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The Do's and Don'ts of Public Proposals

Planning a big gesture to pop the question? Here are some do's and don'ts for when you want to hear "I do."

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  • Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

The announcement over the intercom came right before the plane was about to start its final descent into Dallas-Fort Worth: “Sandra in Row 13, Derek has a question he’d like to ask you.”

I was back in Row 24, and I think everybody else on the plane, including the toddlers, figured it out before me: Derek was walking up the aisle because he was about to ask Sandra to walk down a (hopefully much wider) aisle and marry him. Even when he got down on one knee, it still took me a good thirty seconds to a minute to realize I was watching a public proposal. Derek hugged his new fiancé, and there was light applause as a crew member made another announcement, “She said yes!” 

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Part of me thought, “Aww, cute,” but another part of me had so many questions. Why did he have to walk up to get to her? Were they not seated together because it cost too much, or did he do that just for dramatic effect? Did they get free airplane wine or anything as way of saying congratulations, or did the flight attendants just applaud politely and send them on their way? And most importantly: Why a plane? 

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Perhaps planes once felt romantic, just like maybe once the idea of joining the Mile High Club was appealing. But for me at least, modern air travel is an endless, exhausting attempt at trying to balance not being miserable with not being broke. It doesn’t help that I’m prone to a bit of motion sickness. I do not want to say “Yes” to my future husband while trying to fight back feelings of nausea. One friend said any man she marries should know her well enough to know that she would not be OK with a proposal in such a confined space. There’s literally no escape if the answer is no, not unless one half of the couple happened to pack a parachute in their carry-on. 

public proposals
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  • Photo Credit: Seth Reese / Unsplash

The “should know her well enough” part is key here. Presumably, Derek knew Sandra would like the idea of an in-flight proposal. Perhaps they met on a flight or at an airport or maybe our destination, Dallas, meant something special to them. As far as romance goes, Dallas ain’t Milan or Paris, although I personally find good barbecue restaurants sexy. 

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If you’re going to propose in public, do it in a way that resonates personally for you and your intended. Idris Elba proposing to his girlfriend at a movie premiere a few days before Valentine’s Day makes perfect sense, because he’s an actor. It wouldn’t make as much sense for him to blurt out “Will you marry me?” at a water park unless he’s there to do research on playing a merman. 

My least favorite public proposal is the kind that happens in the crowd at a major sporting event. Especially on a JumboTron. They’re overdone and played out, and it seems like such a loud, chaotic way to get engaged. Who wants to risk getting booed by a crowd of drunk guys in jerseys if something goes wrong? 

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It’s different if you’re an athlete playing in the game. For one, it’s much easier to command the stage in that case. After the Houston Astros won the World Series, shortstop Carlos Correa used a post-game interview to take out a ring box and pop the question to his girlfriend. She was surprised. The other people were surprised. The JumboTron had nothing to do with it. A television audience just watched the guy win the biggest game of his life and, presumably, get everything he wanted professionally. Why shouldn’t we also see him ask the woman he loves to marry him so he can have everything he wants personally? Life is rarely that neat and symmetrical, but it’s not impossible for things to line up perfectly. 

The biggest risk that I can see to proposing in public? You get so caught up in the performance that you forget about the person you’re asking to marry you. A proposal does not have to be a spectacle. In most places, you need a witness to get married, but there’s no law that says you must have people around at the exact moment you agree to get married. 

People planning public proposals must walk a fine line between “I want the world to know how much we love each other” and “Look at us! Snapchat our love!” Even the most low-key proposal is a high-pressure moment. That pressure is really dialed up in a crowd, and it shouldn’t be used for nefarious purposes. Anyone who proposes in front of others because they think it’ll be harder for their partner to say no isn’t looking for a marriage of equals so much as a hostage situation with a hashtag. 

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I do think surprises can be romantic, but I think good communication is even more so. There’s a major difference between “I think he’s going to propose in the next few months, but I don’t know any details” and “Wow, I don’t even know this guy’s middle name. Guess I’ll find out at the ceremony!” 

In one (and only one) way, we should treat proposals the way lawyers treat cross-examinations: Don’t ask a question if you don’t already know the answer. 

Featured photo: Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash; Additional photo: Seth Reese / Unsplash