Twenty-eight-year-old Shailaja Dewan, a homemaker, from Abu Dhabi, has attended several wedding proposals in her life. She doesn’t use the word “attend” loosely. “I almost began to think whether this is some form of a prelude to the wedding itself. It seems like a necessity for many people,” she chuckles.
The wedding proposals she has seen are not by any means low-key, even if there’s no sky-writing involved. “One of my friends actually invited me for the proposal shenanigans of her colleague. The colleague took his partner to a restaurant in Mumbai, where my friend and I were sitting at another table. He gave the cue to his friends, who were outside the restaurant. They barged in with these red heart-shaped balloons, while everyone else just stared awkwardly. Music began playing loudly on the speakers; his friends were struggling to turn it down. The colleague took out the ring, and proposed, almost shouting because the music was so loud. It’s not done yet; they burst into flash mob, with really un-coordinated steps. I wanted to hide under the tables,” recalls Dewan, almost shuddering. Everyone began to slowly clap, because what else can you do?
What about the girl? “I saw the horror on her face when the flash mob began. I don’t think she even managed to accept the proposal properly in the middle of all the ruckus,” recalls Dewan. “She might have been expecting a proposal, but I think she thought it would happen at home, in private. Worse, the balloons kept bursting as they were dangerously close to the lamps and lanterns. It was chaos.”
Is a public marriage proposal romantic or embarrassing?
The answers are varied. As I broach the subject with friends, I am flooded with videos of public wedding proposals. One of them includes a skywriting one, with the intended words, Will You Marry Me? However, this one seemed like a spectacular gaffe with a glaring error, as the word ‘marry’ was misspelt as well.
“I think a lot depends on exactly the people themselves, and how tastefully they do it. Again, tasteful is subjective. I might find it cringe-worthy when someone declares their love to me in front of strangers, holding roses and playing music, but others might find it sweet and touching. Personally I believe such things should be private and intimate, but I suppose people want to make a production out of it, and that’s what works for them,” says 37-year-old Cecilia Ponsford, a British national and entrepreneur, who shuttles between London and the UAE.
“I think the one proposing needs to assess what their partner is really comfortable with too,” she adds. If she isn’t the flash-mob type, then maybe that’s not the best idea. For instance, Ponsford shares that if her husband had proposed to her in public with some dramatic gesture, she would have fled the scene.
On the other hand, 39-year-old Kayla Michaels, a Dubai-based American expat, found it “embarrassingly sweet”, when her husband proposed to her during a karaoke session in a restaurant. “The place was packed with people, and he went up on stage to sing for me and told me to join him. He gave me the ring then and there, and I was so embarrassed as I was also in the middle of singing, in a rather off-tune note, mind you. People began hooting and cheering loudly. But I was also very overwhelmed. It did feel very memorable and we laugh about it even five years after our marriage,” she says.
‘Some people just want to go viral’
Proposing to your loved one in front of strangers have become a trend in the past few years, ranging from celebrities to influencers and even inspiring ordinary people to crank it up a notch. Skywriting, public cams during sports matches, or even proposals in front of historic monuments like the Eiffel Tower. “People like making everything about themselves public, and social media is the outlet to do that. Nothing is private anymore; it’s a reel or a TikTok video for everyone to consume. In this haste, they forget about the moment as well as what their partner would like. They are in such a rush to make a public show of the proposal and to be seen. So they engage in all these tactics of professing love that will get traction on the internet, regardless of what their partner is comfortable with,” says Ponsford.
Rhiannon Downie-Hurst, who is the co-founder of the Dubai-based company, The Big Proposals, elaborates further, “Many times, when we organise proposals, there is sometimes a request for privacy, like in a special room in a restaurant, on terraces or in a private garden. However, there are some times where people like proposing in the open, and don’t mind others watching. These kind of people tend to be more extroverted and social. They want their proposals to go viral. Many of them who have public proposals, tend to have a large following, like influencers. They don’t mind having their special moment photographed and being circulated on the internet,” she says.
These people want to be noticed by others, and seek some form of validation, which social media now provides, adds Ponsford. The moment going viral is more important than the moment itself, sometimes. And so, they leave no stone unturned to let a private moment be publicised.
There are some times where people like proposing in the open, and don’t mind others watching. These kind of people tend to be more extroverted and social. They want their proposals to go viral. Many of them who have public proposals, tend to have a large following, like influencers
There are several compilations of viral public wedding proposals on YouTube. In one video, the man proposed to his lover in front of the Eiffel Tower, while the girl got emotional and accepted the ring, as everyone sat and watched. In another, a child leads a blindfolded woman on a beach, while the fiancé stands and waits. Across the beach are the letters asking her to marry him. In all the videos, the girl cries, is overwhelmed, accepts the proposal and a flashing ring follows, and everyone cheers. TikTok has a separate hashtag for wedding proposals and the videos have amassed more than 13 million views.
If you do insist on a public proposal, what to keep in mind
“The proposal has certainly proven controversial,” explains Sharin Shafer, the co-founder of the London-based matchmaking agency Bond, The Agency. She explains her point with the example of how the prospective groom proposing at a graduation, drew disapproval from many corners of the internet, as well as praise. Some saw him trying to overshadow the graduation, others thought it was a “momentous” occasion to pop the question.
Shafer advises, “It is a matter of personal preference, and you should consider both your partner’s personality and yours. Remember, a public proposal is a way to show your love to the world and celebrate with others, but it may also cause stress and embarrassment.”
Shafer provides some advice for all those who consider a public proposal. “Is your partner shy? Does speaking in public make you nervous? Are either of you uncomfortable with dramatic displays of affection and emotion?” If your answer is yes to all of these questions, then avoid a public proposal.
Is your partner shy? Does speaking in public make you nervous? Are either of you uncomfortable with dramatic displays of affection and emotion? If your answer is yes to all of these questions, then avoid a public proposal.
However, you choose to propose, it really depends on your partner and you, adds Shafer. “If you are extremely extroverted then a public proposal might be appropriate, but if you’re more introverted, a private moment will be much appreciated,” she says. Shafer also advises that if you need to do a public proposal, you need to know where to do it. Preferably avoid it during an event where you risk stealing someone else’s spotlight. “Remember if an event is of special significance to someone, then the event should be remembered for that rather than have the event hijacked by someone’s proposal as this may appear selfish, even if the intention was well-meaning.”
Both of you need to be on the same page
For those who are unsure at all if their partner will say yes in the first place, avoid proposing publicly, advises Shafer.
Ponsford points out the importance of how the other person needs to have some idea at least, that there is in fact, a plan for marriage. “To each their own, I suppose when it comes to public wedding proposals, but I think what’s most important is that the other person needs to have some idea that you have planned the future together. They shouldn’t be so completely surprised either,” says Ponsford.
She remembers an acquaintance who thought that he would be daring and romantic and propose in London’s Hyde Park, with all his friends watching. “He went the whole nine yards too, singing their favourite song, because he thought she would like it. She was so stunned by the proposal as she was unsure about him in the first place that she excused herself, running out of the park. He just stood there rather awkwardly with the ring, wondering whether she would come back. Now that’s embarrassing,” says Ponsford.