If you’ve been using the internet within the past decade, I have no doubt you’ve probably seen a viral public proposal video (or two, or three, or four, no one’s judging you). Whether it happens by way of flash mob in a mall, during half-time at a sporting event, or, you know, while someone is running the New York City Marathon, public proposals definitely gain the attention of a lot of people. And, because they're so public, it can be really difficult to know how to decline a public marriage proposal.
The tricky task of turning down a public marriage proposal was on the mind of New York Times-bestselling author Jasmine Guillory when she wrote her newest novel The Proposal (published on Oct. 30). Guillory's main character Nikole is placed at the epicenter of public ridicule when she rejects her boyfriend's proposal during a sporting event. The proposal came after just five months of dating, and it was magnified exponentially when the stadium JumboTron broadcast the event to the entire audience and a video of her rejection goes viral afterwards. Because Guillory has clearly spent a lot of time thinking and writing about public proposals, I caught up with her to ask what you should do if you're caught in Nikole's shoes.
Guillory depicts just what happens when the proposed-to says no to the proposer and the aftermath that awaits a woman who says no in such a public setting. “After [the main character] Nikole turns down her JumboTron proposal, she receives a lot of harassment, especially after a video of the proposal goes viral,” explains Guillory. Nikole ends up receiving a lot of harassment from not only her ex, but also the viewers of the proposal video. When it came to how society would react to her main character’s rejection of her public proposal Guillory explains that “Nik got attacked for not being grateful enough, womanly enough, and that her desire to have an engagement that she wanted was somehow cruel.” This was because, according to Guillory, there are very defined expectations for how a woman should react to the desires and requests of men. These expectations are all the more complicated when magnified to the scale of a public proposal.
So, if you happen to be on the receiving end of a public proposal and you'd rather not say yes, here's how to pull that off with as little damage as possible.
When writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend of five months, she expected to have a good time, not a public proposal in front of thousands of screaming fans. Nikole knows it's not right and says no... Also at the game is Carlos Ibarra, who comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from the camera crew and the booing crowds. When the video goes viral and Nik is attacked on social media, she leans on Carlos for support. The two form a friendship that quickly turns into a passionate rebound, and Nik assumes that a handsome doctor like Carlos isn't looking for anything serious. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes.
So, how should someone turn down a public proposal? I asked Guillory and she had some very useful advice on how to safely and kindly turn someone down. Her most crucial advice centers on the fact that it’s always OK to say no. And that’s because what you want is far more important than what other people expect you to do. However, since a public proposal can, unfortunately, draw unwanted attention, harassment, and potentially concern your safety, it can take more than a simple "no" to take the situation down a notch. Guillory had some helpful tips on how to decline in a way that keeps you safe without disregarding what you want.
“This all depends on exactly how public it is, but saying you want to talk about this in private should (if the proposer is actually listening) give them a signal to step back and move to a different location,” says Guillory. Your signal to your partner could be anything that you’re comfortable with. For instance, if you are comfortable hugging your partner or pulling them in close to whisper to them, this could be a good time to ask them to talk privately. If the proposer is distracted by the public attention of the proposal and not listening to you, Guillory explains that this is yet another reason that declining may be a good call.
“It's often better and kinder to be very clear about your rejection, for both of you," she says. As far as what you could say during a proposal, Guillory stresses being simple and direct. “You can say that ‘this isn't a good time,’ or that you should ‘talk about this later,’” she says. She also adds that a simple "no" is perfectly acceptable.
There are also some important psychological factors to consider when it comes to proposing publicly. "Rejecting someone when they propose can be one of the most emotionally difficult things a person can do," explains Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist. It can be hard to gauge whether a "yes" is truthful in this setting because of the increased pressure to acquiesce, explains Klapow. Both Guillory and Klapow stress honesty before, during and after the proposal. To ensure that a public proposal goes well for both partners, the couple should be sure that they are both on the same page about where they want their relationship to go.
If you also have Bruno Mars' "Just The Way You Are" stuck in your head after reading this, I am thoroughly in the same boat. I feel like it is the anthem for public proposals. Theme songs aside, these kinds of proposals can be really scary, sweet, or both. If you are ever caught in this situation, hopefully Guillory's advice can help you remember that what you want matters, no matter how many people are watching or if Bruno Mars is serenading you himself.