FOR A LONG time, marriage proposals were intimate moments between two partners. Afterwards, the recipient of the proposal would tell their friends how it went down. The friends might clutch their chest and coo at ‘Trevor’s’ sweet gesture, perhaps enquire as to how he came up with the idea to scatter rose petals around his apartment. ‘Trev’ would beam with pride.
Actually, it was probably never as cloyingly saccharine as that, but the point is, the act itself was a private moment. Increasingly, that’s not the case. Indeed, it is not that uncommon these days, to venture outdoors on a glorious Saturday afternoon and discover a brilliant blue sky being defaced by a plane trailing jet clouds, in a public marriage proposal.
Of course, I find myself gazing at this sky graffiti longer than I should, just to confirm it is a proposal. When I see the plane make a sharp turn to begin either the steep ascent of the middle of the letter W or the plunging descent of the letter M, I usually cease gawking and begin wondering who the recipient of this proposal might be and how he or she is feeling about it. Are they saying yes? Are they impressed? Where are they watching this from? How does the recipient know for sure it’s for them—there are a lot of Jenny’s around, you know. How much does this cost?
Of course skywriting, or tagging, if we’re being unkind, while certainly prominent, isn’t actually that public in the truest sense of the word, as there is not a dedicated audience, as there would be at a sporting event or some other enclosed space. There, you can have up to 20 or 30,000 people waiting, with bated breath, for the recipient of the proposal to answer yeh nor nay.
These very performative acts are pure theatre and make for compulsive viewing. You can find yourself intensely studying the recipient’s reaction to gauge if they’re going to say yes because they’re genuinely overjoyed to be spending the rest of their life with such a show-off, or if they’re acquiescing through gritted teeth, so as not to embarrass their partner in such a public forum.
Usually, they looked shocked, perhaps shake their head at their loveable rogue’s chutzpah and audacity, bury their head a little, smile, before embracing their partner and kissing for the audience who cheer wildly. The proposer looks relieved, their high stakes gambit has come off and now they have a stadium full of people cheering for them.
Which begs the question, was that their motive from the beginning? Did they execute this proposal in such a public way because they thought their partner would genuinely enjoy it or because they wanted the public bouquets of 20,000 strangers? Perhaps. For some people attention is oxygen; if they don’t have it they will wither like a Gardenia in a share house. Or conversely, were they actually uncertain of their partner’s feelings and this was a true gambit; they thought a public proposal would elevate them in their partner’s eyes enough for them to say yes. Or even, and this is very conniving, did they know that by doing it in public, it would be very difficult for their partner to turn them down?
If that’s the case they shouldn’t be too presumptive for there are rare instances of recipients knocking their partner back in public forums. This happened to a man at a National Hockey League match in New York, who waited until the moment the “kiss cam” fell upon him before kneeling down in front of his girlfriend and removing his shirt to reveal the message “PLZ SAY YES YES YES”. She proceeds to kneel down, whispers something to him and then flees the stadium, leaving him humiliated. He sits down back down deflated, doesn’t bother putting his shirt back on and resumes drinking a beer, as if to say, “Well, shit, these tickets weren’t cheap”. While I feel for the guy, as a spectator, we do need a few of these knockbacks to maintain the stakes and the tension. If everyone said yes, it would become boring.
I must admit, in the lead up to proposing to my now wife (yes, she said yes), I did feel a great deal of pressure to pull off a memorable proposal. And these types of public proposals only added to that pressure. I considered a public proposal myself for all of a quarter of a second. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want the moment to be special.
For the month leading up, it was about all I thought about. I settled on a plan to do it on some rocks we once stopped at on the walk between Coogee and Maroubra in Sydney, which seemed significant at the time but with the benefit of hindsight were really just some random rocks. I had a clear vision in my mind of how it would go down. How unexpected it would be. If there were strangers on the walk, I would wait for them to kindly fuck off. It was all clear in my mind.
Well, best laid plans. It was pouring with rain that day. We were stuck in our hotel room at Coogee. I thought about waiting until the next day and going on the walk then, but I had already booked a celebratory dinner for that night (presumptive much?). A little annoyed that I was being reduced to a Trevor-level proposal, I retrieved the ring, turned down the nihilistic misogyny of the hip-hop track she was listening to on the bed, and got down on one knee. She said yes, started kissing me, then crying. I was relieved beyond measure and the rest of the day was a blissful reverie.
Now, that was anxiety-inducing enough. I cannot imagine the nerves that must consume you in a more public proposal and the variables that are at play that could upset your plan—what if kiss cam malfunctions? What if there’s a fight in the crowd? What if another dude does it during the first time-out and steals your thunder?
Knowing the level of relief and euphoria I felt after my private, ‘stock-standard’ proposal, I can imagine that if you do pull off a genuine, heartfelt public one, with strangers cheering you on, that you are on a high for weeks. Heck, you probably get a squirt of dopamine every time you think about it, or play it back on your phone, for the rest of your life—poor fellow from the hockey game probably has the opposite neurochemical response, hope he’s found a keeper… perhaps do a Trevor with this one?!
So, I guess what I’m saying, is shoot your shot. It will be memorable either way.
5 of the craziest marriage proposals
Till death do us start
Russian Alexey Bykov faked his own death in a bizarre proposal to find out if his true love Irena wanted to be with him for the rest of their lives. The sicko hired a film director and stuntman to help before he ‘rose again’ to pop the question.
In 2021, a man in the US pretended to get arrested by police, before pulling out a diamond ring for his partner.
Sky’s the limit
Shawn Wright of Calgary, Alberta, Canada strapped the ring to a spatula and tied it to a high-altitude balloon, which was also equipped with GPS for tracking and a Go-Pro. He sent it 30 kilometres into the sky—where it journeyed for four hours before landing 300 kilometres away. Shawn retrieved the ring from the edge of a pond in Taber, Alberta, and showed the video to his fiancée. Quite a lot of work, here.
A man from the US created a Hollywood-style movie trailer, playing it before the movie Fast 5. This will actually bring a tear to your eye, well played.
Amateur pilot Anthony Bordignon pretended to use engine failure to pop the question to his terrified girlfriend, asking her to read a fake checklist, which turned out to be a proposal. Cruel.