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Proposing in Public Is the Worst and You Should Never Do It

Repeat after me: I will not propose in public

rihanna and drake at the vmas

A few months ago, Chinese diver and all-around badass Olympian and woman He Zi won a fucking silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games. A silver medal, guys! That is huge! I would actually love to be able to link to a video of the silver medal winning dive, because I think you guys would really like it, but unfortunately all of the videos I can find are all about her boyfriend, and how he proposed to He while she was standing on the podium, receiving her fucking silver medal. The world was just totally jazzed about this picture-perfect moment: what’s better than seeing a talented, empowered woman get knocked down a peg or two while her moment—the moment that singularly only belongs to her—is taken away because OMG YOU GUYZ!!! HER BOYFRIEND JUST PROPOSED!!!!!

So let’s take that as object lesson one of my greater point: if you are thinking of proposing in public, don’t! And before we get worked up about it, let me state that a public proposal and quietly proposing in public are two different things—one involves a lot of hoopla and drama, and the other is discreet, heartfelt, and awesome.

But really. Don’t. And before you think I’m a heartless, love-hating, romance-shunning beast, let me tell you: I’m not. I’m just a heartless, pedestal-hating flower, thank you very much.

why do people propose in public in the first place?

After reading countless stories about public proposals and articles with titles like “Public marriage proposals must die” and “Men who propose in public should be shot” (and many heated forum threads), I’ve come up with a list of five traits and/or attributes that people who are inclined to public proposals have in common:

1. They think you might say no: To me, few things almost guarantee a “yes” proposal like a) proposing in front of dozens of strangers and/or your whole family under the Christmas tree, or b) actually fostering a real relationship and being a compassionate, caring partner and spending time proving that you are dedicated to your union and want nothing more than to be together forever and ever for the rest of your lives… but I guess “b” is really just a lot of work.

2. They do not actually understand the difference between romance and pressure: For whatever reason, publicly asking someone to spend the rest of their lives with you is often shown as being this ultra-romantic, amazing thing. But you know what? It puts an awful lot of pressure on the person you’re asking, and in this day of Facebook Live and smartphones everywhere, potentially opens that person up to a lot of scrutiny and outright hatred. I mean, we live in a world in which people still don’t realize that “Every Breath You Take” is legitimately a song about stalking, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised?

3. They’re making up for something: I think a hard truth is that generally, the more over-the-top the proposal, the more one or both of you is making up for something that’s lacking in the relationship. Sorry for that dose of #realtalk, but it might be helpful.

4. They like to make your moments about them: See also: He Zi’s boyfriend.

5. They know that you will actually love it: This is one hundred percent okay. In fact, let’s consider it the exception that proves the rule.

Okay, So How Do I figure Out What my partner Wants, then?

I can only think of one time when it’s okay to propose in public, so I’ll gift potential public proposers this: If you’re getting engaged to someone, then I’m going to dance out on a limb and assume you know that person reasonably well. Like, you know if they are inclined to dig public… anything. I mean, my husband proposed after three months of dating and it was very nearly the exact proposal that I had dreamed of, and while I think he’s amazing, what he did wasn’t actually rocket science. Here is how it’s done:

Ask your partner’s BFFs: By the time you’re getting ready to get married, I would hope that you’ve met and hung out with those nearest and dearest to your partner at least a handful of times. (You have, right?) Call or text or Facebook or Snapchat or whatever else the kids are doing these days, and just ask if your partner will totally love it if you propose in front of her entire family at Thanksgiving or in front of the whole coffee shop at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, or like, at the dog park. You know, whatever your plan is, ask about that.

Watch a movie: Public proposals happen in movies all the time because a lot of movies are written by men, and men don’t always know what non-men like. Sit down for a movie night and put on a film that you know has a public proposal, and then just super casually gauge your partner’s reaction to the scene. In Bed of Roses, the dude proposes in front of his whole family, and his girlfriend is not pleased. Is your partner pleased by this scene, or no? On the flip side, when Jamie proposes to Aurélia in Love Actually, he does it in front of her whole family at the restaurant where she works… and we all loved it. Even me.

Ask your partner: Look, you know if you’re with someone who wants a super top-secret proposal… because guess what? It will have come up (see how this works). But otherwise, casually ask. So-and-so did this crazy over-the-top proposal; what did you think about it? Converse. Figure it out.

How should I propose?

Listen, my husband’s proposal was very quiet, intimate, and private. It was exactly the kind of proposal I always wanted to receive. There was no flourish (there wasn’t even a ring), and it’s not for everyone. Luckily, for every example of what not to do, Shonda Rhimes has supplied us with several examples of what to do (P.S. If you haven’t watched Grey’s and don’t want to know anything ever on the off chance that you might watch it one day, stop reading):

Derek and Meredith: For those of you who have made it through life without giving over to the power of Ms. Rhimes (how do you do it? I can’t), Derek and Meredith are the big Grey’s couple. Their backstory goes something like this: They met in a bar and ended up together for what was presumed to be a one-night stand. But then (then!), Meredith went to her first day of residency at Seattle Grace and discovered that Derek is the big-deal neurosurgeon at the hospital/in the world. Fast-forward a few years, and the two have weathered a whole slew of intense things (infidelity, death, childhood trauma manifesting as adulthood pain, etc.) and we have no idea if they’re ever really going to get married… until this.

This proposal works because even though everyone is totally in on it, the proposal itself is intimate and in a place that is key to their relationship; plus he’s decorated the whole damn elevator with basically every single memento that screams “us” that he could find (you know, scans from surgeries they did together, notes they had around the house, etc.). So all negative Derek feelings aside (I really didn’t like him, guys, but I think that’s a whole separate post), I love it.

Cristina and Burke: I know that we all have to be mad at Isaiah Washington for the rest of our lives because of the slur he used (and I am!), but can we please not hate Burke? Because I love that character. Anyway, backstory: Burke is a surgeon at Seattle Grace and Cristina is an intern, and (like they do tend to do on Grey’s) the two of them hook up even though they shouldn’t. Cristina gets pregnant, and before she can even figure out what to do about it, she has an ectopic pregnancy. They cool it for a while, and then get together to see if they’re good at other things besides sex. It turns out they balance each other well.

This proposal is EVERYTHING because Cristina is strong, nuts, and the best. She is magic, and Burke is kind, thoughtful, and totally in love with her, and he recognizes that magic and just wants to be near it. Plus, the proposal itself is so simple, so obvious, so the best. Also, not in public. See what I did there?

Bailey and Ben: Bailey was married for ten years and then divorced by the time she met Ben, and she resisted getting involved with him for what felt like forever. Then, after they did get together, they broke up (with good reason, but I won’t spoil it), and ended up getting back together after Bailey began dating someone else casually.

To truly appreciate this moment, you have to first see Ben’s proposal in the OR. They’re fighting in the OR (like they do), and she is really giving him shit in a way I think several of us have… and then realizes that OH. OH THAT WAS A REAL MOMENT RIGHT THERE. Later on, Bailey proposes to Ben… and then proposes again while we all sob in that way only Shonda Rhimes can make us. She’s not proposing romance, mister.

the grey’s proposal you never want to do

Of course, Shonda wouldn’t be Shonda without also giving us plenty of over-the-top, perfect for network TV public proposals to choose from, but girlfriend manages to do that while making the exact same point that I’m making here. Super public proposals? Probably not a great idea.

Thus, this flash mob proposal is at the top of my “Whatever you do, don’t do this” list. In summation, Matthew the paramedic decides that the best way to propose to April Kepner is by… setting up a flash mob at the hospital and singing to her in front of a hundred people? This made me want to crawl out of my skin the first time I saw it, and it turns out it never gets any better, even if you watch it over and over again. It’s everything that is wrong with public proposals: April has no way to say no, is slightly mortified by the attention, and you know who really walks out of this proposal as the big “winner”? The guy who clearly felt the need to make up for something that’s missing in the relationship. See also: Matthew and April’s wedding. (Hooo boy, did that end badly. Point made, Ms. Rhimes. Point made.)

Sorry Not Sorry

TL;DR: If you want a public proposal and your partner wants to do a public proposal, by all means, y’all go have that public proposal. But for the rest of us… let’s just not.

(A possible exception to all this: in When Harry Met Sally, Harry totally proposes at a party on New Year’s Eve at midnight—aka maybe the most manipulative move ever—and I think just about everyone loves it, even the most outraged misandrist in the world, because it’s so great that they’re finally getting their shit together. So if you guys are like Harry and Sally and finally getting your shit together after a decade, I guess it’s okay. Otherwise, nah. And hey, if you totally disagree with me, never fear: in two weeks we’ll be talking about wedding proposals gone right, and maybe then I’ll make it up to you.)

Now that we’ve cleared all of this up, let’s dish. tell me your proposal stories—because I bet they’re really good—and include everything: tips, thoughts, etc. I bet some of them are public and you have fighting words. Let’s have at it. Burn it down, y’all.

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