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Real love is for ever, not just for Leap Year

Jefferson Galt

It's four years since author Jefferson Galt posted this article to his blog. It bears repeating.

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I'm at home, somewhere in the French countryside.

Today's a free day! I don't mean it's a day with nothing to do (although, actually, that's pretty much the plan) I mean it's a day that is normally left out of calculations.

29 February 2012. A bonus day every four years.

And a day that some cultures claim has special meaning.

It's known as a "leap year." I don't know why and I don't care. Really. Some things just aren't interesting enough to bother finding out about and the reason for the name is one of them.

Far more interesting is the culture that has grown up around it.

In some cultures (I don't know where it started but no doubt half-a dozen cultures will claim it) the 29th February is the day when traditional (very traditional. Old fashioned. Obsolete, in fact) gender roles are reversed. Now don't get excited: that doesn't mean that men wear scanties and a bra and women don donkey jackets and hard hats (although some do but that's not restricted to this day and it's for a rather different purpose!). Nor does it mean that men who wouldn't normally be seen dead with a feather duster suddenly leap up and do the housework and women will learn to change a wheel with a flat tyre (hell, how many men do that themselves these days in a world of roadside assistance policies?).

No, it means that, traditionally, a man asks a woman to marry him (unashamed promo :) - see "It's You That Makes Me Strong) but on the rare occasion of 29th February, women are allowed to ask a man.

It's a silly tradition that reinforces stereotypes of the dominant male and the subservient, blushing, innocent female and, except as a bit of romantic nonsense, it has no real place in today's society. A good relationship is a partnership of equals, neither needing to dominate the other, each having strengths that complement the other's weaknesses, and each having the courage to know when to defer and when to take charge, ideally without even having to discuss it.

If one person dominates, always gets his / her own way, demands more than the other is comfortable giving, requires change but won't him/herself change then the relationship is doomed to be unhappy and stressed. It's the basis of abusive relationships. There's a short story about this in "The Things That I Can't Say." The weaker, more dominated party has to recognise that the supposed failings are not her (his?) fault and to break the cycle. The only way to do this is to leave, which is usually difficult because, by the time the tendency has become so obvious as to be recognised as a problem, a dependency has developed.

So, on this free day, I would urge a change in culture: women should be free to propose marriage - or whatever relationship they are comfortable with - at any time. But the 29th February would be better used as a day of reflection. A day when people look at their future and think, clearly, am I loved enough? Will this person always take the best care of me? Is that love unconditional, unlimited?

And will I always be happy, safe and well?

If the answer to any of those things is "no," or even "maybe not" then don't propose. Have fun until it wears out, but don't mistake that fun for the basis of a long-term relationship. And when the balance of fun to unhappiness, uncertainty, lack of trust tips too far for you to be entirely comfortable, get out. Don't wait until the actual tipping point is reached: you know it's going wrong long before the balance goes entirely over.

Like an old friend of mine says: relationships should be like corners: slow in, fast out.

My suggestion to the entire female species (don't laugh: genetically men and women are technically different species)? Don't rush into anything today, just because a silly superstition says so and it seems like fun at the time. I have seen far too many unhappy marriages held together on paper for the benefit of the children or religious principles with one or both parties wishing they had not asked the question, or not said "yes." And one or both parties "playing away from home" because the marriage - or the partner - turns out to not be what they wanted after all.

It might be romantic to follow the tradition, but it's not romantic to be stuck in an unhappy union or trying to unravel one.

If it's real love it's for ever, not just for a Leap Year.

© 2012 Jefferson Galt ( www.jeffersongalt.com )
All rights reserved.