So that joke backfired. I am now contractually obliged to buy him a ring and a holiday. I don't even know when his birthday is, his favourite colour, or anything. I've been thinking of ways to call it off, ranging from the "I just don't want to rush you" talk to flicking elastic bands at him until he breaks off the engagement in a huff.
February 29, for reasons that are completely lost to me, is the day when women are traditionally 'allowed' to ask men to marry them. Call me bolshy if you like but if I wanted to marry someone I'd just say so, not wait for the one day in 1,460 when 'tradition' says I can do what I want for once. And how must it feel to be the man who gets asked by a woman who was so unconcerned about it she could wait up to four years to pop the question? If a chap did that he'd be labelled a commitment-phobe or at the very least too laid-back to be of any use.
Marriage is something strung about and laden down with 'traditions' - wearing white, not seeing the groom before you walk up the aisle, speeches, first dances, certain things that are done a certain way because that's the way they're always done. But if we always did things the way they've always been done we'd still be curing headaches by drilling holes in our skulls.
When I got married there were some of the traditions I wanted to keep and some I didn't. Not being religious we had a civil ceremony, some nice poems, and a big party with all our friends. There had been no surprise proposal because it was something we'd discussed in advance, and I insisted on choosing the engagement ring because he didn't know what an amethyst was.
Then he said "I'll ask you properly when the moment's right" and for a couple of months I got increasingly irritated when every time there was a nice moment and he'd left the ring at home (it's almost as though he was trying to tell me something, isn't it?) Eventually I packed a picnic, told him we were going to Richmond Park for the afternoon, and made sure he had the ring. After a bit he fished it out of his pocket and even though I'd nagged him for weeks it was still, strangely, a bit of a surprise how much it all meant and I burst into tears and he said he was worried I might say no.
And this all happened to a girl who was never the least bit bothered about getting married, in fact didn't really care at all. But the rules of such things suck you in and before you know it you've got an A4 wedding folder, a colour co-ordinated timetable and need the UN's help with the seating plan.
We were (largely) happy; the wedding was lovely. The marriage went phut after a very short space of time and it's no coincidence that I've no intention of ever repeating the experience without the benefit of a frontal lobotomy and Kofi Annan's solemn promise to be on call 24/7.
The main problem I have with the institution is not falling in love, or deciding to chain myself to someone for life - although that's a considerable hurdle for the once-bitten - but the fact it's an institution at all. Marriage is a declaration of commitment, and it's a joyous thing. If you don't do it in a white frock, you're still committed. If you don't do it in a church, or in front of 200 guests, or with a cake and a DJ, it's still a commitment. All that extra stuff is just padding. And the problem with padding, as I think my ex-husband probably found, is that sometimes it forces you into something you're unsure about and sometimes, as with me, it keeps you down when you really want to get out.
But then marital traditions are based on the tenets of our religious books which themselves are basically a set of rules on how to behave written by people thousands of years ago. Mary was 13 when she conceived Jesus, if you believe the books; Muhammad had 11 wives, one of whom was nine at consummation; and quite a large chunk of the Old Testament is about handing daughters and wives around like poker tokens. Catholic priests used to marry and have children. Romans married girls off at 12. The Bible says you 'marry' everyone you have sex with. Just because things used to happen doesn't mean they still should.
As society matures so it decides that women aren't chattels, that one wife is generally enough and children are off-limits. It's okay with co-habitation, jumbled-up families and people of varying sexualities and genders doing their own thing. And as I've matured I have learned that weddings are expensive puff, marriage is a lifelong project, and you're best off picking someone to do it with who thinks the same as you about the important bits and will hold your hand when times are rough, not piss off down the pub.
If two people can do that, and want to get married in whatever way they fancy - be it up a mountain or down a mine or on unicycles - I think it's an impressive enough thing that they should be allowed to give it a go. I don't care if they're a man and a woman, or both the same gender, or if she asked him on February 29. So long as they don't break the law or hurt others I'll clap them on their way and keep the mutters of "one in two, you know, it's one in two" under my breath, because there are more than enough people hating each other in the world and if two people want to do the opposite it's anything but indecent.
Let's use the extra day we get every four years to celebrate the fact that YOU CAN ASK HIM ANY TIME YOU LIKE.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to break it to my fiance that it's against the law to marry a fox and we'll have to wait until society sees things our way.
Some people spend too much time thinking about gay sex.