Is it unreasonable to want a heartfelt proposal? The media’s angry reaction to proposal planners

From such an early age, we are bombarded with images of the perfect proposal. From romantic comedies to reality shows to magazines and newspapers, to viral YouTube videos of more creative stunts, we are pretty much conditioned to expect a marriage proposal to be the single most romantic moment of our lives.

That’s a hell of a lot of pressure on the one doing the proposing, don’t you think? It also sets the stage for a massive disappointment if the moment isn’t the big declaration of love you’ve always dreamed of.

Why are proposal planners under fire?

So I was irked this month, even shocked at the reaction to a new type of business trickling into the UK wedding market from the States: proposal planning. In the US, proposal planning is commonplace, and some small businesses have sprung up on our side of the pond as well. This month, the mainstream media got hold of the story – and the reactions from readers floored me. Not in a good way.

The woman who bore the brunt of online abuse was one Sam Sheppard, a truly lovely lady and a proposal planner at The Proposal Expert from Wales. She set up her business after receiving a rather lacklustre proposal from her boyfriend. Her idea was to make sure that the heartfelt ideas and their finer details that some people fail to think of are all taken care of, creating that moment of magic that so many people have dreamed of for a really long time.

Honestly, the tone some of the tabloids took was provocative. They obviously took what she had said to extremes and published it in a way that would make her come across as unsympathetic, taking the story about her boyfriend and making it the main focus of the story while wording it in a way that would sound unappealing (it doesn’t get much more cynical than “because her beau’s lame effort was SO disappointing”). I know many people who have been grossly misrepresented or edited in this way by sensationalist media but that’s a story for another time.

It seems that this (particularly hyped up) story struck a nerve with some tabloid readers. The comments ranged from the reasonable “this seems like an interesting idea,” to the uninterested “this service isn’t for me” to the rude…

Now it was the “rude” that really got to me. I won’t reproduce some of the vile things said here, but the message from a lot of male (and a surprising number of female) readers was “you should feel lucky someone wants to marry you at all, you should take what you can get, if the proposal matters to you, then you shouldn’t be getting married at all.”

Proposal planner Sam and her boyfriend have been at the centre of a bizarre media storm this month

Should we really feel lucky to be proposed to?

So I’ll address these sentiments one by one. I abhor the idea that we, as women, should feel lucky to receive a proposal. It’s so insulting. Anyone who finds a love that can last a lifetime is lucky – that includes the man. There’s this disgusting culturally ingrained idea that men need to be “netted” before they figure out their options (seriously, this is taken from one of the comments) and that women should jump at any marriage proposal because they are “lucky” that someone wants to spend their life with them. There is something that people don’t like about women knowing their worth and wanting other people to know it too. How dare we not humbly bat our eyelids and leap at the chance to get married?

Well, ladies, I’m all about women knowing their worth – there is no luck involved. If someone wants to spend their life with you, it’s because you are loveable, you are wonderful, you are powerful and you do not have to return the sentiment unless it’s what you feel in your heart. You DESERVE to be loved. Of course you do. Comments like “you should take what you can get” are designed to belittle you and make you feel ashamed for feeling worthy of love or for holding out for your gut feeling to say “yes” before you do.

Nobody should ever have to “take what they can get” and that is precisely the kind of idea that gets people stuck in unhappy marriages, and allows people to throw romance out of the window, presuming that we, as women, will be so honoured by the idea of marriage that we’ll say yes, no matter how the sentiment is expressed.

Isn’t the marriage more important than the proposal?

Of course it is. The marriage is more important than the proposal, the wedding, all of it. But whoever proposes (and I’m definitely not opposed to women proposing, again a discussion for another time), that question sets the stage for your marriage. You don’t need to put it in sky writing or hide a ring in the dessert to be romantic.

However, finding a heartfelt way to express what your partner means to you is important, even if it’s just opening up and saying what’s in your heart. It shows your partner that you are worthy of them – call me old fashioned, but perhaps for one moment of my life I’d like to be won.

When John proposed on a freezing cold beach in Brighton more than two years ago, he didn’t have all the details worked out. But the emotion, the fact that we were on Brighton beach at all (he knew I’d always had a secret fantasy of being proposed to there) in a place that meant something to me, on a special evening out together, it showed me that he wasn’t taking me for granted.

My marriage is the most important thing to me – but quite honestly, if he’d casually popped it into conversation like he was asking me out for a pizza, as in Sam’s story, I would have felt disappointed that we didn’t have a story. Call me a drama queen if you like, but I think a special love deserves a special story, even if it’s just special to the couple involved.

A special story doesn’t have to be anything expensive or over the top – but a proposal should mean something to the both of you. It’s the moment to step up and show how much that special person in your life means to you, in whichever way is best for you as a couple.

And what hypocrisy, for the media (myself included) to bombard people with romantic proposal stories and then chastise them for wanting a similar story of their own. We put that proposal moment on a pedestal, we treat it as the pinnacle of all romance and then we metaphorically stone the women admitting that they’d like it to happen to them. When I got engaged, the first question on everyone’s lips was “how did he propose?” I’ll bet that’s the first question most people get asked, yet we’re expected not to care how it happened. It’s shameful, it’s a double standard and I don’t like it one bit.

If it needs to be heartfelt, what’s the point of a proposal planner?

We’re not all detail oriented people. We don’t all have hopeless romantic streaks. What about the man who desperately loves his partner, wants to propose but has no idea how to organise something special for her? His heart is in the right place, but grand gestures aren’t his strong point.

So he phones someone like Sam – someone with a whole host of romantic ideas, someone who listens to stories about his partner and works out what her interests are, what will appeal to her and what will make her dream proposal into a reality.

I think getting help can be just as romantic as working it all out alone – it shows how much he wants that moment to be amazing.

Every couple is different – and a proposal certainly doesn’t need to be a big spectacle or stunt, but even the words you choose, the timing, the way in which you ask, is important. You’re asking someone to commit the rest of their lives to you: mean it.

I’m not saying you should run out and hire a proposal planner, but I definitely think the idea has a lot of mileage. I would love to see the idea extended to anniversaries, birthdays and occasions, I think that most people have wonderful intentions but need a little help going the extra mile. To me, a hopeless romantic, I can’t think of a better job than helping people make someone they love really happy. 

What do you think? Should men be left to their own devices? Or should we embrace the proposal planner as a romantic and practical (a rare combination) service? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Just so you all know, disagreeing with anything in this post is absolutely fine, debate really is welcomed – but any abusive or bullying comments will not be published. It’s at my discretion where that line is crossed, but let’s have a great discussion without getting personal. 

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