different,’ which by the way, is a bullshit answer.”
Well, that was a small window. She was taking me seriously.
“What if we don’t know each other well enough to get married?”
“Paxton! What don’t you know about me? You think I didn’t notice that while my ‘boyfriends’ had no clue and paid no attention, you picked up everything? Do I know you well enough? I know what’s important. You want to tell me more horror stories from your childhood?” I look away. “I probably don’t know all the specifics, but I think that can wait, if you ever decide you want to tell me.”
“Children? We haven’t talked about how we want to raise kids or how many.”
“How many children do I want, Paxton?”
“And you want two. I always thought that was because you didn’t like being an only child.” She shakes her head. “We want our kids to go to college. Do I know what kind of toothpaste we’ll have them use or whether we’ll try to get the girls interested in ice skating or dance or gymnastics? Crest and seems like each of those has some danger of eating disorders, so maybe soccer or girls’ rugby. Not basketball, unless you coach.”
“How about this: do we know if we’ll get along, spending that much time together? Because my parents can’t stand each other,” I say.
She pulls in next to me so that our hips touch and we’d have to crank our necks sideways to see each other. Then she rests her head against mine so that her hair is spilling down on my cheek as we walk.
“Oh, Hon, we’re not going to be your parents. Is that what we’re talking about?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. They didn’t start out like they are. Maybe they were like us. Maybe they thought they knew what they were doing and wouldn’t listen to anyone who told them to wait.”
She sighs so deeply I can feel it wuff throughout her whole body. She’s walking pretty close to me.
“Maybe. But you told me she got pregnant. It’s hard to imagine they actually liked each other much. Do you really think they were in love once?”
“I think some people whose marriages fail were.”
“But…why would that be us?”
“Because we don’t know what we’re doing?”
“Paxton, isn’t you’re reasoning circular? You’re afraid we’re too young to get married, and the reason people shouldn’t get married young is that they might not be ready to be married because they’re young. Maybe we’re more ready to be married now than your parents ever have been. Sorry that sounds bad.”
“Okay, do you think it’s at all possible that we don’t know ourselves well enough yet? What if we change a lot over the next few years and realize that we want to do things completely different?”
“You mean like you decide that you want a harem? You’re going to go polygamist on me? Think you have the stamina for that, young man?”
“No, I mean what if one of us wants to travel and the other’s ready to settle down and start a career? Or a family? Or both?”
“Aw, Paxton, don’t you get it? We just decide together. I don’t see one of us being so hell-bent on something that the other doesn’t want, but we’ll work it out, whatever it is. You know I want to travel and so do you. I don’t want kids right away. But I do want kids with you.” That makes me hot in my chest and I don’t even mean about the sex part. “Darling, I think you need to give us more credit. We’re better at making big decisions than you recognize. You’re not wearing a mullet. There are no pictures of me in neon pastel clothes. Even though those have been huge, we aren’t falling for looking ridiculous just because people pretend they don’t.” She’s gauging our marriage readiness on our fashion sense. Do I answer this argument?
Not being able to decide becomes not answering.
“Think about this: right now we’re arguing. Are you enjoying spending time with me? Is there something else you’d rather be doing?” Her eyes flood with innocence and curiosity.
“It might help if you weren’t so absolutely confident,” I say.
“In what? That you love me? Do you know how good a job you did of convincing me? A little late to regret that now. You know what I think?”
“Nope. That only works one direction.”
“So you are only thinking about sex!”
I can’t help it, I’m laughing with her. This was supposed to go differently. Wasn’t it?
“Tell me, Guinevere, what do you think?”
“I think getting what you want scares you. I think you don’t know what to do with having things come out the way you hope. Well, you might have to get used to it, Hon. Because as long as you want me, I’m not going away.”
Okay, I tried. I hope I did my best.
No. I hope that I didn’t need to win that argument for Guin’s sake.