I was on a boat once. It was a cruise-meets-catamaran-type boat full of fellow water sporting tourists, all eager to engage in a variety of sea-based activities. There are only so many places you can hide on a boat, so it wasn’t long before different groups of friends started to merge and mingle. I merged, I mingled and I met lots of new people, including a very nice American man who we’ll call X.
Over the course of the six hour trip, I probably exchanged about 14 sentences with X. 14 sentences will get you through the standard ‘Hello. What’s your name? Where are you from?’ pleasantries, and perhaps leave you a little room for some ‘pardon’, ‘sorry what’ and ‘can you pass me the…’ bonus enquiries. It’s enough to warrant a courteous nod at one another in passing should you ever meet again, not quite enough, in my personal opinion, to invite a very public request for my phone number in front of 50 other unsuspecting passengers. But that’s what X did. He shouted my name across the busy cabin, performed a bit of a jig and asked for my number.
Needless to say, I died a bit inside. The pre-emptive whoops and cheers from the crowd were not helpful in the slightest and, terrified of causing a (bigger) scene and being ‘that cow who said no on the boat’, I didn’t have a safe move to make beyond laughing nervously and saying ‘yeah, alright then’.
I did not want to give X my number and so only felt like a marginally awful human being when I gave him my real number (because I’m neither quick nor smooth enough to give a fake one on the spot) with the incorrect dialing code and shuffled away. I suppose 50 or so pairs of eyes on an awkward number request is nothing on, say, the millions watching a full on marriage proposal on the steps of the Met Gala. So, when rapper 2 Chainz lent down on one knee on the patterned white carpet at the Met Ball Gala last night, my heart bled for girlfriend Kesha Ward.
The awkward-barometer dipped when I realised that the pair are already engaged (2 Chainz pulled a similar stunt at the 2013 BET Awards), but the pressure on her to respond positively (she said yes, again) is just as intense, regardless of who you are and on which stage it all goes down on.
As much as I'd love to live the Disney fairytale for a time, there's a sinister undertone to the surface-level romance of public proposals. As soon as the request to spend the rest of your life with someone (or to hook up on dry land) is made in front of an audience, it's no longer just about the couple on the brink of a new relationship stage. It becomes as much about the people watching, keen to buy into your impromptu skit of what romance is meant to look like.
The public expect a 'yes'. It's why we're secretly more fascinated by those 'proposal gone wrong' videos than we are the standard 'she said yes' ones. And maybe that's why, on some level, certain people might opt for an audience-supported diamond ring drop than an intimate one. Consider it an extra layer of insurance that whoever you're proposing to will say yes.
Like it or not, we're all subject to social pressures and the fear of turning down one person and disappointing the hundreds expectantly watching it all pay out could easily outweigh the part of your brain reminding you that no, you don't want/aren't ready for that next step.
Accepting a ring is a little different to fudging ‘+44’ in someone’s phone contacts. But being asked to commit to anything relationship orientated on the public stage is just as terrifying for the proposee as the proposer. The horror is only intensified by the fact that by being honest and saying 'no' on that stage automatically makes you the villain of your unwarranted pseudo-fairytale. And that's neither a pressure nor obligation that anyone should have to bear. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that's not what actual IRL 'love' is about.
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