Nyla Matuk

Popping The Question

LaughTheManiac, “Another Marriage Proposal Fail” (2009)

I was at a party recently, listening to a young man’s marriage proposal story. It wasn’t particularly dramatic or romantic: They had been together for about seven years, were both in their mid-20s, and had discussed marriage beforehand.

They were having lunch at a mid-priced restaurant in Little Italy. He didn’t really ask but rather, stated: “I think we should get married.” It was so off the radar that he must not have been in the least concerned that the waiter might bob along at le moment propice and say something mundane such as, “How’s everything here?” or, “How’re you guys doing for drinks?” His future wife said: “Good idea.”

Of course, there is no guarantee that something spectacular might not happen during the proposal that takes place at the wedding ceremony, arguably far more disruptive than a waiter at a restaurant.

Keithf104, “Chloe & Keith‘s Ruined Wedding Ceremony” (2008)

Unfortunately, the spectacularity of the proposal event — and our scopophilia around watching people fail when they scale such great heights — is rather the rule than the exception. Popping the question must be momentous, and one way to achieve the moment is to pop it in the company of strangers.

In this context, we find a pernicious and advanced form of Schadenfreude.

ME, “Failed Marriage Proposal” (Dubai, 2013)

I remember a conversation I had with a girlfriend many years ago. She told me that although she wasn’t certain she wanted to get married, she knew for sure that she wanted to be asked.

I pondered this for many years afterward, because it struck me as a fundamentally sadistic desire. She wanted to be given the power, when asked such a thing, to accept or reject the offer. Her acceptance of such an offer — proffered from bent knee — would make the man profoundly happy; her rejection would make him likely very sad.

Imagine the narcissism behind such a desire! To want to be asked. It isn’t surprising that she is now the wife of a man whose particular aggregations of connections, power and money are perhaps the only sufficiently effective foils to her narcissism.

The male defense, seeing another man rejected, is to pause briefly, “feel bad for the guy,” and continue to call the game. Stiff upper lip, moving right along:

bjrobe71, “Rangers Fan Marriage Proposal Shot Down!” (2010)

The marriage proposal as public display or puerile stunt is clearly a recipe for disaster. Women don’t want their assent trivialized. It seems that those who might assay such tactics are referred to by Samantha Jones in “Sex and the City,” when she tells her friend Carrie Bradshaw, in an episode of the first season, “Don’t you dare turn into one of these married assholes, or I’ll kill you.”

I do wonder if the spectacle of success or failure is more important to these public proposers than the fact of getting married. If the marriage proposal is supposed to be considered a gift, why is it important that it be publicly displayed? If it is not to be considered a gift but an important life decision, is it more important that a stadium of strangers witness it, than that it should come to be, or not to be? Is it so necessary that one’s existential happiness or woe appear before an audience, and one’s availability or lack thereof, announced?

If pop the question you must, it’s possible to determine the scenarios that are most likely to fail:

Footy Show, “Marriage Proposals Gone Wrong” (2009)

– Nyla Matuk

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Nyla Matuk is the author of the poetry collections, "Sumptuary Laws" and "Stranger." Her poetry, fiction, and essays have also appeared in numerous literary journals including Event, Room of One's Own, Descant, The New Yorker and Poetry Review. She has also contributed journalism on architecture and literary topics as a freelancer to the Globe and Mail and various magazines. She is editor of an anthology of poems, "Resisting Canada." For more Nyla Matuk, go here.