I do or I don't?
December 20, 2010 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Help me solve a disagreement about an unlikely hypothetical situation: the public marriage proposal.

My friends and I were discussing public marriage proposals–you know, the kind where the guy pops the big question in front of several thousand people, like on the big screen at a sports game or concert. Though none of us have any reason to think this would happen to us, we got into a fun debate about what you should do if your answer is anything other than an enthusiastic yes.

Would it be better to say yes publicly and then explain that it is really a no privately, or would it be better to be upfront and just say no, or "I'll think about it"?

Either way will cause huge embarrassment, but both options seem equally unkind. Of course the asker has put themselves in that situation and taken that risk knowingly, but we can't come to a consensus on the proper thing to do. Do any of you know anyone this has happened to? What would you do?
posted by halseyaa to Human Relations (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would say Yes in front of all those people..

and then later on I would tell him that I felt pressured into saying yes and I would really like to talk about it.
posted by royalsong at 7:37 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think I would honestly be so embarrassed I would walk out. Which is also awkward.

But hopefully nobody who was ever thinking of marrying me would think a public proposal would be a good idea ... in fact, a public proposal would be such an AWFUL idea that I think it would show the asker knew me so little that a marriage between us would be a crap idea generally.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:41 AM on December 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

These kinds of proposals seem best when the couple has already discussed marriage and both are on board with it.

But I think if it was sprung on someone, a yes in public would be the right thing followed by a "what the hell were you thinking, we need to talk" moment privately. But if it were sprung on someone, they may not be thinking rationally.
posted by inturnaround at 7:41 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can't ever imagine being that guy, but it seems to me that the better option if I was would be the quiet retraction afterwards. I didn't ask until I was profoundly confident I knew the answer. My wife likes to claim I did it in a drive-through line when she wants to agitate me, although I insist that was an exploratory conversation and not a proposal, so I'm probably the wrong person to answer this question.
posted by Lame_username at 7:42 AM on December 20, 2010

Here's my unsolicited judgment of value: Public marriage proposals are distasteful. At best, it's unhinged narcissism. At worst, it's a passive aggressive way getting what you want by potentially shaming someone you say you love. You ask what's the proper thing to do. The proper thing to do is not to propose in public in front of thousands of strangers.

Having said that, if you're cornered in public like that by your SO, I think answering yes in public and no in private would be a very acceptable solution to cushion the public embarrassment.
posted by falameufilho at 7:42 AM on December 20, 2010 [13 favorites]

I think the public proposal is best saved for those who KNOW its a sure thing, but I agree with the previous statements that a Yes in public followed by a private discussion is probably the way to go.
One of my friends very recently proposed in a pretty elaborate and very public way. He had no doubt what the answer would be.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:45 AM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

blaney, I would rather call that semi-public (or semi-private) since he did it in front of family and friends, not random strangers and the television! Personally, that strikes me as an entirely different ball of wax ... still with potential for embarrassment, but also with a lot more room for honest expression of feelings. Also more about sharing the moment with other people who love you and less about narcissism and public pressure.

But others may feel different.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:49 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

My friend was so embarrassed by her public proposal she couldn't say anything. Her beau asked her in a country music bar (not thousands of people, but hundreds) during a special event -- there was a guest singer there that night or somesuch... He took her silence as a yes. She turned him down later.

I, personally, would walk away from such a display. But I'm not concerned with saving face, and anyone who knows me knows better than to put me on the spot like that.
posted by patheral at 7:50 AM on December 20, 2010

My husband knew I'd say no if he proposed to me in front of people. I'd warned him that a public proposal would show how little he really knew about me - I think public proposals are tacky and really have potential for disaster.

Having said that, I'd probably say "yes" but pull my beau aside later and ask him WTF is wrong with him.
posted by ACN09 at 8:05 AM on December 20, 2010

I would probably say "I don't know" and leave and then dump the person, because anyone who knew *me* would know that I would hate it, but it's probably kinder to just say yes, then break up privately. (I tend to feel that proposals in restaurants are too public, much less ones on television or whatever.) The movie theatre proposal wasn't really public -- anyone who went there went knowing they were seeing a muppet proposal, they didn't go to see a movie and get this weird proposal instead of a trailer.
posted by jeather at 8:06 AM on December 20, 2010

You don't propose in public without (a) knowing what the answer will be and (b) knowing that your partner would respond positively to a public display.

So if the proposer doesn't know (a) then maybe the best thing is to say 'yes' but we need to talk. If the proposer didn't know (b), then s/he hasn't really taken the time to know the proposee and the answer should be 'no' (and maybe we need to talk) and if it's (a) and (b), that feels like DTMFA.
posted by plinth at 8:10 AM on December 20, 2010

Pulling out a "grand romantic gesture" like this in front of multitudes of strangers -- whether it's the Jumbo-Tron, a billboard, a full-page newspaper ad, standing on a table in a crowded restaurant, whatever -- always strikes me as terribly manipulative. More than anything else, it always looks to me like a tool to get the audience to root for you so the other party will feel like they "have" to play along.

As others have suggested, if both parties are certain and have pretty much already agreed that marriage is in their future and it's a done deal but for the "official" proposal, whatever makes you both happy is fine, and if you both get a kick out of a stunt like this, more power to you. But to answer the OP's question, if the answer is anything but a well-informed and enthusiastic "yes," I would hope that the proposee would gently but firmly say "no," regardless of how many people are watching. I don't think someone who has a stunt like this pulled on them has any obligation to let the stunt-puller save face, and they'd have every right to resent being put in that position.

But I'm cranky and cynical. I just think it's a lot more romantic to respect each other's boundaries and keep private discussions private than it is to jump up and down screaming "HEY EVERYBODY LOOK AT HOW ROMANTIC I AM! I AM REALLY PUTTING MYSELF ON THE LINE HERE! SHE HAS TO SAY YES NOW, RIGHT?"
posted by Gator at 8:13 AM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

It would be most polite for the er.. proposal receiver to do everything s/he can to create the least amount of embarrassment without giving a yes. If the crowd of people is unlikely to hear the response, "I'll have to think about it" followed by some sort of loving gesture would work. It really helps if you can make yourself cry. If there's a microphone, things get a bit more awkward. The best course of action is to act (happily) speechless and lead the proposer to somewhere more private.

It's not right to say "yes" just to avoid an awkward situation.

My reaction? I'd take the ring box (if it was presented to me) and throw it at the guy. There would be screaming and arm flailing involved. Someone hoping to be my spouse would know that I hate crowds and being the center of attention.

When my husband proposed, we were in a public park but pretty much alone. I thought he was tying his shoe. Then I thought he was kidding. Cut me some slack; it came out of nowhere!
posted by giraffe at 8:28 AM on December 20, 2010

Any woman that proposed to me like that would be someone I would not want to marry! Our personalities would be much too disparate.
posted by Carol Anne at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2010

Many years ago, before it was a "thing" Mr. Pentagoet proposed to me in a very nice, semi-private room of a fine restaurant. I knew it was coming and was still embarrased to the point where my reply was a mumbled "I guess so" as I turned beet red.
He thought it was a grand romantic gesture and it was. Marry the person if you want to and don't if you don't. Do I think that sometimes a public venue is chosen for not-entirely-altruistic reasons? Hell, yeah. If you want to marry the person, does it make a difference in the long run? Hell, no.
posted by pentagoet at 9:42 AM on December 20, 2010

I thought about this before, because it's the sort of event TV and movies taught me every woman should be prepared for.

Here's what I think would probably be the best: smile and try to make your shocked expression look pleasantly shocked, and pull the suitor in for a tight hug. While hugging them, with your face very close to their ear, say, "I'm not going to embarrass you, but this is something we have to talk about." The audience will just thinking you're whispering happy, sweet nothings.

Public face is saved, but you don't have to lie or anything.
posted by meese at 10:06 AM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm with Gator and meese. If there is a chance to say "I'm not ready to say yes" very discreetly, as in meese's hypothetical, then it's okay to do so.

Otherwise, I think that the proposee has an obligation to say "no" or "I don't know" in public—if for no other reason than it will dissuade every other self-involved twit in the audience of thousands from thinking how cool it would be to do the Jumbotron proposal when it's his time.

But I definitely oppose a "'yes' in public just to save the proposer from shame, and then 'no' later in the car." If you don't know with 99% certainty that the answer is "yes" when you take that gamble, then you certainly don't deserve a courtesy "yes" just to save face.
posted by pineapple at 10:24 AM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would never lie to protect someone from a humiliation that they brought upon themselves through arrogance.

And, to be honest, if someone proposed to me on a Jumbotron, the answer would always be "no" even if it would have been "yes" up until that point. Because clearly, that person wouldn't have understood me at all.

(I proposed to my husband in private.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:50 AM on December 20, 2010

When I was young, I thought that all those marriage proposals were total secrets before they happened, like, the girl thought she was just dating the guy and then all of a sudden she found out he wanted to marry her! Whoa!

And then as I got older, I started to figure that most relationships will have already discussed the marriage thing before the proposal. Not that the proposal was planned together, but they had already talked about how they could be the kind of couple that gets married, and that would be a good thing, and maybe in the future blah blah blah.

So when somebody pops the question on a jumbotron, to a certain extent it's already been a topic of discussion with a positive response. Lacking that prior discussion, and prior positive response, I don't see why someone would do such a thing unless they were very very certain or mentally off in another world.
posted by redsparkler at 10:51 AM on December 20, 2010

@redsparkler: "When I was young, I thought that all those marriage proposals were total secrets before they happened, like, the girl thought she was just dating the guy and then all of a sudden she found out he wanted to marry her! Whoa! "

I remember my vivid disappointment when I found out that MY MOM HELPED PICK OUT HER OWN RING because she knew my dad was going to propose and he didn't just psychically know what ring she wanted and present a surprise proposal. I was like, "No! That's not how it works!"

Once I was old enough for it to be an option, I was like, "OH THANK GOD that's how it works ..."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:05 AM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Tough to say what the proper response is, but YouTube has quite a few examples for your viewing pleasure.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:08 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I personally would find a public proposal hilarious, but I like surprises and being caught offgard keeps my life interesting sometimes. I would say yes and mean it assuming the answer in private would have been yes as well. If someone who I did not intend to marry did this, i would probably just make confused hand motions in silence, signifying "no", but I doubt I'd even get that far with someone incompatible with me.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:10 AM on December 20, 2010

I'd mace the bugger and run.

People who can't tell the difference between date movies and real life may have other nasty habits.
posted by foobario at 12:16 PM on December 20, 2010

My high school theatre teacher (the type prone to the Grand Romantic Gesture, if ever there was one) sprang a proposal on his girlfriend at the end-of-year award show my senior year (1993) in front of a few hundred people. Now, this wasn't quite as tacky as it sounds - he and said girlfriend had been introduced a couple years before when she was working for the father of one of my classmates, and said girlfriend had also acted as a chaperone for some of our festival trips, so she was well-known to all of us (although his previous girlfriend was also well-known to us, and was actually better liked!). Also, he was quite young when he'd been hired a few years before, and it was sort of like we'd all grown up together, given how much time we all spent together in rehearsals and on tech days.

Anyhow, she said yes through joyful tears. A bunch of us students talked about the proposal that evening after the show, and the general agreement that it was tacky, and that many of my classmates would not have faulted her for saying no in the moment. They thought it was thoughtless to put someone on the spot like that. I thought it was equal parts sweet and tacky, really. I thought it would be awful to say no in the moment, but that it was slightly more awful to lie in the moment and turn the person down later. I also thought that if you were the type of person who would be prone to such a gesture, that you would probably be proposing to somebody who would find it sweet and romantic in a way.

After that, people joked about starting a betting pool about when they'd get divorced, which as a child of divorced parents I thought was awful. But now they're in the process of getting divorced. Of those who were making bets that evening, nobody gave them outside of five years, though, so they proved those people wrong, at least.
posted by jocelmeow at 2:27 PM on December 20, 2010

I think a proposal is kind of like a PDA... I'd hate for such a private moment between two people (at least, if one of those people is me) to be made public. I also would be insulted if my hypothetical boyfriend went to my parents to "ask their permission" first - anyone who knows me would know that I don't believe in "giving the bride away" and also, it totally ruins the joyous surprise of the bride-to-be getting to tell her parents the incredible news.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:20 PM on December 20, 2010

I have a soft spot for these, although only if they are quirky and really shot the character of the people involved. My friend's Jess and Colin were responsible for these two posts on cute overload three years ago. Jess sent around an email with a link to Colin's proposal, happy and swept away, etc.

However, I think that's just about as public as they should get. Only the people who knew Jess and Colin would know who the respondent should be, so if Jess said no, there'd be no public humiliation.

So to qualify my answer even more: yes, but only when there's a degree of anonymity and a lack of pressure involved.
posted by Hactar at 11:14 PM on December 20, 2010

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