If you’re someone who is already planning a surprise public proposal, you might be in too deep to know that it’s probably not a great idea. However, if you’re willing to hit pause, maybe go through this checklist before arranging the flash mob dance.
There are many different sorts of surprise proposals out there, and we’re not talking about surprising your partner with a ring at sunset on your favorite hike. We’re talking about huge, elaborate, and extremely public proposals that more or less force your partner to either say yes, or humiliate you beyond recovery. There’s a whole genre of proposal fails on YouTube out there if you think this is a thing that never happens.
The recent public proposal at the Emmy Awards from Glenn Weiss to Jan Svendsen prompted The Cut to interview Lisa Hoplock, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manitoba who “quite literally got her Ph.D. in marriage proposals.” Hoplock has a lot of thoughts about why public proposals keep happening, even though data indicates that 85 percent of people prefer a proposal to happen in private. Think about the following things to figure out what percentage your partner likely falls into.
Are you afraid they’ll say no?
Hoplock says that there isn’t much research on the topic, presumably outside her own writing. However, she thinks a lot of public proposals are motivated by a deep insecurity that the person getting asked will say no, and being caught out in public will be the extra push they need. You know, to commit themselves to you for the rest of their lives:
“It’s possible the proposers are trying to put someone on the spot because the audience knows the script, and they want to encourage the person to say yes,” she says. “If there’s hesitation [on the part of the person being asked], the audience might get involved, and start chanting ‘Say yes! Say yes!’”
This isn’t a new idea, necessarily. In 2012, the BBC interviewed psychologist Glenn Wilson, who basically said the same thing:
“It’s possible that some men think that this will pile pressure upon her and increase the likelihood of getting a positive response, that she must think that he really loves her if he goes to this extent of trouble and trickery.”
Once the word “trickery” comes into the marriage plans, it’s time for some self-reflection.
Do you know what your partner really wants?
Many stories from women in particular about public proposals include them saying they would have preferred a private one, including Svenson, to some extent. If you’re seriously considering marriage, this is hopefully something you’ve talked about with the person you’re proposing to. What has your partner said about it in the past? Haplock says that of the almost 700 stories she researched, many included some poor woman saying something like, “He should have known better.”
But there are people who genuinely want these public proposals and have perhaps said as much to you; in that case, you’re in the clear. Though double check with a couple friends and family members of your beloved to be extra, extra sure. Or just be up front and discuss the issue with your partner. If the two of you have discussed your feelings about marriage, and how your partner might like to be officially proposed to, the details of the proposal can still be a surprise, and you won’t have to worry that you’re inadvertently making them uncomfortable.
Are you doing this for yourself— or for your partner?
If you know what your partner would want, and it’s not a public proposal, it may be time to admit you’re really doing this for yourself; that’s Haplock’s guess:
“You can speculate about who are these people are,” she says. “People who like attention on themselves, maybe people who are narcissistic … but there’s no evidence yet!”
It’s a hard thing to know for sure, but let’s remember in 2016 when a huge fuss was made after Olympic silver medalist He Zi was proposed to by fellow athlete Qin Kai during her award ceremony. She might have been thrilled to have a special moment made even more special… or he might have been a gross attention hog stealing her spotlight. At least be honest that you want the high of the public proposal attention—and be willing to accept the possible consequences.