I’m a sports fan, and I had the England v India cricket match playing in the background as I sat down to write today’s post. Normally I find cricket commentary provides the perfect background for writing, but today there was a break in the action, the cameras focused on a tense-looking young man in the crowd, and the TV presenter said “That’ll be Martin*. He’s here today with Suzanne*, and I believe he has something to say to her…” Martin went down on one knee and fished out a ring box. The giant TV screens said DECISION PENDING. Suzanne cried and kissed him. The screens switched to SHE SAID YES! The crowd went bonkers.
The whole episode made me cringe so much I turned the coverage off. Then I started wondering if I’m a grouchy curmudgeon who’s incapable of appreciating a heartfelt romantic gesture.
What do you think?
I’m not talking about a spontaneous proposal that occurs in front of other people because Circumstances. I love those, in life and literature. My problem is with a carefully orchestrated piece of showmanship set up with the intent to share a serious, potentially life-changing decision with as many strangers as possible, without the decision-maker’s knowledge or consent.
Why might you do that? The best answers I could come up with were:
- The young man, his beloved, or both, are narcissistic exhibitionists;
- The young man sees the public proposal as a grand gesture, a demonstration of the strength of his love;
- The young man is afraid the object of his affections might refuse him, and he is relying on public pressure to tip the scales in his favour;
- The young man is so thrilled and giddy at the prospect of marrying his beloved that he wants to share the moment with the whole world.
Which brings me to my next question. Generalizing here, but do you think a public proposal of marriage is something the twenty-first century bride dreams of? I ask because although it appears to be increasingly prevalent in real life, it doesn’t seem to be much of a trope in romance literature, or at least not in the books that I read.
There are public proposals a-plenty in historical romance, but they’re usually the consequence of Our Girl being discovered in a compromising situation and thus forced into a marriage of convenience. They don’t count. The only contemporary ones I can think of are:
Bobby Tom, the hero of SEP’s Heaven, Texas. His proposal, over the public address system at a grand fundraising event, is a demonstration of his breathtaking arrogance in assuming that the decision is entirely his to make, and that the heroine will be thrilled and honoured when he informs her. (Spoiler: to his utter mortification, she turns him down. Yay, Gracie!)
Johnny, the stodgy middle aged mother’s boy in the Oscar-winning movie Moonstruck, whose unromantic proposal to Loretta (Cher) in front of all the regulars in their local Brooklyn Italian restaurant establishes without a shadow of doubt that he’s the wrong man for her.
Romance novels are primarily written by women for women, and I’d have thought that if a spectacular public proposal was a popular female fantasy, you’d see more of it on the page. If the only examples I can think of are scenes of embarrassment, misunderstanding or comedy, surely that’s significant? And if a camera crew and/or multiple witnesses is not many a young girl’s dream, somebody should do today’s young men** a favour and tell them to take their beloved for a walk on the beach instead.
What do you think? Is the public proposal the ultimate authentic twenty-first century expression of True Love? Or is it more of a Bobby Tom and Johnny option?
Swoon or cringe, I’d love to know where you stand on this one 😉
* names changed to protect the exhibitionists.
**or women, I guess, though all the proposers I’ve seen so far have been male.