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

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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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