I spy from behind a pillar, trying to ascertain the latest in the long line of potentials my parents have chosen for me. My eyes settle on a tall and discomfited specimen in his mid-30s, wearing a cravat. Even as my brain crawls towards accepting the futility of an escape, we’re suddenly face-to-face.
We size each other up, tentatively coming up with a distracted greeting. Perhaps it is just my imagination, but my reluctance is mirrored in the stranger’s gaze. Yet, he isn’t a complete stranger for we did have absorbing conversations on the phone.
And he does pass the early tests: holding the door open for me, waiting till I am seated comfortably, and then zealously whipping out his wallet to procure two steaming cappuccinos. I decline a bite, not wanting him to know my penchant for all things edible. Educational backgrounds are discussed, career choices debated, music notes exchanged, and I get some well-needed investment advice. The awkwardness of the moment is temporarily dispelled. We ponder over the merits and demerits of chartered accountancy vis-a-vis research, Dire Straits vs Megadeth, fat pay packets versus petty change (mine, obviously) and the fact that, well, parents will be parents.
Then, the inevitable happens. He leans slightly and just as he asks me loudly what I am looking for in a ‘life partner’, the music stops. Suddenly it seems that everyone is more interested in my reply than anything else. I mumble something about needing fresh air and stumble out. Is this it, I wonder? I throw the question back at him. After a small speech on values and compatibility, he asks, ‘hypothetically’ of course, if I am the kind of person who is rebellious enough to go on a girls’-night-out while he clocks a self-inflicted 90-hour week?
Three years later, I can still feel the relief as I walked away after five more minutes of polite conversation. As I look at my husband sleeping next to me, I’m almost certain he was someone else’s Mr Perfect, definitely not mine.