Advanced English Reading  – Who Should You Marry? 

As you know, the reading section of the Cambridge advanced exam can be the most difficult, therefore this class of advanced English reading is designed to

I recently read something very romantic in a biography of Simone De Beauvoir; something that’s been running around my mind ever since. 

The feminist philosopher had a lover called Nelson Algren, an American who’d done time in prison and wrote about the criminal underworld. Simone – feminist writer and long-time lover of Jean Paul Satre – met Nelson in the late nineteen forties and they travelled together in Latin America. 

After a deeply passionate love affair Simone returned to Satre and broke up with Nelson. She asked the American if they could remain friends.

‘No, we can’t be friends’ he replied, “I can’t do anything less than love you.”

And…err…just in case you weren’t stunned by the beauty of those words… that’s the romantic quote I want to share with you

 “I can’t do anything less than love you.”

If you don’t think that was very romantic then you are in stark disagreement with Simone de Beauvoir. Although the relationship ended and they had no contact for 21 years, she was buried wearing Nelson Algren’s ring – a specific request of her last will and testament.

Personally I’ve never been stunned by the romantic words of my ex-girlfriends, but probably, these are the sorts of things that only glamorous French writers and movie stars get to hear. For us ordinary people, a communal garden ‘I love you’ is the best we’ll get, and if anyone ever does say something like ‘I can’t do anything less than love you’ it’ll probably be a stalker or some crazy chick on Facebook.

In fact, coming to terms with the fact that your marriage probably won’t be one of the great Hollywood love stories of all time, but more like… an overlong action adventure about two people who show incredible endurance in difficult circumstances is a key lesson of adult life. 

Anyway, I mention all this because I received a drunken phone call on Tuesday morning at 3AM from my friend, Ralph, telling me he’d been given an ultimatum by his girlfriend… MARRY ME OR ELSE! 

“Shall I marry her?” he asks me.

And I immediately reply, “Of course. She’s kind, she’s not bad looking, and she’s intelligent.”

“But…but…but… I can’t.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because she’s not… THE ONE.”

And it’s here that I’ll have to explain… ‘the one’. ‘The one’ is the person on this earth you were supposed to love… your one, true love, the light of your life, your soul mate etc. And on a point of pronunciation, you can never say ‘the one.’ You have to leave a big pause before you say it. So for example… if you’ve just met a girl and you think she’s ‘the one’, you don’t say, “Hey I’ve just met a girl and I think she’s the one”, you say… “I’ve just met a girl and I think she’s… the one.” 

This pause reflects the sacred attitude with which people view the concept. And it’s interesting because ‘the one’ doesn’t just appear in love movies it also appears in The Matrix and many religious stories. ‘The one’ is… ‘the chosen one…’ and parallels here are relevant because both the religious and amorous concept are spoken of with almost mystical reverence. And rightly, because both rely on blind faith.

Anyway, to return to the story… I say to Ralph, “Ralph, you’re 41 years old… if you haven’t met ‘the one’ yet, then I don’t think you’re gonna meet her.”

Well, we continued talking, and then Ralph confessed that not only was his girlfriend not ‘the one’ but he – and this is another great nonsense phrase… ‘loved her… but wasn’t in love with her.’ 

I suddenly decided to use some reverse psychology.

“Ok then… don’t marry her.”

“No, no, no… I can’t do that.”

“But why not… she’s not ‘the one’.”

“Yeah…but what if I don’t marry her… and then she dumps me and then I don’t meet anyone else and…and… I end up alone?”

Let’s get to the point. With all his confusion between loving her, not loving her and not wanting to be alone etc… Ralph was working through the permutations of a question that I’ve often considered: who should you marry?

You see, for a lot of people the answer is simple… you should marry a person you love. Unfortunately, though, statistics prove that this method doesn’t work… 1 in 2 marriages end in divorce and almost everyone marries cos they’re in love. The ‘love criteria’ is flawed.

Of course, the romantics will say… no, what happened is that they fooled themselves they were in love but they weren’t really. Well, by definition, if it’s possible you’re fooling yourself once, you will never know when you genuinely feel love, or if you’re fooling yourself. Unless you develop a true love detector – something like an FBI lie detector – you can’t be sure the love is real.

But, anyway, as we all know… even true love breaks down… and in the end people get divorced. Often, people in the deepest, most passionate relationships can have the most violent and disturbing breakups.

So we return to the same question: who should you marry? Which proposals should you accept? How do you decide who to commit the rest of your life to? And I’m afraid the answer is not a romantic one; in fact, this question is so important, and can have so many consequences for you and those around you if you get it wrong, that you must treat it with a cold, calculating detachment. 

Basically, you need to get a pen and paper and start analysing the situation with psychological profiling, flow charts, costs and benefits, advantages and disadvantages. Come on… this is the most important decision of your – and your future children’s life – you gotta make the right choice.

This approach brings to mind an episode of the nineties TV show, Friends, when Ross has to decide whether to stay with his girlfriend or not, and he makes a list of pros and cons ( by the way, Rachel finds the list and reads it, so first rule is: make bloody sure your prospective partner never sees your analysis.) My advice is do it in one session, don’t save it on your hard drive, and never tell the other you did an analysis; it’s a bit of a passion killer. Imagine…

“So, darling will you marry me?”

“Yes, darling, I’ve conducted an extensive cost benefit ratio and decided that despite your disposition to depression and poor economic prospects, your motherly nature, fantastic body and good cooking, outweigh these negative factors by an attractive 10 per cent and I believe you will make an acceptable spouse.”

Yes, always keep the list a secret.

Anyway, to conclude, if you face the question of whether to marry or propose to someone, I recommend you analyse the situation with a passionate heart but a hard head. Remember, a proposal of marriage isn’t just a love prospect, it’s also a business proposal, a permanent flat share, and a creative partnership. Think long… and think hard.


Okay, I hope you enjoyed today’s class of advanced English reading…now I’d like you to visit our website – or our Facebook page – advanced English Ingocio – and do this week’s writing homework. We want you to tell us about who you decided who to marry and why, or, how you’ll decide who you’re going to marry in the future. Excellent… well, that’s all for today; I’ll see you next week. Goodbye.


Vocabulary Focus


  • Will testamento: the document which says what a dead person wants done with their possessions, money and assets. “It was a specific request of her last will and testament.”
  • Communal garden aburridonormal and boring. “A communal garden house.”
  • Coming to terms with aceptar: to accept something that’s difficult to accept. “Coming to terms with the fact.”
  • Dump dejar: when your girl/boyfriend leaves you. “What if she dumps me and then I don’t meet anyone else?”
  • Disturbing preocupante: something dark that makes you feel uncomfortable. “Violent and disturbing breakups.”
  • Propose (noun – proposal) pedir matrimonio: when you ask someone to marry you it is called ‘a proposal’. “Which proposals should you accept?”
  • Calculating calculador: Actions or behaviour that has been well planned. “A cold, calculating detachment.”
  • Detachment indiferencia: without emotion or distraction.
  • Motherly maternal : an adjective of ‘mother.’ “Your motherly nature.”



Advanced reading questions

  1. What is the evidence that De Beauvoir had strong feelings for Nelson?
  2. What sort of people does Rokeby think are most likely to make passionate remarks to him?
  3. Why was it reverse psychology for Rokeby to agree he shouldn’t marry her?
  4. What is the relevance of a lie detector test?
  5. What security measure must you take when compiling a list of pros and cons for a marriage proposal?

Advanced English Reading answers

  1. She was buried wearing his ring.
  2. Stalkers and crazy ex-girlfriends.
  3. Because what he wanted to do was the opposite – argue why he should marry her.
  4. Rokeby wants an equivalent machine to test if the love between two people is real or not.
  5. You must destroy it immediately and be sure not to leave it on your computer or something silly like that.

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