Against public marriage proposals

I’m a bit mixed on the notion of marriage. There’s a lot tangled up in that word: The legalities, how every legal system in the world (that I’m aware of) privileges a spouse over an acquaintance in multiple sectors of society, how estates can be combined or divided, how taxation can be collected as an entity rather than individuals. But there’s also the ceremony, how some folks spend an absurd amount on their wedding, something which I find difficult to stomach knowing how many resources are out there just barely scraping by who fill vital community functions.

Today, I’ll just signal boost one particular position–public marriage proposals are a shitty idea.

Recently, I had the abject misfortune to find myself part of a captive audience to a public proposal. I veered between burning mortification, obsessive checking that the woman was in fact definitely happy about this, and fury because I really needed a wee and this public proposal was going on right in front of my route to the toilet.

Public proposals have been discussed a lot in feminist circles, often viewed as coerciverooted in insecurity, and not giving the person being proposed to a decent chance to say no. In short, they’re not romantic, they’re manipulative. This additional social pressure, with all eyes on you, makes it incredibly difficult to refuse, especially if the relationship you’re in already has overtones of coercive control. If you’re on TV, on a crowded street, on a packed aeroplane, you know that everyone is expecting you to say “yes” so everyone can feel good–and for women in particular this is the sort of situation where we’re socialised to avoid letting everyone down.

And of course, it’s almost always women being proposed to by men. You may have the odd same-sex couple or woman proposing to a man, and these are so remarkable they appear all over the bloody news (thus furthering the pressure).

Public proposals are, in short, dire. I don’t believe in carceral measures for massive social problems, but if I did, I’d make public proposals punishable by death.

(I gather from the rest of the blag that Stavvers is mostly joking.)

However, what I want to talk about is wider: the notion of the proposal itself. This, too, is unnecessary and actually rather weird when we drill down into it. Many couples, when deciding to get married, deploy the following format: one partner “pops the question” to the other, with a little bit of pomp and ceremony, perhaps kneeling and a bit of jewellery. The words uttered are usually a variation on the theme of “will you marry me?”, and the proposee will then say either yes or no.

Getting married is a major life decision, and yet it is the only major life decision I can think of which involves a bizarre ritual in making the decision. We do not buy a ring while figuring out whether to go to university or not. We do not book a fancy restaurant to have a think about buying a house. We do not get down on one knee when deciding if we want to have children. We do not put a cute little question in a fortune cookie when working through the various treatment options for an illness.

Read more about Stavver’s opinion here.




  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    When I was talking to my partner about marrying, we agreed far in advance that if we ever did want to get married that it would require each person being asked in turn – that we wouldn’t be engaged when one person said yes, but only when the person who already said yes ALSO asked the other and the other said yes.

    This was intentional to allow some separation such that even if we did feel pressure (and we figured that would be unavoidable if one of us ever did want to get married), then there would be some time and space and the second asking could simply never come if the first person said yes in the moment but later never felt comfortable actually moving the process forward.

    I really don’t know how to do it without some pressure and/or coercion, but that method is, I think, better than a single ask.

  2. says

    People love ceremonies. I couldn’t be bothered to go to my own college graduations, but now we have grade school and middle school graduations.
    Also there are various ring exchanges besides engagement. All pretty bothersome if you think about it.

  3. says

    And don’t forget that some people still ask permission of the bride’s father to court his daughter. As if an adult woman is a piece of property.

  4. Callinectes says

    The only public proposal I have ever witnessed was a woman proposing to a man.

    He said no.

  5. says

    Yep, that question should be discussed in private.
    Though sometimes it’s hard to tell. I know several couples who talked about marriage and getting married and when would be a good time for a long time and then added some sort of public ritual.
    As an outsider it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the “for show” proposal and the “cold calling” proposal.
    Us, we talked about it and went with “well, let’s do it”.

  6. drascus says

    When I proposed to my wife, I did it publicly, because I knew that is what she would want. She had a history of being shunted to the side and made to feel like less of a person than others by her family. There was a perception that she would probably never get married, or if she did, it would be out of pity or because she got pregnant or something. So for her, the fact that I proposed to her in a restaurant celebrating a year of dating was a huge emotional / self-esteem win for her. She got the thing that her family told her she wasn’t going to be allowed to have because she was too fat / not christian enough / etc.

    But I didn’t just surprise her with it. We had been talking about marriage for months, and I was pretty damn sure she would say yes. She even strongly suspected that I was going to propose to her before I did it, because we had come to that decision naturally as a couple.

    The ritual was still nice, and made both of us feel good. So I don’t think it’s always a bad thing, though like any human activity, it can be used badly.