December 28, 2005

Makes me scream

It happens every year at holiday time. The local newspaper runs a romantic heartwarming story, complete with photos, about a couple getting engaged at the skating rink or in front of the big Christmas tree downtown or some other public spot that looks like a Hollywood cliche. We see a big photo of the couple, often with the woman crying and the man looking smug.

Always, it is the same story, with the same plot. The man decides to propose to his girl. (And yes, I use those words deliberately. Always, the male in the couple is referred to as a man, and the woman is referred to as his girl. And does it go without saying that the couple is never same sex? Have I mentioned how conservative this newspaper is?) We get a whole paragraph about how the man decided he was going to propose, and bought a ring, and how hard he worked to make sure that the girl would be totally surprised.

Uh, totally surprised? Should any woman be surprised into making some kind of major decision like that?

And yet, we get quotes from the woman saying things like, "Oh, I was completely surprised. I had no idea." And the readers sigh at how romantic that is.

Maybe it's me, but I just fail to see the appeal.

I am not against the idea of marriage. I have been known to enthusiastically congratulate two people who talk over the idea of marriage and make a mutual decision to make a commitment to each other.

But that is never how the romantic newspaper story reads. No. The man decides he wants to marry the woman, and he asks her to marry him. And he makes sure he does it in a big public way. So she is completely surprised when he asks her, and she has to give her answer in front of a crowd of people, including a newspaper photographer.

That story does not make me smile. It makes me want to scream.


wolfa said...

I'm not necessarily against surprise proposals, because I can see ways in which they'd work out. They're not cases of "we'd never discussed marriage but!", though. I am anti the big public proposal: if you haven't discussed it, you're putting your partner in an awkward situation, and if you have, you're making a whole lot of people play part of your drama.

BrightStar said...


(even though I'm getting divorced...) when I got engaged, it was like a mutual decision we made during a very romantic conversation. Then, he gave me a ring weeks later that he picked out, and I was surprised as to when he would give it to me, but we had already mutually agreed to get married and felt engaged. I felt like we had to MAKE UP the romantic story everyone wanted about when he gave me the ring, etc. I felt like a fraud, but I gave people the story they wanted, even though I knew the reality was different. Story: when he gave me the ring. Reality: how we decided to get married.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I SO agree with you on this one. It always seems so manipulative and coercive and forced (though I do agree with WA that there are ways in which a "surprise" proposal can be nice - but like what B* describes, not what you describe).

In fact, I asked LDH to marry me. Over the phone (b/c we were long-distance again at the time). How's that for romantic! (We'd been talking around the question for a long time, so it wasn't a risk - it was just articulating what we'd pretty much decided.) I've never felt like I missed out on anything b/c he didn't get down on one knee and whip out the diamond.

Dr.K said...

Hey, I was at a performance of "The Nutcracker" last week, and some man brought his girl onto the stage just before the overture started, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry him--with a spotlight on them, over a microphone. In front of 7 or 8 thousand people. It was making me me feel like the calm way my wife and I discussed our plans was somehow inadequate, but I feel better now. Thanks!

Jane Ellen+ said...

I agree that a "question out of the blue" would be an awful thing. However, for the couples I know who have done the public thing, it has been more a formal, official declaraion of something they'd decided privately-- making it official, and celebrating in that way.

My brother made an official proposal in this way to the woman (I wouldn't call her "girl" to her face if I were you!) who is now his wife, and with whom he had been living and discussing marriage for several months. The public declaration of their love for one another is a treasured memory for them.

No, it wouldn't suit me; but then, different strokes for different folks.

ccw said...

I love your take on this type of story. I have always wondered how many engagements with public proposals work out. I cannot imagine many people saying "no" when caught up in such a moment and with an audience, but I am curious about afterwards when there is no audience.

Mr. S tried to surprise me, but he was so transparent and nervous that it was impossible for it to be surprising.

ScienceWoman said...

Like your other commenters (and yourself), I'm anti-surprise proposals unless they follow long discussions. Husband surprised me (in private, after many conversations and a proposal from me). He's kind of traditional and I know he just wanted to give me a ring and have a story to tell. And that type of surprise was sweet.

Jane Dark said...

Students at my undergrad school were notorious for the big, wacky surprise proposal. It was as though they had to get the sanction of as much of the student body as possible. Boy, oh boy, did I ever hate it. In the end, it was almost a barometer for whether or not I'd get along with someone -- if they went apesh*t over an elaborate public proposal, I didn't even try to get to know them particularly well. Misanthropic of me, perhaps, but I'm not really sorry.

Terminaldegree said...

I HATE public proposals. One of my friends just proposed to his girlfriend in a fancy having SANTA CLAUS walk in and hand her a present. When she opened it, there was a ring. That he'd picked out. Without her input. For something that she'll have to wear for decades.

The guy at the next table leaned over and said, "Hey buddy, you sure make the rest of us guys look bad!"

No, I think he made them look thoughtful. :)

Fish Out of Water said...

SCREAM!!! I'll scream along! It's the constant reminder that we women, I'm sorry girls, are supposed to be young, passive and apparently, not so bright (they have no idea it's coming but they're ready to commit to the rest of their lives without much thought). The ideal wife in the public imagination - though luckily few guys I know would last a week with such a woman. The question is the portrayal. It's like the second a couple gets engaged, it becomes all about the spectacle. We can't, as a society, really discuss the many feelings surrounding pledging your life to someone (deliriously happy brides, rueful men - HA! in my experience it's more likely to be the other way). And don't get me started on the engagement ring fiasco... We ended up selling our's because I couldn't take it anymore!!! People were horrified, but it prepared them for when we canceled our spectacle of a wedding just a few weeks before! Not so much passive over here. Can you imagine if he'd tried to surprise me with a public proposal that we'd never discussed?!!!

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Public propsals make me somewhat wary because, unless you know the backstory, there's a chance that it's manipulative.

I understand that some people want the fanfare for the sake of a memory, but I don't think the idea of marriage should ever be a total surprise sprung on someone in a public forum where tons of people are thinking "say yes" and you make someone you care about lose face if you say no.

Personally, I think I'd have found a proposal sort of silly. Ex and I decided to get married by having a discussion about it. After all, it is a joint decision to be made, and frankly a ring (no matter how expensive or what size) and a huge public gesture or romantic gesture or whatever should not sway the decision. Once we'd decided, it seemed silly to say "ok, now you go get a ring and find some big way to surprise me with it."

So yeah, I'm screaming with you.

Pronoia said...

Here are my two experiences with public proposals.

1) When I was in graduate school, two of my former students were dating. He was the mascot. She was the head cheerleader. At homecoming one year, he proposed to her at halftime in front of 90,000 people. She said yes, they were in the paper, it was all anyone could talk about. And then, in private, she said no. But no one remembers that part.

2) My best friend in college knew she was going to get proposed to. She just didn't know how or when. Her boyfriend's mother took her out holiday shopping at the Mall of America. They sat down to rest on a bench. Then a large dragon appeared and roared at her, and her boyfriend, dressed as a knight, jumped out to slay the dragon. He then went down on one knee to give her a rose, which had the ring on the stem. She said yes, all of her friends and family jumped out with cameras, and things went from there. They're divorced now.

So yeah, public proposals = awful.

jo(e) said...

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that "surprise" proposals and "public" proposals are more about control than anything else. All of the surprise proposals I can think of led to marriages in which control battles were huge.

Teri said...

The surprise proposal also harkens back to an age when women were the property of their father/not considered full adults (hence the "girls")/ not full-fledged citizens, and as a result, the man was required to ask permission of the woman's father before proposing. It all smacks of oppression by the patriarchy.

Not Scott said...

Just this last semester, a student was writing about Chase Ballbark (nee Bank One Ballpark) and had written about the cliche scoreboard proposal. I sarcastically mocked the practice, but I could see in her eyes that she thought I was a cold-hearted, unromantic schmuck for not seeing the "magic." I'm waiting for one of these big spectacles to end in a no response. That I would enjoy.

PS. Excellent writing on "Thaw." As if you need to hear that.

Mrs. Coulter said...

Yeah! You tell 'em!

We decided to get married together. We were lying in bed together talking in the dark, and one of us said "Hey, maybe we should get married!" And it just felt so right, so we did. We're not even sure who said it anymore.

Anonymous said...

I agree on the public proposal. I think that it should be mutual as it is serious. However I want to be surprised, but we have talked and talked about what we want in the future and we both want to get married, so he can surprise me with the ring, we both already know what the answer is. Although that does leave the argument that he gets to control it all, but I have made it clear that I am ready and now it's up to him to gain his confidence with it, so it will be a surprise when he is ready. I have also read somewhere that the "girl" shouldn't pressure her "man" into proposing, but the article made it seem that her talking about it and indicating she was ready is pressure. That made me scream. Why should he get to make all of the decisions? In my situation I have made it clear that I am ready and I have been careful not to pressure him, but I won't let someone take any control from me.... It's my life too!
Anyhow that is my rant for today.

Professor Bastard said...

OK, if I have to read one more of these fucking awful proposal stories, I'm going on a shooting spree. So, I'm going to flip the comments trend, or at least try to.

LRA and I talked about it this morning, and G-d's own truth, we cannot remember how we decided to get married. In fact, as best we can recall, maybe we didn't actually ever at any one point decide to get married. It's more likely true that it occurred to us gradually that it was going to happen, if that makes sense. So, one snowy January afternoon in Burlington, Vermont, we called around to find a Justice of the Peace, having decided the day before to do the dirty deed, tromped up Church Street to our favorite bistro, asked to use the back room (the place was closed for the afternoon), exchanged "rings" provided by the ever-resourceful and cheerfully goofy JP (hers was a purple daisy ring, mine was a green plastic frog clicker thingie, and we still don't have bands), and then sat down to champagne and appetizers, provided by the bistro staff, with two of our closest friends. Later that night, we went out for pizza with more of our friends and a lot of Rusty Nails out in the country. Then months later we had a big party at our favorite inn, overlooking Lake Champlaign, exchanging what we emphatically stated were NOT VOWS with one another.

And that's that.

Dr. Mon said...

I recently read in my local newspaper of a man who "suprised" his girl not just with a proposal, but a full wedding. She walked into a church with everything for the wedding already picked out and paid for. According to the article, "all she had to do was say I do." The entire article was written as Rev. and Mrs. ________--I believe it gave no indication as to the "girl's" maiden name. It was clearly written by the husband and the picture to me was a little creepy. I was so disturbed and saddened by this story.

Laura said...

My first husband proposed to me three times before I said yes. I should have taken a clue there, eh? It has to be an OBVIOUS thing, I think, not a suprise to anyone.

RussianViolets said...

I'm with you on the publicized surprise and the fact that the media always tells the story the same way. I think the idea of a romantic surprise, while nice, is not very realistic for most people, though.

bitchphd said...

It's b/c the surprise proposal is such a cliche in movies and books--after all, a decent woman isn't supposed to even *know* she has those kind of feelings until they're properly authorized by the man's formal declaration of his intentions. Of course, in books and movies, it always looks terribly romantic--and it's always reported as such in newspapers, to boot--so if you're trying to think of "how to be romantic" and aren't so good at the creativity, that's what you're going to imitate. And if you're a woman who likes romantic books and aren't so good at being creative, that's what you're going to find charming.

But I'm with everyone else in thinking that anyone who put me on the spot in public like that would *not* be someone I'd want to spend my life with. Jeez, can you imagine?

EmmaNadine said...

GeekBoy and I decided we wanted to get married a few weeks before he actually proposed. But by the time he proposed (we were long distance and I wanted an actual in-person proposal) we had already told our parents, booked the church, and other wedding stuff. He did pick out the ring by himself, after he asked me what I liked (white metal, princess cut, very minimalistic), and I have to say that I still (more than five years later) have not found a ring I like better.

I am not a fan of surprise proposals, because there is no way I am making a decision of that magnitude on the spur of the moment. And there was no way anyone was going to pronounce us "man and wife."

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Okay, mon's story frightens me most of all, and would actually be illegal where I'm from (the couple has to purchase the license together, and then there's a couple days' waiting period before you can use the license). Being surprised into getting married? Ugh. And frightening (coming from a someone who spent her year and a half engagement doing rigorous premarital counselling, as we were determined to spend more time preparing for marriage and working on communication, than preparing for the wedding).

I'll admit that Chris "surprised" me when he gave me my engagement ring, and that I love telling people the story about how clueless I was that day. However, that was a year after we had mutually decided to get married; we had the wedding date already picked out. He had also told me that he'd ordered a ring, but that it would take a few months to arrive, and the date that the ring arrived would be the surprise.

At the same time, I'd informed him that I'd walk away and ask him to "ask" later, should he propose either publicly, or on some shmoopy holiday (Christmas, New Year's Eve, or Valentine's Day). Also, for us "engagement" meant that we would officially begin the period in which we would start actively preparing for the wedding and for marriage, and when we would tell others that we were getting married.

Being publicly forced to make a decision of that magnitude, without any previous discussion? That's not a reason to celebrate.

Sue said...

I completely agree with you on the public proposal thing. It's controlling and barbaric -- just like the father of the bride "givng her away" -- makes me want to puke.

When I conduct marriage ceremonies, I refuse to do it. Instead I ask, "Who blesses this marriage?" It's not always the parents either. With second marriages, it is often the children who give the blessing.

listmaker said...

I so agree with you. I hate public spectacle, especially when one party is clueless to what's been planned.

I've been married so long I no longer remember how we decided to get married, but I do remember there was no proposal, just a lot of talking,planning and a two year engagement. No diamond was involved (tuition payments were more important) and to this day I don't have an engagement ring and rarely wear my wedding band.

Bitty said...

I do recall at least one news story that told the flip side and had the video: man planned public proposal on, I think, a basketball court. "Girl" emphatically said no and ran off the court crying.

A good friend of mine had had it with her boyfriend. They bickered all the time and we all -- including her -- knew the relationship was in its death throes. So naturally the young man sprang a diamond ring on this "girl" for Christmas, with the full beaming blessing of her mother. The poor young woman, of course, said yes. (Consider the overtones of receiving an engagement ring as a "gift." Heck; I'd much rather have books and movies.) We asked her repeatedly if she was sure she wanted to do this. She said she did, they married...and divorced two years later. She did it mostly, I think, because she couldn't turn down a "gift" at Christmas and hurt his feelings and because it was what HER MOTHER wanted.

I think of her whenever I hear about Christmas ambushes like this.

Great topic, jo(e).

cheesehead said...

I'm screaming along with you and all the others.

My Other Equal Half and I picked a weekend to get engaged, had dinner reservations, hotel reservations, the whole bit.

But early that Friday afternoon, we were sitting around in my dorm room, I was lounging in sweats and greasy hair, when he decided to give me the ring. I guess in that sense he surprised me.

Much more memorable, and original I think, than some public declaration manipulated by a waiter dropping the ring into a glass of wine. And it makes a great story!

dr. m(mmm) aka The Notorious P.H.D. said...

I was so in a different interpretive world than everyone else when I read this post. You see, I was expecting a turnaround in your story where you were going to say that you had proposed to your husband at a skating rink (or a skating pond). Did you do the proposing in your case?

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I never really thought about this before.

My husband proposed to me after we'd been living together for over a year. He knew I wanted to get married but he wanted to wait ... I don't know what for. Maybe until he didn't feel pressured by my desire to get married - ? Anyway, we two hiked up a mountain together, my first mountain, actually; and he proposed at the summit. We've climbed that mtn every year since; in recent years we've brought our kids. It is more of an anniversary celebration than our _actual_ anniversary is.

I don't know where that leaves me. Certainly it's awful and coercive for a "girl" to get a public, surprise proposal; but I love that my husband and I have a special place to celebrate our marriage -- and that place is where he proposed.

Mary Beth said...

Screaming too! But then I 'm a big hater of weddings and all the stuff that goes with them. Especially aggravated at people who think there has to be some kind of big "proposal story" that they should get to hear.

My DH had been married 2x before, I, never. Both of us were pretty skeery! We knew we were going to get married, and we knew we didn't want a wedding and all the attendant crap. (We eventually eloped to a Renaissance festival with only his son as witness.)

The proposal: He was mowing the lawn at his house on my birthday weekend. I took him some lemonade. He took a ring box out of his pocket and opened it for me. We both cried, neither of us said a word.

I have a friend whose husband wrote her a poem to propose. When she asked how we got engaged, (which is the only reason I told her), she thought that was terribly unromantic. That is why I'm not married to HER. :)

Anonymous said...

Where in the world do you find a conservative newspaper? I find them all horribly skewed to the left. I do agree the public proposal is sickening, and too much pressure on "his girl" to answer in a positive way, especially if she wants to think about it

peripateticpolarbear said...

when I do pre-marital counseling, the first question I ask is "tell me how you decided to get married." They always launch into the engagement story, and then I say, "nice story. but how did you decide to get married?" To me (sayeth the never married one, so take my opinions with a grain of salt), the engagement has as much to do with the decision to get married as the wedding day has to do with the way one lives as a married couple. One is a ceremony--casual, nonchalant, grand, whatever---and one is a decision. Couples that can't differentiate and that swear that no discussion of marriage occured prior to the romantic question popping----most likely they get sent to find a different officiant. I'm a tyrant with weddings. If I don't think a couple's serious about it, I gently send them away. And every couple I've sent away has had a very romantic or ridiculous proposal story....barf.

Oh and last year at Christmas time, an air traffic control dude got on the loudspeaker of the aircraft I was on to ask the flight attendant to marry him. Barf. Barf. Double barf.

Mieke said...

If you have a second go to my blog and look at the story in the LA Times I linked. It will make you sob. It is so wonderful.