By Susan Roberts
Last week when I wished my niece a Happy 30th Birthday, my mind wandered back to what I had been doing with my own life around the time when she was born. I was younger then than she is now, and was starting to get serious with my first major boyfriend. Let’s call him Mr Right. Back in 1984, for the first time in our two and a half years together, Mr Right had recently mentioned the “M” word.
It was a casual reference, of course. It went something like this: “Well, if we get married one day…” but in that one sentence I saw all the wish-fulfilment of my short life coming together. If I had known then what I know now, I would have cuffed Mr Right sharply across his earhole and berated him for leading me on.
I think his own words must have put the wind up him because he broke up with me a few weeks later.
That midyear when my niece was born was a busy time in the production company for which I worked back then. Rehearsing one show during the day and operating lights every night for another meant I didn’t get much time off. A new lighting operator took over just before I departed for Grahamstown to do two shows at the annual National Festival of the Arts. A week later I flew back to Johannesburg to re-open the second of those shows, which had premiered at the festival.
After a few weeks things had calmed down sufficiently for me to bribe the lighting designer to do my job for a week. I travelled to Eshowe with Mr Right who was working there on a movie shoot. From Eshowe I did another lightning-quick trip across Zululand to Ladysmith to see my sister and her new baby, and Mr Right joined me there two days later for the family celebrations.
I still have the photos from that visit. Mr Right and I both looked happy in those pictures, and as for my tiny one-month old niece with her big eyes… Well, she was just SO cute…
Maybe I coo-ed over her too much. Perhaps it was the thought of babies that scared off Mr Right. Who knows? More fool him, because he should have known by then that I wasn’t the maternal type. And I should have known that he wasn’t the marrying type.
Anyway, he helped me to buy my first car later that same week and I drove it triumphantly back to Johannesburg, smug in the knowledge that Mr Right loved me and we would surely marry soon. But I didn’t know that the car was my goodbye present. Before I even had its new number plates, he had broken up with me. Mr Not-So-Right after all.
So why am I telling you this? What’s the point of a romance writer relating a story without a happy ending? Well, over the months which followed I finally saw that someone of my nature would eventually have been cowed, stunted and trampled into insignificance by a man as domineering and forceful as that particular Mister. Within six months I knew that I had had a lucky escape.
My next Mr Almost Right was just as lucky in his escape from me. He was young and idealistic, and I tended to push him around and trample his spirit. Just a bit. We were both young and I guess I didn’t care enough, but fortunately he later found a Mrs Right to nurture and love him properly.
One year, I had a torrid time with three consecutive Mr Wrongs. Mr Gentle Wrong was a kind, caring man, but I dumped him too eagerly when Mr Romantic Wrong swept me off my feet. It took me a while to realise that he was juggling a few of us at once. And dear Mr Grumpy Wrong who rescued me from him might have been outwardly dour but his demeanour hid a generous heart and I still think of him with great fondness.
I won’t talk here about the great love of my life who followed a few years later, because that still hurts. And I call him Mr Close-To-Right because he was perfect for me in so many ways.
But, time marches on.
Unlike my happily married niece, I have peculiar taste in men. I tend to choose those who seem ideal at first but over time they turn out to be a mis-match. Don’t get me wrong: most of them have been funny and creative, but I think my timing has always been a little off. When I wanted to marry, they didn’t. When they wanted to marry, I didn’t. Most of them went on to marry someone else, and I didn’t.
I still carry a little of each of them in my heart, and I can’t pretend that I haven’t called up aspects of their characters (the endearing, quirky, adventurous aspects) to provide inspiration for the heroes I write.
So in a way, maybe I found Mr Write after all.