On proposal expectations: The “why” is more important than the “how”

Guest post by LikeGraceKelly

We talked about proposal shaming being a thing — now let's talk about the proposal expectations that set that up.

Photo by Dawn Frary
Photo by Dawn Frary

I will never forget the night when my partner proposed. I had just come out of the bathroom after brushing my teeth. I was wearing an enormous sleep shirt that said “I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie.” He wrapped me in his arms and asked me if I would marry him. I said yes. It was magical.

However, in the following weeks, when one of us told the story, he would launch into what he meant to do that night: he meant to coordinate with the theater to propose during the most romantic song at the musical we saw that night. He meant to surprise me on my overseas work trip. He meant to pop the question after our college graduation. I was perplexed. I had in no way indicated that I was displeased with how he finally decided to propose.

Don't get me wrong, we all love a good flash mob, fancy restaurant, or scavenger hunt proposal. Even extravagant prom-posals are becoming a thing. But a proposal doesn't have to go viral for it to be special and romantic.

The age of YouTube and other social media sites has many people asking engaged couples how the proposal happened. When the media is oversaturated with hot air balloon ride proposals, skydiving proposals, and proposals made while in cosplay at comic conventions, anything else can seem like a bit of a let-down. It's not the fault of the propose-er, it's that expectations are set too high.

There's no denying that a proposal is a special moment and should be treated as such, but we all need to remember that the “why” for a proposal is more important than the “how.”

“But don't you want a cute story to tell the grandchildren?” people squawk. I do have a cute story. I'm sorry it does not follow everyone's script of how a proposal “should” go. It's unfair to compare my low-key proposal story to a grand gesture in the same way it's unfair to compare a little doodle I did to the Mona Lisa.

Within the wedding world and outside of it, we often get so caught up in how the things we create will look to everyone that we forget how special they are to us. If the little doodle I drew is special to me, that's what matters. I can look at and appreciate the Mona Lisa, but that drawing is uniquely mine.

My fiancé and I are not characters in a romantic comedy who have writers feeding us romantic lines. We're not celebrities with unlimited resources. We're us. We already have dozens of cute stories to tell the grandchildren, and now the proposal is one of them.

Our marriage will be about creating hundreds more (stories, not grandchildren, unless that's just how our children roll).

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Comments on On proposal expectations: The “why” is more important than the “how”

  1. My husband asked me to marry him when he got home from work when he was working night shift. It was supposed to be on 14 Feb, but it ended up being 13 Feb. Back when he proposed to me I was “upset” it was not this romantic proposal. But looking back on it now it was romantic for “us” and did not need a romantic dinner or in Disney World, or what have you to make it special.

    • Not to put down anyone’s proposal, because both small moments and fancy gestures are good, BUT we live near Disney World and go a lot…. last time we were at Magic Kingdom, we saw a proposal happening in Fantasyland. The park was mobbed and this poor guy was trying to propose in the middle of throngs of people. I’m sure it was super special for them, but I think I’d prefer your at home proposal 🙂

  2. Beautifully said, thank you for writing this! My boyfriend and I are talking about getting engaged and I’ve straight up told him that I don’t care how he asks because the most important thing for me is that he’s the one proposing.

  3. I’ve told boyfriend that I would like a ‘big’ proposal. Not necessarily expensive, but in front of other people. He’s involved with local theater & we have a close-knit group of friends so it wouldn’t be complicated for him to get a group together & make a ‘to-do’. And I know it may seem silly, but we’ve already talked about spending the rest of our lives together. A wedding/engagement (for us) is really about celebrating with other people. I totally respect that it isn’t that way for every couple. And I think it’s silly that there is any kind of ‘expectation’ set up, the only people who should have a say in the proposal is the couple themselves.

    • One thing I didn’t mention in my original writing of this piece was that my fiancé LOVES grand gestures, and it’s in his personality to plan one (we both have theater backgrounds, too), so some friends and family thought his low-key proposal was “out of character” for him. But, like you said, to each his or her own. Expectations are all in our heads.

  4. Now don’t get me wrong, I love seeing those extravagant proposals, but I didn’t have one of my own of that variety. But like you, there wasn’t anything I didn’t love about it–except maybe how my face looked crying lol. We were at home lounging, watching TV in our pajamas. He excused himself to use the restroom and when he came back he had a little box and got down on one knee. Later he told me that he was planning a fancy dinner when we went out of town to San Francisco to propose but he couldn’t wait any longer! I still feel those big proposals are nice, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with a proposal without all the fanfare. As long as I am concerned, it is a special moment between two people, not the whole world.

  5. I was expecting a low-key proposal, but my fiance ended up doing something sort of big and surprising (although it was very personalized to me/us and not very public, which I appreciated). My proposal was awesome and amazing and we love telling the story when people ask, but you know what? People still ask me if I cried and seem surprised that I didn’t. People still ask exactly what he said and look disappointed when I tell them he just asked me to marry him without an accompanying speech. All this is to say that no proposal is going to be perfect if you are judging perfection by the collective standards of friends, family and acquaintances. But any proposal can be perfect in the eyes of the people it actually matters to. And even if someone isn’t wild about their proposal story, the great thing about getting engaged is that you are committing to making so many more romantic stories with that person. Besides, about a month after getting engaged, everyone has heard how it happened so you don’t have to keep talking about it 🙂

  6. When I was planning the proposal for my FH, I originally gravitated towards big flashy ideas involving a local con we attend. Once I came to my senses, however, I remembered he’s not a flashy person and would not appreciate these efforts the same way I would. In fact, he would’ve been REALLY upset if there were people, even strangers watching. He HATES being the center of attention. So I scaled things back and planned stuff out for our anniversary: dinner at a family-style Italian place, seeing Muppets Most Wanted, going for ice cream, and returning to the room to find a number of pixel-heart cards quietly asking him to marry me. I still have the cute story, and it’s a little elaborate, but it was still a private, intimate moment between the two of us.

    The problem people have with this story is instead “wait, YOU proposed to HIM? How do you know he actually WANTS to marry you if he didn’t ask?” lol Luckily I only get that from a few old aunties…

  7. My Husband proposed while we were watching 128 hours naked on my couch, it was beautiful as were his words and so totally us.

  8. My fiance proposed to me after I had just spent a long weekend at a seminar, sort of in pain since the seminar was just after I had had a procedure done on my varicose veins in my leg. It was just the two of us. He drove me home from the seminar and upon arrival at my apartment, I immediately went to change my clothes but the damned support stocking was stuck and I had no more energy to pull it off. He came and helped me. I was in the schlubbiest clothing and just wanted to sit on my couch with my feet up. He got down on one knee, and had a whole speech prepared, he hid the ring box in his sock since he wasn’t sure if he’d propose to me in the hotel after the seminar or at my house. He had that ring box in his sock for a few hours. It was the sweetest thing, both of us nearly cried. I felt gross in my schlubby clothing, but a man who will still propose when you feel like a slob is a man to keep forever.

  9. My fiancé recently proposed to me by 1) placing a magnet on our fridge of the Abbott from The Princess Bride on it saying “MAWAGE is wot bwings us togeder tooday” and 2) having a figurine in our figure display case hold the actual ring (which took him like an hour to set up), and then he waited for me to find these things and get the hint. These things meant more to me than any public declaration of love because these things are essentially US and he worked them into a way of saying “hey you wanna keep doing this for the long run BUT WITH LEGAL DOCUMENTS?”.

  10. My fiance proposed while we were at Stonehenge, he managed to keep it a private moment though and that was really important to me. Even though we were there with hundreds of other tourists, no one knew he had just proposed.

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