Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“He Proposed! Now, How Can I Avoid Him?”

Recently, a friend rather unexpectedly told me that he liked me. More than that, he proposed. This is a friend who I have never thought of in that way, nor do I wish to date, much less marry. So it was quite a shock to have him tell me all this. It really came out of left field.

Both of us are living abroad, and we have different home countries. So I could easily avoid him until I returned home in a few months. But to do so means that I will have to almost cut off an entire circle of friends. And I have a few good friends whom I don’t want to lose. Some have become like family to me, while I have been away from home.

How do I move past this awkward situation, so that I can face him? I really hope to move past this and don’t want to have to ‘run away,’ but I just don’t know how to! Please help. — An Awkward Proposal


Wait, you weren’t even dating — you hadn’t even crossed any platonic boundaries — and this guy proposed to you? Like, a serious proposal? Did he have a ring and a speech? Or, was it more like, “Aw, you’re so great. We should get married!” Are you sure he was being serious? People joke around all the time about getting married or asking someone to marry them. You say you’re from different countries, both living abroad; is it possible his intention/meaning was lost in translation?

Well, in any case, whether he meant the proposal as a joke or not, it’s not your place to be embarrassed or feel awkward; it’s his. If I were in your shoes, I’d act as if nothing happened. I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid the guy, nor would I treat him any differently than I had been. I certainly wouldn’t give up my circle of friends just because some guy who hangs around with us made a social faux pas involving me.

But, wait. Your letter leaves me wanting to hear more. Did you give the guy an answer? Did you tell him you’d think about it? Did you laugh? Did you cover your mouth in shock? So many ways to respond! I’m dying to know what your initial reaction was — it would certainly help in advising you further. If you told him, “No,” then no other response is needed. If you told him, out of sheer shock and awe, that you’d have to get back to him, then tell him as soon as possible that, while you’re flattered by his proposition, you not only aren’t interested in him romantically, you aren’t interested in planning marriage with anyone you have no foundation of a relationship with.

Finally, looking ahead to some Friday night years from now when you’re entertaining friends or strangers at a bar with tales of your youth over a round of Jack and Cokes, at least you’ll have a unique story to share with them. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from awkward situations over the years, it’s that sharing them later over cocktails with friends always makes the initial sting of embarrassment worth it. Well, except that one time … but we won’t talk about that.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

38 comments… add one
  • FireStar

    FireStar October 24, 2011, 7:13 am

    So odd. Maybe he comes from a culture where there is no real dating so he jumped right in? I wouldn’t worry about the typical reaction or fallout from a rejected proposal here – this was no typical proposal. All you owe him is a “no, but thank you for asking” and then, as Wendy says, maintain the status quo.

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      Christy October 24, 2011, 7:23 am

      Yeah, I had an Egyptian friend who was a devout Muslim, and she didn’t “date”. Because she considered all dating to be a prelude to marriage, she would become engaged to any man she dated. Since marriage is ostensibly the end goal to all serious dating, and she was never going to be a frivolous dater, she’d call a spade a spade and get engaged. I think she was maybe engaged twice before she got married? So for her, getting engaged didn’t mean “We’re going to get married,” it mean something like “We think we may want to get married some day, but we’re going to test out a relationship first, but rather than call that relationship ‘dating,’ we’re going to call it an engagement.”

      So if yours is a similar case, just treat it like your friend asked you out.

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    KD October 24, 2011, 7:42 am

    Whoa, can’t wait for the update on this one… I think Wendy covered all of my questions.

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    mlippart October 24, 2011, 7:43 am

    I’m with Wendy on this one- I would want more info on how he proposed, what he said, etc etc. Expats living overseas (I speak from experience) every once in a while go a bit insane from both cultural isolation and homesickness and tend to reach for a familiar safety net. I’ve been down that road before (never did a shot in the dark proposal though) and I wouldn’t think it was a serious thing so much as a “man, I’m a bit lonely right now, I can’t relate to anybody . . except . . . hey, wait . . . my good friend who is in the same position! She gets me! Wonder what she’s doing?” type of introspection. I would not put much stock in it.

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    LIndsay October 24, 2011, 8:10 am

    I’m curious, too. It’s hard for me to believe that he’s from a culture that skips dating and goes on to marriage because usually families are very particular about choosing someone from your own culture. So, I feel like they’d have to have already been super close for him to be willing to do that.

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    darcy, yes, that darcy October 24, 2011, 8:20 am

    As with so many other situations in life, when in doubt, ask “What would Jane (Austin) do?” Fortunately, the inestimable Miss Austen answered this situation point blank with Mr. Collin’s surprise proposal to Elizabeth in Price and Prejudice. Just say exactly, word for word, what Elizabeth said – you could hardly hope to do better: “Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me. I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than decline them.”

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      The_Yellow_Dart October 24, 2011, 8:56 am

      Yeah – just don’t mimic her first response to Darcy – “You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it” – even if it’s true! Elizabeth Bennet was occasionally rude 😉

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        darcy, yes, that darcy October 24, 2011, 9:18 am

        Yea, and that’s the point of the book’s title – how pride and prejudice can kinda sneak up on you when you’re not looking 🙂

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      H October 24, 2011, 8:59 am

      Love : )

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      Lydia October 24, 2011, 10:56 am

      Jane AustEn.

      Sorry, pet peeve.

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        Rabbit October 24, 2011, 1:11 pm

        The poster has the correct spelling in the second line of the post, so it was clearly a minor typo in the first line.

        Sorry. Pet peeve.

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    Callifax October 24, 2011, 8:46 am

    I once was proposed to on a first date – although to be fair, it wasn’t a legit proposal. To make a long story short, a guy I had met on eHarmony desperately wanted to take me to a restaurant that was full on the night we had agreed to meet, and he convinced them to give us a reservation by saying I was his long-time girlfriend and he was planning to propose. I only found out about this when I arrived at the parking lot to the restaurant and he greeted me with a fake Walmart ring and told me that he was going to “pop the question” over dinner.

    It was possible one of the most embarrassing nights of my life, but I can assure you, LW, that years down the line, you’ll appreciate the story!

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      HmC October 24, 2011, 12:01 pm

      Oh my God. I can’t imagine a restaurant good enough to warrant doing that to a girl you don’t know on a first date! He sounds like either a full fledged psycho or the most confident human ever to exist. Or both.

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    DDL October 24, 2011, 9:06 am

    This letter reminds me a while back, when my boyfriend and I had just started dating, I randomly asked him, (cos I always ask guys the first question that pops into my head, no matter how embarrassing, mostly for their reactions), “Do you want get married?” (via text). Now, I wasn’t proposing, I meant it as in, “Is marriage something you’ve considered, or not?”; I would never propose via text message, or that early in a relationship.

    Anyways, he said “no”, and I thought nothing more of it. Then, a couple days later, he was hesitant to make any more dates with me, and I asked why, and he said it was because he didn’t want to get married yet since he hardly knew me. I was confused until I remembered that I had asked that dumb question, and then I had to explain. It was funny after that, but I quickly realized how things can be misconstrued.

    Anyways, apologies for the thread-jack, but the LW might have experienced something like that where it didn’t really mean the way it sounded… like it may have been a joke? I dunno, I’m curious for more info. 🙂

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    • JK

      JK October 24, 2011, 9:19 am

      haha, I can just imagine what must have gone through your BFs mind after reading that text!!!!

      I think the difference with this case though is that in texting (or email, etc), tone is lost, but in LWs case it sounds like “the proposal” was in person.

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  • Budj

    Budj October 24, 2011, 9:07 am

    So THAT’S why that one girl stopped talking to me.

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    Sarah October 24, 2011, 9:40 am

    Aw, I once got dumped by a platonic friend whom I wasn’t dating. Love when that happens.

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      Kerrycontrary October 24, 2011, 9:53 am

      hahah I can’t remember the details since a lot of college was fuzzy for me, but I’m pretty sure this happened to me as well. I do remember going home to my roomate(s) and saying “but we wern’t even dating…..”

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        KL October 24, 2011, 5:40 pm

        My college nonrelationship dump: I got dumped by a guy about a month after the relationship ended. He had just stopped all communication for weeks, wouldn’t take my calls, pretended not to see me in the dorm, and finally I was like “Oh. I guess that’s over. MOAing now.” A few weeks after that, he finally surfaced and gave me a breakup speech. My first instinct was to laugh.

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      Morgan October 24, 2011, 2:00 pm

      A sort of friend of mine in college once “broke up with me.” He got very drunk and told me it wasn’t working and we should end the relationship. I have no idea why drunk him decided we were dating; I had hooked up with his roommate the previous weekend.

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        Sarah October 24, 2011, 3:52 pm

        Mine was completely sober. I was a junior in high school, hooking up with someone else, when my platonic friend pulled me aside to talk to me. He went off on a little monologue about how great I was, smart and funny and pretty etc etc whatever (and clueless me is just starting to get a hint of what might be possibly going down, followed by the “oh no oh no oh no” train of thought), when he winds up the soliloquy with, “…but I’m just not ready for a serious relationship right now.” I sort of cock my head, nod, say some appropriate understanding things, and walk back in a fog to what I was doing before. Fifteen minutes go by, and I’m like, “Wait, WHAT?” I still have no idea what happened. My dad’s best guess is that he was going to ask me out, but abandoned ship in the middle. Does anyone have any better ideas?

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    convexed October 24, 2011, 9:50 am

    Hmm. Without knowing his home country/culture, its hard to speculate why he proposed, whether it was meant seriously, if something was lost in translation, etc. Of course, even to know that information and guess, any outsider to that culture could end up with nothing to go on but a handful of stereotypes, which is not only problematic in terms of outsider presumptions, but since there is a lot of variation and personal differentiation among individuals of the same cultural religious background, may not even explain this guys intent or motivation. So we only have the question of yr response, which should be (if you haven’t responded, or for future reference) a clear, respectful, gentle, but firm no.
    The Bennet-collins answer works, adapted to yr syntactical preference, but remember to be sensitive and not affronted. Of course cultural differences can create misunderstandings that would be offensive coming from someone with yr same background and social conventions, but without more context its hard to assume he knew his question was inappropriate, awkward, or out of line. Good story for the bar back home, for sure.

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    lemongrass October 24, 2011, 9:57 am

    Something similar happened to me awhile back. I was msning (yeah it was a few years ago!) with my ex, after we had broken up, and he said to me “Will you marry me?” or something along those lines. I can’t remember his exact ones. A little backstory: we had broken up a few years earlier but remained friends. He’s a really good guy but he really wasn’t over me yet. It took him quite awhile to get over me (maybe because I took his virginity??) Anyways, I remember saying back to him “Are you serious?” and he said “I am if you say yes!” To which I replied something like “lets stay friends.”

    Be cool, LW, be cool.

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    oldie October 24, 2011, 10:29 am

    Green card?

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    lk October 24, 2011, 11:30 am

    I do find it odd that people are more inclined to tell a friend, “ZOMG I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU,” usually right after consuming a lot of mind-altering substances…. They should just be like, “Hey, you know I like spending time with you, but I think I might have romantic feelings for you. Would you want to go on a date with me sometime?”

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    HmC October 24, 2011, 12:08 pm

    I don’t know what you’re complaining about LW. According to every Julia Roberts and Kate Hudson rom com out there, you got exactly what every pathetic and desperate sad single woman out there aspires to unwaveringly and without regard to rationality or a genuine personality connection- marriage proposal score! Marriage! Babies! Now now now!

    (sarcasm)

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    cporoski October 24, 2011, 12:51 pm

    When I was single, I got the “OMG we should get married.” a few times. it was normally like “You love Baseball, I love you. Seriously, marry me.” It was a figure of speech, not real. My now husband did this 4 times before it was a real proposal. He would have freaked if I said yes the first time. I think this was a misunderstanding. If there was no down on one knee, ring, whole thing, it is not real. LW, please give us more details.

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    • theattack

      theattack October 24, 2011, 4:51 pm

      Really? It’s not real if the guy doesn’t buy a ring? I abhor that attitude.

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        6napkinburger October 24, 2011, 5:23 pm

        No no no. I really highly doubt that’s what she means.

        My most recent EX proposed after 2 months. Haha, I was like, just kidding? Only a little. Basically serious. I told him very nicely to shut up, don’t be an idiot, and we continued on happily. He would talk about it all the time, over the next 6 months, sometimes throwing it at the end of im conversations, or while we were in bed. I always kinda wiggled around it. Eventually, I knew I had totally fallen for him. I told him to seriously quit it, that I couldn’t take repeatedly shutting him down, as I was in love with him, and was on my way to WANTING that proposal. So I told him the next time he asks, he’d better be on one knee with a ring.

        Was this about a diamond or that engagements don’t count without jewelry? Nope, not even a little. It was that I wanted HIM to stop saying it casually; and to take it seriously. That the next time he said it, it should really truly, for the rest of his life, mean it. Saying, that “if there’s no ring, it doesn’t count”, is shorthand for saying “Unless it is THE proposal, the moment, that he has decided that he wants to MARRY you, and stay married to you forever and ever and ever, that he’s thought about it at great length and taken steps to achieve that goal, unless all of that has happened, it doesn’t count, because he doesn’t really mean it.” If he’s done all that, and you know he’s done all that, whether he’s on a knee or on his head, holding a little blue box, a wooden circle, a flower, a marvel action figure, or has nothing but the look in his eye that tells you everything you need to know, then it counts. The ring in this expression equals serious consideration and forethought. I doubt she meant if he didn’t spend two months salary on a rock, it didn’t count. I’ve said it, and that’s never what i meant.

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      • theattack

        theattack October 24, 2011, 8:09 pm

        I understood that she was referring to the seriousness of the situation, but I don’t think rings do equal those things. I hate that they are so intrinsically tied to being serious in a relationship. A ring is a purchase, even if it’s only $20 at Kmart. Drawing connections between any sort of purchase and the seriousness of a relationship is incredibly dangerous, even if it’s something that’s accepted, promoted, and even expected in society. I personally don’t want the stages of my relationship to at all reflect a man’s monetary investments in me. I want them to reflect emotional, mental, and spiritual investments in me as a person. Going down on one knee and telling you why he loves you is more of an equivalent to the big gesture, in my opinion. He can joking talk about it as much as he wants, but if he does that, he’s got to be for real.

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        6napkinburger October 25, 2011, 1:10 pm

        I think to most people, there exists the “act” of “getting engaged.” Before, you were not engaged. After, you are. For some, it is a conversation between two people where they realize that they want to spend the rest of their lives together and decided collectively to become engaged. For others, that convo kind of happens over time, and the “act” of becoming engaged is a “proposal” – in the conventional setting, a man gets down on one knee and “asks” the girl to marry him, usually with some variant of the words “will you marry me?”

        However, those words “will you marry me” are very very easy to say. Hey look, i just said it. Theattack, will you marry me? Look, i said it again. But i didn’t *really* propose to you, nor are we now *engaged* (in addition your lack of agreement to my request).Because it wasn’t real; it wasn’t a legitimate proposal.

        You say that “Drawing connections between any sort of purchase and the seriousness of a relationship is incredibly dangerous.” While ignoring for the fact that I’m not sure i totally agree with that, pretending that I do, that’s not what im insisting on. Flippantly saying the words “will you marry me” does not make something a proposal; it needs serious thought, serious reflection, serious understanding that a true “proposal” is a transitional moment. If the guy (or girl) doesn’t intend for it to BE a transitional moment, it isn’t a proposal; it’s just words.

        But, how is the other person supposed to know if its the words are intended to convey that it is a transitional moment (Option A), or if they are just words and no transitional moment is intended (Option B)? Well, that’s why many people insist on a “gesture” to convey the true meaning of the words. Many times, its a diamond ring. While there are a hundred things we can argue about the past nature of the tradition, blood diamons, the present insult of being bought, etc, the larger point is that, usually, if a guy presents a woman with a ring while asking to marry her, she knows its Option A; there is no confusion.

        Basically, whatever a guy (or girl or couple mutually agreeing) does that ensures his partner knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are in Option A territory, that counts as “real.” When my bf casually said the words “will you marry me, we were in square Option B territory. But you still have to answer, so you have to say some variant of “No.” And who wants to do that? So, I told him, in other words, that the next time he asked, we had better be in Option A territory.

        If I’m reading you correctly, then you agree that the gesture of the “one knee” conveys Option A. That’s exactly the same sentiment I (and originally cporoski) were saying. It honestly had no implication that rings indicated the seriousness of the relationship; the gesture indicated the seriousness of the proposal, as would many others.

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        cporoski October 24, 2011, 6:14 pm

        Napkinburger said it way better than I ever could. yes, it is the seriousness of it. Some guys throw those words around casually and they don’t mean it as actually marriage time but more like “you are so cool”. Once, I told a guy that he wasn’t serious about us and he said, “Really, lets get married now.” I was like, marriage isn’t about a bet.

        That being said, I think a ring is a symbol. Do I think a man needs to spend a ton of money, No. But if a guy promises a lifetime when you are alone but can’t seem to make some sort of public show, i.e. a ring or announcing it to both sides of the family, or asking your dad. I draw an issue with it. That is like a guy saying you are his secret girlfriend that he only sees at 2AM when he is drunk.

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      • theattack

        theattack October 24, 2011, 8:26 pm

        I just replied above to Napkinburger’s comment. But the last part of your comment says to me that you _do_ care about whether or not there’s a ring. There’s nothing wrong with having rings involved in an engagement, but I don’t like the idea of the ring being tied to whether or not it’s a serious relationship. It should be an extra thing to me. And whether or not it’s a secret engagement is COMPLETELY different from not buying a ring. When my parents became engaged, they could barely afford a pound of ground beef. They certainly wouldn’t have even been able to afford the $20 ring at Kmart. But even if they could have afforded a really nice ring, the absence of one doesn’t say anything about the mutual trust they’ve developed in each other, or the love they have, or how much they wanted to spend their lives together. A ring is a symbol, yes. That’s entirely the point. It’s not the real thing. It’s just a symbol.

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        cporoski October 26, 2011, 7:22 am

        I respect the “living on Love” thing. Especially in this economy. However, I have known 3 girls who were “Engaged” without a ring. None of these made it to marriage. All three of these guys said they couldn’t afford a ring but could seem to find money for video games and flat screen tvs. That is where I call bs. If a guy can afford it, then he should buy a ring. So yes, it is important if you are financially able to.

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  • Portia

    Portia October 24, 2011, 2:09 pm

    I’m also going to go with joke on this one. Many years ago, before I’d started really dating my current boyfriend, we were IMing about this great temple both of us knew. One of us said that it would be a great place for a wedding. So he said, we should do that. My response: LOL, sure. We still joke about it years later and occasionally we’ll answer really tough questions with “LOl sure.”
    But like everyone else, I want to know more details!

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    Christina October 24, 2011, 2:15 pm

    LW, this will probably be easier to get through than you think. I don’t think you will have to lose a group of friends over it. My first thought was that it would just be a little awkward the next few times you see him and then pretty normal after that. I’ve been asked out by co-workers or aquaintances I saw often at my job and after I stumbled through my excuses and they got mad (what’s that about?) or embarrassed, things got back to normal and actually some of the tension was gone once the offer was declined. It sounds like this guy has a serious crush on you and through your friendship he sees you as his perfect match. He probably said something like, “I feel really comfortable with you…” Give it some time, even have an extra “I do enjoy our time together as friends” conversation to ease his discomfort and get things back to normal if they can be.
    I had a close guy friend I had worked with and stayed friends with who started coming by alot when I broke up with my boyfriend. I didn’t think much of it until I came back from an out of town camping trip with another group of friends and just mentioned that one of the guys I met there was cute. My guy friend came back over the next night to dramatically drop off a letter and a mix-tape that he said explained his feelings. It was a bunch of how am I going to live without you/how could you keep tearing my heart out stuff. He had never even made a romantic suggestion before that! He called a few days later and said that since I didn’t call him after his gift, he had decided we shouldn’t see each other anymore so that’s what we did. It was totally out of left field.
    Update us on how things turn out

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    TheReverendMrs October 24, 2011, 5:24 pm

    I am also very curious about the proposal! LW, if you are reading this, please let us know!

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    Anthrocuse October 24, 2011, 9:34 pm

    this sort of thing happened one time to me. I was good friends with a guy and was hanging out with him sometimes. In his culture going out together (even those times I thought was platonically) in public was essentially third base. He was telling everyone we knew that we were engaged/married in his culture. He asked me out, and I said no that I wasn’t interested in him like that. He didn’t really get my “no” because in his head we were already basically married. This led to a lot of complications and fights when I met my (now) boyfriend. (who is from the same country as the original friend)
    My boyfriend is really cool with it and has been really helpful, but a fake ring really helps just in case.

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