The Right Way

Previously I wrote a lengthy piece where I mentioned that “living together” was a train-wreck waiting to happen, sometimes around the first bend, sometimes 15 years later. Abandoned and shredded people litter the tracks, huddled together self-medicating under every bridge. It just seems to go straight over the head of people that it is just a plain fact that people divorce at a higher rate if they have lived together than if they have not. What is often more serious are the economic and property consequences, you can be left broke and homeless. In the UK, “common law” partners have no legal rights, you could live with someone 50 years, they die, you get nothing if a family member objects — this actually happens, particularly where money and inheritance is involved. On that basis alone, actually being in a fully committed relationship = they cannot just walk away without financial and legal consequences, is just the smart thing to do.

So, the obvious question is, what is the right way to relate when some guy or girl proposes to you or suggests you “try one another out for future compatibility”? I could moralise here but then nobody would read my article and I could have given the whole of my attention to X-Men: Apocalypse on the left-hand screen rather than trying to write this on the righthand one.

Instead, I am going to tell you a true story – really a true one but I do have to change the names and mess around with the details to protect the innocent and the guilty.

Once upon a time in South East Germany there was a young German man called Bjorn and a Polish woman named Elke. Now Bjorn was a metalworker in his early twenties and Elke was young woman in her early twenties and they both worked at the same fabrication company. Trouble was Bjorn was a shop floor operative, part-time long-haired guitarist and a hippy who had trouble making it to work on time. Elke was elegant, organised, cool, efficient and ambitious and worked in the HR-office. Bjorn looked longingly at Elke as she ascended those steps to the office. Worse still, his heart did palpitations if she smiled and said ‘Hello’ but he realised it was just her professional role, she had no interest in him. But still, he would find himself fantasising and wishing he could find a way to be alone with her (perhaps I need some life coaching from HR?) but sometimes you just know why humiliate yourself by even trying, he would probably get the one who was at other than optimum weight with an acne problem that sits next to her.

Bjorn was a spiritual gypsy and eventually he got fired for not getting into work on time and hitched across Europe to seek enlightenment in Sunderland with the Jesus Army. It was 1994 and a peculiar “laughing disease” had struck churches around the world and one of the most famous was in Sunderland, the total lack of boundaries of religious civility was right up Bjorn’s tree, why be responsible when you can roll around the floor laughing instead?

Now Elke had always dreamed of being an au-pair in England and had a chance one summer to stay with a family in Newcastle (about 8-miles away from Sunderland) for a few weeks. She too, a good catholic, had heard about Sunderland and wanted to check it out one night. After all the local priest had warned everyone against it so it was obviously something you needed to do. As fate would have it, Bjorn and Elke found themselves at the same meeting the same evening. Their eyes met across the crowded room of screaming people rolling around the aisles laughing and neither could believe their eyes at seeing one another – Bjorn thought, “it must be destiny, God has brought her here to me”. Elke thought, “I always knew that clown would end up with a bunch of looney tunes like this” but she was pleased to see him nevertheless to escape from this madness.

As they talked and walked along the quayside, Bjorn knew it was now or never, fell on his knees and proposed to Elke. She stared at this long-haired gypsy with his JA jacket and said (im Deutsch), “are you having a laugh? Why would I want to spend my life with a man who does not know where he was yesterday and does not know where he will be tomorrow? Tell you what, get your haircut, get a job, get a BMW, get me a house, find me, and I might be interested.” She turned and walked away leaving Bjorn thinking “I really thought Jesus was speaking to me, this was my wife”.

Now, in the next 12 months, Bjorn quit the Jesus Army (the Jesus Army at style 3 live in communes, have a common purse, no one has personal wealth = no chance of meeting Elke’s requirements), got his hair cut, got a job, got a BMW, bought a house, found out that Elke had stayed in England and she was now working in Newcastle college. He pulled up in his freshly lowered suspension imported from Munich 318i in front of the building and waited for her. Suddenly, there she was, hair blowing in the breeze (well it was a North-East winter and snow was on the ground), he rolled the electric window down and said, “fancy a ride?”.

Then they got married and lived happily ever after.

So, here is the answer to avoid emotional humiliation and to avoid being left broken and penniless. If you are the woman and some numpty bloke proposes co-habitation to you, answer him like Elke. If he does what you say, it shows he is responsible, a real man, not just a child in a male adult body. He is a good investment, a worthwhile partner. If you are a man, understand a “proposition” means you need to show that woman you have something to give her and you do not just want a second mother to have sex with.

Of course, before I am accused of patriarchy or gender bias, the principles here apply equally to any form of long-term relationship (between human beings at least).

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