On “Will You Marry Me”

For the fourth time in my life last night, I was present for an extremely public, ornately orchestrated marriage proposal. It was sickeningly sweet, like a Peep covered in powdered sugar and rolled in Pop Rocks. Something about it was so…forced.

Although it could never have compared to the time I sat at an Orioles game directly next to a woman who was proposed to on a Jumbotron. I was overwhelmed with the most bizarre sense of voyeurism; why was I privvy to this moment, to the intimacy of these people I don’t know? She seemed embarrassed, flattered, excited, nervous–all the things I would imagine you would feel if the most personal decision of your life was made in front of thousands of strangers. (I did get on the big screen, though, so no complaints here).

Anyway, something about public proposals (even on a lesser scale, like in the middle of a crowded restaurant) have always freaked me out. Aside from the obvious feeling of “you can’t reject me now, all these people would forever think you a heinous bitch” pressure, there is a certain degree of insincerity to the idea that a moment that is supposed to be exclusively between the two of you, that a moment in which you join hands and face your future together would be fodder for public cooing. You have the rest of your lives to spread your happiness around, why not save this one little moment for your own?

The proposal in film that’s always stuck out to me as the most romantic was in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where Ian proposes to Toula while they are in bed, naked, enjoying each others company. He asks her without even presenting a ring, telling her upon her tearful “yes!” that it works out well, as she can now wear it (he pulls it out from its little hiding place, the tears flow). The idea that the question alone, not even accompanied by the obligatory rock, would be enough to send her into ecstatic weeping is a beautiful one. The fact that he presents it to her afterward, like the cherry on the sundae that it is (and not the star of the show) speaks volumes. I know it’s just a silly romantic comedy, but I found it truly touching.

Marriage has been made, in our culture, such an absurd spectacle with hundreds of opportunities at every turn to make it entertaining, publicly funded, and about everyone but the two people coming together. It’s nice to think that there can be a moment where the whole world can calm down and one person can ask another, in all calmness and sincerity, to be with them for life.

I have friends now entering the age bracket of marriage (a bracket I’m staring down myself) who are already subtly putting the pressure on their live-in boyfriends to make things official. One was telling me about a vacation they were taking together, and that she had a nagging feeling that “this was it.” I couldn’t think of a scenario that would make me more uncomfortable. The idea that you are expecting something so dramatic, so fundamentally important from someone who is blissfully unaware of your mounting impatience would be hard to top in terms of emotional risk. Is he to understand that if they have a beautiful, romantic vacation that doesn’t end with an expensive engagement, that she will be disappointed and resentful, regardless of how magical the trip was otherwise? Combined with the fact that she has always wanted a big, beautiful ring and a dramatic proposal–I think her boyfriend probably falls asleep at night counting the ways he could fail her.

It would be ridiculous for me to say that I would reject a public, dramatic proposal on principle–but I certainly would question how well he knows me, or what his motivation is in including all of these witnesses we’ll never see again. Mine is the only consideration that matters in this situation, why all of the prying eyes? Especially if it were on the tails of the subtle, barely vocalized but unmistakable ultimatums that I see being placed on men like cinder blocks before a nice swim, I would have serious fears that the proposal came from anything resembling honest desire.

With all of the pomp and circumstance already surrounding marriage (often ridiculous, given the ensuing divorce rate), it’s hard to take seriously someone’s demands for anything BUT simple commitment and openness when it comes to asking to start a life together. What does the approval of strangers or the incredibly expensive piece of jewelry add to your compatibility? What could having an audience do to make his words more profound? What could be a more flattering offer than simply the rest of your life with someone you love? TC mark

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.

Trace the scars life has left you. It will remind you that at one point, you fought for something. You believed.

“You are the only person who gets to decide if you are happy or not—do not put your happiness into the hands of other people. Do not make it contingent on their acceptance of you or their feelings for you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if someone dislikes you or if someone doesn’t want to be with you. All that matters is that you are happy with the person you are becoming. All that matters is that you like yourself, that you are proud of what you are putting out into the world. You are in charge of your joy, of your worth. You get to be your own validation. Please don’t ever forget that.” — Bianca Sparacino

Excerpted from The Strength In Our Scars by Bianca Sparacino.

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  • Teukros

    Chelsea, your posts almost always stand out as a bright light of empathy and compassion. The writhing sea of self-obsessed, terminally introspective women that constitutes the majority of Thought Catalog could stand to learn from you.

    • To

      Well, except the whole slutwalk thing…

  • Svgtambas

    ok. you're incapable of understand people who are different from yourself. we get it.

    • Lils

      doesn't this comment imply the exact same thing?

      • Svgtambas

        no. the idea of being proposed to in public is not appealing to me at all, for many of the same reasons discussed in the above article. but i also understand that not everyone is like me, and that the meaning and significance of the event can become amplified, even transcendent, for people who enjoy sharing those moments with others. i know many such people and there is nothing 'forced' or insincere about their preferences because the truth and tenderness in these moments, whether public or private, is real.

        now, don't go drowning in a sea of tautology on me, because there would obviously be very little worth writing about without these differences. but forgive me for expecting something beyond the immature wearing of the inability or unwillingness to relate to different views than one's own as a badge of honor. plus, we all know people like this, who are for various reasons are not happy when witnessing happiness and let's be real: they're miserable people, in every sense of the word.

      • yratool

        You do realise this is 'thought' catalogue right? It's about an idea/a consideration of something with someone's viewpoint. The point of the comment forum is to present other ones. I don't see why you couldn't reply in a more constructive way, explaining why you disagree.

      • Svgtambas

        oh christ. there is no 'point' to a comment forum beyond leaving comments in the same way there's no external, metaphysical truth about the way relationships 'ought' to be handled, as this inane piece of writing might imply.

        i don't think comment forums are writers workshops and perhaps the biggest criticism of the comment i left would be that making sense of it requires a greater degree of self-awareness than the author of this piece would seem to possess. chelsea's writing is insipid and emotionally underdeveloped. as a reader, i suffer a small degree of second-hand embarrassment for her from the misdirected self-loathing apparent in almost all of it. why do i go to such lengths to make my disdain for it apparent when there is so much bad writing? because it's not just 'bad,' it's intensely, unfairly and incorrectly judgmental. in the wise words of cady heron, 'calling somebody else fat won't make you any skinnier and calling someone stupid doesn't make you any smarter.'

  • Bethany

    agreed. lovely piece.

  • Rachel Butters Scotch

    It's as if declaring your love in front of more people makes it more valid.

    Also, I would never want to be proposed to in front of my parents or other family members. Seems unnecessary.

  • http://profiles.google.com/cnevertz Caroline Evertz

    Ever since I saw 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' I have thought the same exact thing! Glad to see someone else agrees.

  • Laura

    here's the deal: I really like your blog and stuff, and liked your first couple of articles, but I'm getting annoyed at this woman-hating-party that you have going on all the time. okay, so your friend was kind of stupid for expecting her bf to propose during this vacation, but what about how men play into this too? i once watched a reality show where a “proposal designer” helped dudes plan out their proposals — why not include those stupid guys in your article? do you always have to be so negative towards women?

    • http://twitter.com/elsonmeehan Elson Meehan

      Something else that's woman-hating: calling a woman “kind of stupid,” for hoping that her boyfriend would propose, based on a really brief description of that situation on a blog. I mean, that's at least as woman-hating as this article, and maybe a little more so. I mean, seriously, you can't go and accuse someone of hating on women and then turn around and hate on someone you don't even know.

      But, this article – it is a bag of worms, ain't it? It's clearly very personal, and who wants to unpack that? And with whom does the blame for all of this wedding stuff rest? In the article. I can't tell. I mean, yes, it's sad that so many women buy into an industry that not only panders to their (our) self-loathing, but infantalizes them (us), turning them again into squealing and monstrous children. Wedding culture lets men escape with some modicum of dignity at least, whereas the dominant narrative turns women into enormous reptilian monsters whose wrath is held in abeyance only by spiral boning and yards of powerful fabrics. Men are not marketed to (or spoken of) in the same way, so it doesn't *always* *necessarily* make a huge amount of sense to bring them into this conversation (i.e. you can talk about just women, if you want to), unless you want to talk about how men are turned into shadow characters, hovering always on the periphery, stripped of their voices by the machinations of the industry! No, you could talk about any number of things. I jest. Really, all the issues surrounding wedding culture are just extensions of other issues in our culture. Which is why it's sad in a way, that the discussion here stops at the proposal instead of spreading out to take on the assumptions that feed expectation of proposal, where those ideas come from, and where they are going. But, I guess you have to stop somewhere.

      In this case, it wouldn't be wrong to suggest that women are complicit in the perpetuation of all that wedding shit. And perhaps, in her own way, Chelsea Fagan is trying to get at that harmful dynamic with questions like, “What does the approval of strangers or the incredibly expensive piece of jewelry add to your compatibility?” Hell, yeah, grrl! Why do we, as women, want that stuff? Why is my husband so incredibly attached to our wedding rings, to the point where he has threatened not to forgive me, should I lose it? WHAT IS THIS MAD WORLD.

      I have in the past tended to think that Chelsea Fagan would benefit from a women's studies course. In this case, however, I think she's way right to suggest the trappings that accompany a proposal or a wedding are not the thing itself, but are often misinterpreted as such by misguided people. You go, girl.

  • Guest

    Doubt any man would ever propose to you, whether in public or private, so don't worry about it.

    • Aelya

      This statement has nothing to do with the content of the article. If you don't like the article, then clearly state your reasons using examples from the text. Petty attacks like this are silly.

      • Casey Jones

        Don't feed the trolls Aelya

    • http://thedailydoodles.tumblr.com/ David Michael Chandler

      Hahaha… anons and guests always got the biggest balls to swing around.

  • Leggorama

    I suppose everyone has their own way of expressing their love. Personally i agree with what you wrote. I would want it to be a secret moment i never forget between my lover and me. But some people want to shout on the rooftops at how much they love this one person. They want everyone to know they are going to (or hope to) spend the rest of their lives together. Which is ok too.

  • Beaxfg

    “Something about it was so…forced.”

    as forced as your tortured prose? :O

    • Wilf


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    People make a scene for rituals. It's how society performs itself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    Chelsea, we can pretend to get married so you can make a big scene and throw rice at strangers.

  • Anna

    Took the words right out of my mouth. Truly great.

  • inflammatorywrit

    For the first time since I've known of your existence, I agree with you.

    • beans

      i was thinking the exact same thing!

  • http://zuungols.myminicity.com/tra cinnarose

    This reminded me of the proposal scene last season on Mad Men. It was wrong, stupid, and shortsighted, but I loved it. Unrealistic expectations, brought to you by Hollywood.

    • chelseafagan

      I know…that was such a frustrating scene for me. Everything about that proposal was wrong, except the actual proposal. My heart melted, despite how absurd and rushed the whole thing was. Ohhh Mad Men.

  • Sophia

    I completely, wholeheartedly agree with this article.
    I get really uncomfortable for the woman each time I see this happen. She can't say “no” without looking horrible. It's really rather unfair to her.

  • Emily


  • Brooke Lin

    I loved this and have always been appalled at this culture of ring and proposal obsession. My mom never had an engagement ring. And when my sister finally found the love of her life in her 40s and announced her engagement, women told her it doesn't count if there's no ring. I know too many women got big, loud public proposals and blinged out rings who have crappy marriages. There are too few genuinely loving couples who don't identify with these rituals and possessions. Thanks for this, Chelsea.

  • Scarlett

    I think the social requirement of marriage as an offer-acceptance arrangement is entirely flawed. In popular culture there is no mutual decision to get married – in fact, someone (inevitably a woman) saying she has to think about it (as the couple has not discussed something as monumental as oh, wanting to stay together forever before) is as bad as a rejection.

    I know people like tradition and ceremony, but after deciding with someone that I want him forever? I think it's ridiculous to wait for it to be “official” because he presents me with some ring and asks in a formal manner.

  • Don't

    Seriously, WHAT is this doing on TC?

  • Angela

    I'm in the same bracket and I was the 3rd of my 4 friends to get engaged in the last year (yes we are dropping like flies). But the one thing that stands out is every proposal story fit the couple. I think we all got the proposal we dreamed of. For the record, mine was in a public park where we were walking after dinner with our dogs, but there was no one around and for that I am glad. Public place/private proposal.
    As for the ring, I got the rock I always wanted. Does that mean our love isn't real? Absolutely not! We both waited our whole lives (28 and 30 yo) to find each other and we both wanted the ring to be something we would both be proud of forever. We are both financially secure and wanted the ring to be a further expression of our unique relationship. It's not all about the ring but more about what the ring represents.

  • Zoe

    I completely agree! I've always made it very clear that a public proposal would be mortifying!
    That scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding in ingrained in my mind as beautiful and real and far more moving than a big public show-off-fest.

    Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with wanting to share your happiness with other people, because it is a big deal for you – but i'd personally prefer to do that with some sort of celebration bash after a private proposal.

    Another point that I haven't seen anyone mention is why on earth we have to be as backwards as to expect only men to do the propositioning! It's so sickeningly sexist and demeaning and seems to reduce the honesty of the proposal. Like he'd only be doing it from pressure to perform as he believes his partner wants him to.

    If you feel ready to devote your life to one person make the bloody proposal for yourself!!

  • KL

    Please stop misspelling privy as privvy. You also misspelled it in ‘Brain Candy’.

    But otherwise, great job!

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