Public marriage proposals: romantic or non-consensual ambushing?

Chinese diver Qin Kai proposes to Olympic silver medalist winner He Zi on the podium during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Chinese diver Qin Kai proposes to Olympic silver medalist winner He Zi on the podium during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

I used to think being proposed to in public is one of the most romantic things that could happen to you. 

Creative flash mobs or public treasure hunts that culminate into a magnificent show and tell event, announcing your love to an audience have become a few of the many ways in which people choose to celebrate their love.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with this if the person being proposed to is happily surprised and says yes with no regrets afterwards, but it’s a whole different ball game if the person being proposed to is caught off guard in a way that makes it clear that it wasn’t necessarily what they wanted.

Which begs the question, what happens when the person being proposed to in such a public manner would have preferred something intimate? Or what if this person wasn’t even ready for marriage at that specific point in time?

I recently read an article that was featured on in which a woman wrote in to ask for advice on what to do after being blind-sided by her partner’s proposal.

The woman in question, did what I probably think I would have done in the situation, panicked and said yes in the moment (also, because who wants to embarrass someone by turning them down in front of a large group of strangers), and following their vacation returned home and broke up with him.

She was worried that if she turned him down then she would have been left stranded in the country they were visiting since he was the one who booked and paid for the hotel and plane tickets.

Of course the partner had already shared the news all over social media almost immediately, which made what happened next even harder for her, because after breaking up with him, she was suddenly the monster in the tale.

She had to deal with criticism from her own friends and often feels forced to explain herself. The fact that they as a couple haven’t even talked about moving in together, much less marriage, was immaterial. She also mentions she hates being the centre of attention – so even things like having people sing happy birthday to her for example – makes her feel extremely uncomfortable.

The problem with these kind of proposals is that the intention behind them may not always hold the interests of the person being proposed to at heart. 

A piece on actually goes as far to label it as non-consensual ambushing. And that is perhaps a core part of why public proposals aren’t always a good thing. Because who are you proposing for? 

And if you’re proposing in public, are you doing it because you know that the chances are a lot less likely that your partner will refuse? Which, is just problematic as it means you'll happily enter a union where only your best interest is catered for.

The example above clearly shows that the woman in question wasn’t ready to commit herself just yet – by jumping the gun the guy not only put her in an uncomfortable position, but made her feel like she was being coerced into something she just wasn’t ready for.

Back in 2016 when the Olympics made headlines for other reasons than medal winning athletes, Chinese driver Qin Kai made headlines for all the wrong reasons when he proposed to then girlfriend He Zi on the Olympics podium after she won a silver medal.

Talk about stealing her thunder and making it all about him.

It’s clear also that while there are many success stories when it comes to public proposal, there are unspoken rules and levels of etiquette that should be followed if you’re going to choose this route. 

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