This Is How to Deal With a Bad Marriage Proposal

You've been dreaming of this moment forever... but what if it doesn't go as expected?

Updated 01/02/17

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Diane couldn't get over the lameness of Scott's proposal. Two days before Christmas. Late at night. In her girlhood bedroom of her parent's house. In her PJs. No Champagne. No flowers. No "proposal concierge" orchestrating a flash mob. No drama. Not one bit.

It was humdrum and ordinary, and it definitely didn't hold water to her girlfriends' recent marriage proposals: In a hot-air balloon in Napa, on a ski lift in Telluride, in a swanky (and really expensive) restaurant. Nope. Diane and her freshly brushed teeth and her overnight serum on her face. She felt embarrassed by how undramatic Scott's proposal was. Especially as she retold the story to family, friends, and co-workers. It was too mundane and almost too intimate a scene for her to share with others. That made her doubly uncomfortable.

Until she and I unpacked it, that is. As Diane described the commonplaceness of the scene, I noticed that she only saw the lack of sexiness and drama. So I asked her why she thought Scott chose that place and that time to propose.

"Huh, I hadn't ever thought of that," she said. "I've only focused on how boring it was. But Scott knows I was anxious and worried about getting engaged, and that I'd freak out if he proposed in public. So maybe, his proposing to me in such a safe place was actually the best thing he could have done for me. He really took his time, talked about his love for me, our future, and was really poetic. It was actually really mellow and meaningful, probably because we were both so comfortable and not under any pressure."

"Thinking about it this way, my engagement was really intimate, private, and personal, and really reflected who two of us are together," Diane continued. "And ultimately, that's what's really important, right?"

Contrast how Diane now feels about her marriage proposal with Caroline's feelings about hers: Jeff got down on one knee at the base of the Statue of Liberty. He blurted out, "Will you marry me?" and that was it. No lead up. No words about why he wanted to marry Caroline. No gushy love talk or excitement about the future. To Caroline, Jeff's proposal felt purely transactional, embarrassing in its brevity, and devoid of emotion. Which, after she and I unpacked her proposal experience, reflected how emotionally unavailable Jeff was. Caroline spent the first months of her engagement trying to swallow her discomfort about the proposal. But when she reflected on it, she realized that the genericness of the proposal portrayed how little emotional connection there was between them, and she broke off the engagement.

So, if you had a "bad proposal," take some time to reflect on it, particularly the question: Why did he choose that place, that time, those words? What does it say about him? About you as a couple? It may offer you greater understanding into your groom and your life ahead with him.

Allison Moir-Smith is a bridal counselor specializing in engagement anxiety and cold feet and the creator of The Emotionally Intelligent Engagement.

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