Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Do You Prefer a Private or Public, Over-the-Top Proposal?

wedding proposal

If you’re like most people β€” or, at least most people who participated in a recent survey β€” you prefer a private, low-key proposal over those public, over-the-top proposals that have been going viral over the past couple of years. “ScienceOfRelationships.com interviewed nearly 400 participants about their proposal preferences and found that 69% said they’d prefer to keep it private. Seventeen percent of respondents said they would want ‘semi-private’ proposals (just close friends and family around), while only 15% said they prefer a public event.”

So, if this survey is representative of society at large and most people dislike a public, over-the-top proposal, why do they seem so abundant?

In an essay I published on DW a couple years ago, Dennis Hong called it: “Engagement porn” and said it’s “stuff that people who aren’t happy with their own relationships drool over, and stuff that people in fulfilling relationships smirk at.” Hmm, so if that’s true, does that mean that everyone who proposes in some viral/YouTube-friendly way is unhappy in his or her relationship? Do they have something to prove, and, if they do, is it because they know deep down that their relationship isn’t all that? Maybe they’re worried that a private proposal stripped of all the pomp and circumstance will echo the emptiness of a relationship they hope will last forever.

Of course, 15% of those surveyed said they’d prefer a public proposal, and one would hope that not all those people feel unhappy in their relationships. Perhaps some feel so happy they want the whole world to celebrate with them when they and their beloved decide to take things to the next level. (And what better way to get the whole world to celebrate with you than flash mobbing Times Square?

So, what’s your preference? Private or public? Sweet and simple or grand and over-the-top? I’ve shared the story of my own proposal before and, honestly, I wouldn’t change anything. It was public in that it was in Central Park, but, since it was early February and freezing outside, it was about as private as you can get in the middle of Manhattan. And I love that Drew and I will always have a spot where we can go (and bring the kids!) and remember that special moment (we also got married in Central Park, but about a mile and a half away on the other side). So, my vote is for a private proposal, but I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone’s preference for a public proposal. Especially if the happy couple wanted to, like, share champagne with onlookers. Don’t you think that should start being a thing?

31 comments… add one
  • Sara July 20, 2015, 1:07 pm

    Private all the way. I don’t want other people, whether friends/family or complete strangers, watching my face for my reaction. I would definitely be one of the ones to say no if my boyfriend misjudged me so badly as to propose in some ostentatious, public way.

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    • Just Max July 20, 2015, 3:15 pm


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  • Meg July 20, 2015, 1:12 pm

    If you’d asked me before I was engaged (now married), I would have said private, hands-down. That said, mine was public and I wouldn’t change it, because the situation was pretty perfect for us. It was public in that a bunch of strangers were around, but they didn’t really know what was going on until it was over. My husband’s best friend, who had by then become one of my good friends as well, as in on it and helped pull it off, but otherwise no one with any vested interest was around- so that was fine with me.

    My husband and I are both big baseball fans, and our teams play in opposite leagues- so only play one another every few years. We got tickets to one of the games, and his friend teamed up with a peanut vendor to hide the ring in a bag, which my now-husband then “bought.” It was cute, a fun memory, and not too sappy or dramatic πŸ™‚

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    • Dear Wendy July 20, 2015, 1:32 pm

      Aww, that’s cute!

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    • Red_Lady July 20, 2015, 11:45 pm

      That is such an awesome story!! So much better than a cheesy scoreboard proposal. I love it!!

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  • Ettakit July 20, 2015, 1:28 pm

    I prefer a private proposal, definitely. I don’t mind if it’s in a public place, but it needs to be a moment for us. Meg’s (above) proposal sounds perfect to me since my boyfriend and I are also in the same position with our favorite baseball teams. While in the middle of a huge crowd, the proposal was still quiet and between the two of them.
    If I had to warrant a guess, I’d say that most of the people replying to the survey are women, but men feel like they have to make some grand, public gesture. (heteronormative, I know. But most of the videos I see are of mf couples) It may not be what their future fiance particularly wants, but the abundance of flash mob proposal videos has pushed people to think that it is the norm.

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  • snoopy128 July 20, 2015, 1:31 pm

    I definitely want a private one. It’s ok if it’s in a public space that’s not too crowded and people may not even notice what’s going on.
    Thank goodness we were doing a wine tour last summer and a couple got engaged during the tour and my bf mentioned that he would never do a proposal that public. Even though we aren’t at the stage of talking engagement, I was glad to hear it.
    (Small sidebar- is it weird to say we’ve been talking about marriage but not engagement? Like the marriage thing is a future concept but we aren’t at the point where we need to talk engagement/timelines?)

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    • Fancy Pants July 20, 2015, 1:43 pm

      No, my husband and I were like that. I had a feeling when we got engaged that we would within the next year, year and a half but I wasn’t wondering when it would happen when it did, if that makes sense.

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  • AF July 20, 2015, 1:38 pm

    PRIVATE! It makes it all the more special to me unless its something discreet in public (like Meg’s was).

    Plus BF and I are pretty private people and it would just be so much more in tune with our relationship πŸ™‚

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  • inkyboots July 20, 2015, 1:43 pm

    Yknow, I hadn’t really thought about the proposal before it happened, but I’m glad it was private because we got to share that special moment together and I didn’t have to worry about ugly-crying in front of anyone.

    My husband bought a condo before we started dating and he was fixing it up. We went to the condo on the pretense that I was going to help him make some decorating decisions, where he eventually popped the question. Our first night living there was the wedding night. πŸ™‚

    I did eventually ugly-cry in front of everyone at my wedding, but hey. You win some, you lose some.

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  • ArtsyGirl July 20, 2015, 1:44 pm

    When my husband proposed a decade ago he did is privately (so private in fact he had not realized that the park did not have outdoor lights!). He had to angle the car with the brights on. We then went to a nice dinner where the waitstaff popped the champagne. I love that we had time together to just be us before the cascade of well wishes.

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  • Fancy Pants July 20, 2015, 1:50 pm

    Mine was semi-private My husband took me out to a nice dinner at a restaurant we both liked and he requested a sort of secluded booth. No one was really paying attention to us, but it was nice to be somewhere fun. I had just finished up a contract on a job and had gotten a really great offer on another so he and told me we should go out to celebrate. I was surprised in a good way.

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  • othy July 20, 2015, 1:59 pm

    Mine was in a restaurant, but I highly doubt that anyone in the restaurant even realized that we had just gotten engaged. Othello was so nervous that he forgot to get down on one knee. But it was super private and awesome. And then we got gelato afterwards πŸ™‚

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  • Savannah July 20, 2015, 2:02 pm

    My boyfriend and I were just talking about this last night on a road trip. We are at the engagement timeline planning phase and I’ve been trying to convey to him the balance of not too public with not proposing in bed on a Wednesday. I think he feels like public = planned out and over the top which private = low key and casual which isn’t really it. I would like something mostly private but still thought about. Just because I would prefer it not to happen at some huge sporting event or at the eiffel tower doesn’t mean I wont want a meaningful proposal. Ultimately it is his proposal and I’ll be happy to say yes either way but I want something that fits us and not whatever he thinks I’m expecting because of all of these showy proposal videos.

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  • Sunshine Brite July 20, 2015, 2:06 pm

    Private in public, overlooking the city skyline on one of the coldest nights of the year so no one was around in one of the bandstands used in the summer.

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  • Essie July 20, 2015, 2:34 pm

    Private. If someone surprised me with a big public production, it’d be an automatic no. If I found out they were videotaping with thoughts of putting it on You Tube, it’d be an automatic breakup.

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    • snoopy128 July 20, 2015, 2:37 pm

      I had a friend who’s BF had someone taking pictures of it. I think it has the potential to be cute. But only for the purpose of capturing the moment. Not for sharing in the public sphere (beyond family/friends).

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      • Anonymous July 20, 2015, 4:41 pm

        Oh, I wouldn’t have a problem at all with having someone take pictures to capture the moment. I was thinking more of these proposal extravaganzas that end up on YouTube.

      • snoopy128 July 21, 2015, 12:30 am

        Yeah, I got that gist. I thought the photo thing was cute, that’s all.

  • Cleopatra_30 July 20, 2015, 2:50 pm

    Private all the way. I am not one for wanting attention on me in these sorts of situations. I prefer to release the news of an engagement on my own without a big public event for it.

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  • eelliinnss July 20, 2015, 2:52 pm

    Boyfriend told me he plans to propose on a random weeknight while we’re in our PJs eating some delicious meal we cooked together. I can’t think of a better way than that.

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  • findingtheearth July 20, 2015, 3:25 pm

    I am dating someone I have known for years. We are discussing our wedding. I don’t think there will be any sort of proposal, just a fun reception and courthouse wedding.

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  • SpaceySteph July 20, 2015, 3:41 pm

    I had a semi-private, in that my husband arranged for a couple we were friends with to be there. The husband took pictures of us with his fancy camera, which is totally something I would want and I’m glad my husband recognized it. We didn’t even do an “engagement shoot” mostly because I was lazy about it, but also because we already had actual engagement photos.
    It was midnight (i had just gotten off the 3pm to midnight shift) so all our family was asleep (they live in Eastern, we live in Central, so it was even later) so we didn’t really get to tell anyone until the next day. I would have gone for something with all our families there, mostly because it felt kind of empty to not be able to call and tell my mom or my best friends right away.

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  • Skittlegryph July 20, 2015, 4:43 pm

    Private, all the way! I actually got engaged two weeks ago, and it was in our kitchen, just him, the dogs, and me. We’re pretty private people, though.

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  • Ange July 20, 2015, 6:45 pm

    Mine was private, on a secluded beach at night just after we’d been having a big discussion about future plans and whatnot. I’m glad it wasn’t public because he threw it in so off-handedly my immediate response was ‘are you serious?’ Ahhhh memories lol.

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  • Sandy July 21, 2015, 8:40 am

    Private :). It was a surprise date but my fiancΓ© is terrible at keeping secrets so I had already figured out what the date was: a picnic on a small quiet beach. I had mentioned wanting to do this month’s ago but what I hadn’t figured out was that he was going to propose because he had originally planned to do it when we went away in August to Canada where he’s from (something he also couldn’t keep a secret). Well turns out after he got the ring he didn’t want to wait any more so he popped the question a couple of days later. I loved it, it was just the two of us sitting on a blanket on the sand next to the water after eating take out from one our favourite restaurants and after he distracts me by pointing out a surfer had fallen in the water I turn around to see him kneeling in front of me with a ring box. I look at him, looked at the ring in his hand say OH MY GOD. He could barely ask the question he was so nervous and I say yes and I was giggling so much and we were hugging and kissing.

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  • Cassie July 21, 2015, 4:15 pm

    Mine was private, which I liked. I would not have been a fan of a public proposal. I was at my now-husband’s apartment and he asked if I wanted to go for a walk around the lake at a nearby park. It was November and so it was already dark outside, and snowy but not frigid. I wasn’t too up to it and was like, “Nah…” but he was very insistent. So I agreed. As we were walking, it was so beautiful and peaceful. We were the only ones there. The Christmas lights were already up all around the lake, and I thought, “Wouldn’t this be the perfect night to be proposed to?” Well, not long after that, my husband led me out onto this dock with the lights all around, got down on one knee, gave a beautiful speech (of which I have basically no memory because I was too excited/surprised/thrilled, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with loving me), and gave me this origami heart inside which was the ring. I of course said yes. I’m not big into romantic gestures, but it was cheesy and beautiful and perfect.

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  • wobster109 July 22, 2015, 12:37 pm

    I would not want a proposal for a big life decision. Either me to partner or partner to me. No more than I would want a “proposal” to buy a house. Some things have to be decided together.

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    • snoopy128 July 22, 2015, 5:12 pm

      A proposal isn’t necessarily the making of that choice. For many, the decision to get married has already been decided together by the two people. The proposal is just the formal question. Personally, I wouldn’t accept a proposal unless we’d already discussed marriage and all the things that go with it and decided together we are committed. The proposal is a funny formality but also a way to signal that formal commitment to getting married.

      It’s like deciding to buy a house together, viewing the houses, talking over your options, deciding together which is the best house; and then turning to your partner and saying “Will you buy this house with me?”

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      • Portia July 22, 2015, 10:03 pm

        I really like your description of the house proposal, snoopy. I think what it comes down to for me is that there is a moment, a story, something romantic you can tell later on or look back on together. It doesn’t have to be over the top or a grand proclamation, but it can be part of the story of the two of you.

        I also think it disappointed me that my parents really didn’t have a story like that to tell (my mom said that they just decided to get married and that was that). It always stuck with me.

  • mellanthe January 15, 2020, 4:42 am

    100% private, or at least somewhere secluded if you’re out and about. I don’t particularly like drawing attention so those grand public ones would be stressful for me.

    I feel it must be a really special moment between the couple, so if it was me, I’d want to take that evening to celebrate just as a couple. And then share the news with family and friends afer that.

    It’s weird because it’s not as if don’t love my friends and family (I do), but if I try to imagine getting engaged, I realise I can’t imagine sharing it with anyone. Not even my closest circle.

    I’m liking the descriptions of how the proposal isn’t the first time you’ve discussed marriage, but rather a solidfication of that. Myself and the guy are not near that yet, but I wouldn’t want a proposal to feel out of nowhere. i.e. the idea of my partner wanting to propose to me before we’d even thought about the future doesn’t appeal at al – you might not be ready for it, either!

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