The 180

The problem with public marriage proposals

After a few marriage proposals at the Olympics, we hear about new Canadian research that says men propose publicly when they think their girlfriend may say no, or when they feel the relationship is at risk. Then we speak with writer Jackie Wong about what this tells us about gender dynamics in 2016.
China's silver medalist He Zi, left, receives a marriage proposal by China's diver Qin Ki, right, during the medal ceremony for the women's 3-meter springboard diving final ( AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Listen11:57

The Olympics in Rio have hosted a remarkable number of marriage proposals. 

There was the Brazilian rugby player who accepted a proposal from her girlfriend following rugby's medal ceremony. A British racewalker proposed to his boyfriend after finishing 6th in the 20k event. An American triple-jumper won silver, then ran to the stands and offered a diamond ring to his hurdler girlfriend. And after Chinese diver He Zi took silver in the women's three-metre springboard event, her boyfriend proposed to her in the middle of the aquatics centre.

While pre-internet records are scarce, it's likely that these games have had the most public marriage proposals of any games.

Of course, marriage proposals that invite the public to watch are not new. The internet is bristling with publicly-held marriage proposals, often at sports games in front of thousands of people, or elaborate surprises, filmed and posted on Youtube.

Lisa Hoplock is a psychologist currently at the University of Victoria, and researches marriage proposals, both public and private. Her research, not yet published, suggests public marriage proposals are more likely to be declined than private ones, and the recipients of proposals, usually women, most often prefer a little privacy.

We find that people tend to prefer the private proposal over the public one, and if they could change anything about their proposal, they would prefer that it be private. - Lisa Hoplock

Hoplock has a few ideas about why people may attempt a public proposal.

I think there might be a couple things going on there. For some they might just think that's what their partner wants; a big public proposals. For others, maybe they want to pressure their partner into saying 'yes.'- Lisa Hoplock

Jackie Wong is a Vancouver writer, and is recently engaged. She spoke with The 180's Jim Brown about the cultural assumptions baked in to the concept of a public proposal. To Wong, what men might think is a grand romantic gesture, robs women of their own agency.

They concern me, they smack so much of inequality. Of this non-consensual ambushing. And the better you ambush them, the better the proposal is.- Jackie Wong

Click the play button above to hear the full interview with Jackie Wong.