Hitched: Your Elaborately Planned Public Marriage Proposal Is Awkward For Everyone

If you are currently in the process of planning an elaborate and public marriage proposal to your intended, please consider not doing that, not doing that even for a minute, and instead consider just stopping everything you had planned and not ever doing that, and even if you still want to do it a little bit, I beg you, don’t ever do it.

Elaborate public marriage proposals are rude and awkward. They’re presumptuous in the worst ways. They’re intrusive. They’re manipulative—and not just toward the proposer’s intended.

If you have to rope in anyone besides a couple of close friends or family members or a service industry employee to pull off your marriage proposal, I implore you: reconsider. Reconsider hard.

Twice this week, public marriage proposals have crossed my radar—first from a Twitter friend who witnessed one in a bar and reported widespread awkwardness among non-enfianced patrons, and second when a gentleman in Portland—a guy who truly looks to be a real and genuine sweetheart—choreographed an elaborate public proposal complete with dancing flash mob on a public street in Portland.

Both times, I get the creeps. I understand not everyone feels this way and that some people think elaborate public marriage proposals are adorable and romantic. But you know, there’s a lid with questionable taste for every pot with questionable taste.

To me, elaborate public marriage proposals seem overly precious at best and emotionally manipulative at worst. Of course, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with a little good-natured emotional manipulation—lord knows I’ve seen “Titanic” enough times to realize that you can actually develop a craving for that kind of shit—but spectacle-driven public marriage proposals go too far.

Some are comparatively tame, like what flash mob guy did in Portland or the time that dude live-Tweeted his entire proposal process. But some are downright grotesque, like this proposal orchestrated on some Fox television program that starts with a bawling, scared woman and ends with Howie Mandel interviewing the same bawling, scared woman who was just ushered through her entire wedding in a white Cinderella dress shoved over her cute grey camisole.

There is something deeply creepy about cornering someone in a public space and forcing them to say “Yes!” to whatever you ask them, otherwise they’re going to look like a heartless asshole and you’re going to look like someone just stuffed the saddest puppy who ever lived down a lava-filled drainpipe.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel obligated to have a great story to tell people when they inevitably ask, “So, how did he propose?”

If I answer that question honestly about my own relationship, I have to say: “He didn’t. But I don’t really remember the details anyway, because we were both liver-deep in a bottle of Jim Beam when we decided to get married.”

Patrick and I had both been thinking about having the marriage talk with one another in the months before we actually made the decision to get engaged. Personally, I was halfway waiting for him to make an official proposal, and halfway considering doing it myself, because I really wanted to marry this guy. My desire to put that shit on lock was way stronger than my desire to do the proper lady thing and wait around for him to say something just because he’s got man-bits and I’ve got lady-bits.

But with the wedding industrial complex causing couples to become ever more competitive in the elaborate adorableness of their Single Most Perfect And Wonderful Day Ever—and to be real, even among “offbeat” folks, a few even compete to have the cheapest and weirdest wedding, instead of the most expensive and traditional one—answering questions like “So, how did he propose?” become less about relieving honest curiosity and more about one-upmanship. I ask you, why else would anyone film their proposal and put it under the YouTube heading, “World’s Best Marriage Proposal, Ever?” Does anyone actually measure their love in … jazz hands?

Of course, the question, “So how did he propose?” is almost always gendered, because we still expect men to do the asking and women to do the answering when it comes to marriage. It’s an interesting moment in the marital process, because the popular wedding narrative, post-proposal, is practically groomless—in fact, when the groom does appear, it’s only to be dragged down the aisle by his naggy cow of a fiancé.

Proposals are the one opportunity we give grooms to shine. Can we blame them if some want to make the most of a process they’re largely expected either to be excluded from or naturally uninterested in, because if there are two things in this world that don’t ever go together, it’s penises and weddings?

In light of this, I actually think my distaste for the public proposal is unfairly gendered, because on the surface, it certainly is a manifestation of something I love to see: men who are actively excited about the wedding process. Men who don’t want to be relegated to being told to show up in a tux and taste cake.

But I think the actual consequences of the elaborate public proposal are negative, even if they do give men an opportunity to step up to the white, bedazzled wedding plate. Like so many things with regard to weddings, thoughtful people owe it to themselves and to others to ask themselves whether what they’re doing is out of personal desire or social pressure. Most likely, it’s both.

Nobody gets married in a vacuum. The decisions we make about our weddings and our marriages affect other people—our peers, our families, and if we Kim Kardashian, the devoted readers of shitty celebrity magazines. 

The elaborate public proposal ups the stakes in the worst way: are you any less in love if your fiancé proposed over take-out pizza instead of a white tablecloth? Is your marriage any less beautiful because it took place in a courthouse instead of a cathedral? Of course not. These are not the ways in which reasonable people evaluate their relationships, which are built day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, in how we take care of and support the people we care most about. 

I certainly don’t believe that everyone who sets out upon the path of the elaborate marriage proposal has malevolent intentions. I’m not saying they’re emotional abusers. Most likely, they are just people who are really excited about getting to do a thing (decide to get married) that many people think they’ll only ever do once (statistically unlikely).

But elaborate public proposals have the very serious potential, beyond making the participants look like Braggy McBraggersons, to make single people feel ostracized, to make people in un-enfianced relationships feel less than, to make people who can’t even legally marry their partners if they wanted to feel further excluded, and to make the person on the receiving end of the proposal feel obligated to say “Yes,” no matter their actual feelings. And also to just really annoy people who don’t like to be asked to participate in the emotional affirmation of strangers.

At the very least, just leave Howie Mandel out of it. Please.