Why one woman de­cided to pro­pose.

A per­fectly flawed tale of love.

ELLE (Canada) - - #Storyboard - By Rose­mary Counter

my par­ents’ love story goes some­thing like this: On their first date, at a Chi­nese restau­rant, my mother—a non-drinker want­ing to seem so­phis­ti­cated— or­dered a sin­gle glass of red wine, which promptly made her sick enough that she had to go home. My fa­ther, a whisky-drink­ing mis­match to his dorky date, was left aban­doned with the bill and a for­tune cookie. It read “You have found a pearl. Trea­sure it.” He took this as a sign from above, and many years later—although that’s another story—they mar­ried. Thirty-four years af­ter that, they re­main to­gether and for­tune still favours them.

It’s this old story that popped into my head more than 6,000 kilo­me­tres away, on the is­land of Taha’a. The tiny French Poly­ne­sian par­adise is best suited for

lovers, but I was there with­out my boyfriend to tour lo­cal pearl farms. I was look­ing at black pearls—the metic­u­lous work of the Pinc­tada mar­gar­i­tifera, the rare black-lipped oys­ter that lives only in the warm turquoise wa­ters around French Poly­ne­sia—and ab­sorb­ing all the lus­cious lore that comes with them. The Chi­nese be­lieved they grew in the eyes of drag­ons; the Ja­panese said all pearls were born from the tears of mer­maids.

The odds of find­ing a nat­u­ral fresh­wa­ter pearl are about one in 10,000, and black ones are even rarer than that. But the odds at the Tahi­tian pearl farms aren’t par­ticu­larly en­cour­ag­ing ei­ther. It takes five years for an oys­ter to grow a pearl, dili­gently adding con­cen­tric layer upon layer of cal­cium car­bon­ate. But even af­ter pearls ma­ture and end up on a neck­lace or a ring, they mustn’t be locked away in a jew­ellery box in­def­i­nitely. Be­cause they have a 3-per­cent wa­ter con­tent, they need mois­ture, such as skin con­tact, to stay “alive”; with­out it, they be­come dull and “die.” Qual­ity pearls are about 1 in 100, which is prob­a­bly right around the ra­tio of good to bad dates I’ve had.

Some of the pearls, like some of the men I’ve gone out with, lacked lustre, some had su­per­fi­cial im­per­fec­tions, some were dead in­side. Some were gor­geous but not quite my style, some I was drawn to im­me­di­ately, oth­ers grew on me af­ter a while. But, fi­nally, one pearl—like the per­fect man—stood out: a shin­ing lit­tle black sphere, seven mil­lime­tres across, that had sub­tle hints of pinks and blues and was iri­des­cent in the sun­light in the palm of my hand.

Then I started to think about love and about the past five years that I’d spent with my guy. And then I started to think about how spe­cial it is to have some­one lov­ing you from the other side of the world. Then a new ro­man­tic fan­tasy popped into my head: “What if I bought this pearl, set it in a white-gold ring and then gave it to him to give to me?” I never wanted an en­gage­ment ring—and I couldn’t see my­self wear­ing a diamond—but there was some­thing about this pearl that se­duced me.

Or­ches­trat­ing my own pro­posal was a risky and per­haps crazy move—not just for all the ob­vi­ous rea­sons, like re­jec­tion and re­strain­ing or­ders, but be­cause I was plan­ning to do it with a black pearl, which is said to bring bad luck. This is be­cause a pearl is born of a flaw of na­ture: It starts as a piece of sand or shell trapped in­side an oys­ter, for­eign and painful, and builds up over time. An old wives’ tale warns that a bride who wears pearls on her wed­ding day will shed a tear for ev­ery sin­gle one. And to buy and wear your own pearls, says another, is par­tic­u­larly un­wise—un­less it’s your birth­stone. And since I was born in June, it is mine.

So, for a bar­gain of $250, I bought the pearl. Back at the re­sort, I proudly dis­played my im­promptu pur­chase to the woman at the pearl bou­tique. She took one look through a mag­ni­fy­ing glass and spot­ted a blem­ish. I hadn’t no­ticed it be­fore, and I was vis­i­bly dis­ap­pointed. I wanted a per­fect pearl like a per­fect hus­band—one I could bring to cock­tail par­ties and show off and brag about to my friends. A pearl that would be ex­actly what I wanted it to be al­ready. A pearl that would take the garbage out with­out be­ing asked.

But nei­ther a man nor a pearl is per­fect, she said, nor would I want them to be. “A pearl with­out a flaw is a fake pearl,” she said. “Just like hu­mans—if we were all the same, it would be a nightmare.” But could I wear this pearl, day in and day out, with ev­ery mood and en­sem­ble? Could I care for it del­i­cately and con­sis­tently so that it still glows in five years? Ten? Thirty-four?

I could try, that’s for sure. I could work at it bit by bit and build some­thing beau­ti­ful. I started the week I got back to Toronto: I ca­su­ally men­tioned to my boyfriend that I had bought a pearl and was up to some­thing spe­cial. Then, a cou­ple of months later, I got bolder. “This woman is ex­pect­ing your call,” I mum­bled ner­vously, hand­ing him Toronto-based ring de­signer Me­gan Dunn’s pen­cil sketch and busi­ness card. “Is this the kind of ring I think it is?” he asked. We’d dis­cussed mar­riage be­fore but never so con­cretely. “It can be what­ever we want it to be,” I ex­plained.

He tucked the card into his pocket, equal parts sur­prised and im­pressed. He then let me linger in tor­tur­ous sus­pense for six long months. (I broke just once and asked if he’d gifted my ring else­where, but I was told to be pa­tient.) Then, just when I’d al­most for­got­ten, at dusk on his favourite hill at his fam­ily’s farm, he fi­nally got down on one knee. Turns out he had a pro­posal fan­tasy too.

Although I don’t par­tic­u­larly be­lieve in omens, I can only hope that my Tahi­tian black pearl brings a life­time of good luck and love. To me, a non-be­liever in drag­ons and mer­maids, a pearl is a metaphor for how some­thing can grow, through time and ef­fort, into some­thing spec­tac­u­lar. This, I hope, will be part of the love story I share with our kids, if we have any. I won’t tell them I pro­posed to my­self; I will say I gen­tly pried him open and care­fully planted the seed. n

Or­ches­trat­ing my own pro­posal was a risky and per­haps crazy move–not just for all the ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

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