The Pros and Cons of a Private vs. Public Proposal

A man and woman standing on the beach in front of a "will you marry me" sign lit up with fireworks.

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time thinking about my future proposal. I probably thought about it more than I thought about actually getting married! There was something so exciting to me about that special moment, when the love of your life officially asks you to turn your two lives into one.

Every time I watched a romantic comedy, the proposal depicted on the screen became my new life goal. I watched Serendipity and wanted to unwrap one box after another in my living room until I found the box with a ring inside. I watched The Wedding Singer and wanted to be serenaded on an airplane (though hopefully not with my cheating fiancé at my side). Anyone who’s not a love-crazed preteen would realize that those two proposals are vastly different—but which one is better?

Public and private marriage proposals each have their own pros and cons, and the question of “which is better” really comes down to personal taste. But just for fun, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of these two ways to pop the question.

The Public Proposal

At its simplest form, a public proposal refers to asking someone to marry you when other people are present. The specifics can vary drastically, depending on what you’ve planned; a proposal at your weekly family dinner and a big, romantic gesture on the jumbotron at a Lakers game are both considered public proposals.

The fact that you can involve other people is one of the primary pros of a public proposal. If family and friends are very important to you and your sweetheart, asking the question in front of everyone can be a great way to share this special moment with everyone you care about.

A public proposal is also a wonderful choice for those couples that love big displays of affection—complete with a theatrical flair. If you want to show your partner just how much he or she means to you (and if you’re sure they don’t mind a little attention), the good old-fashioned flash mob just might do the trick.

A young man surprising a woman in a pink dress with a marriage proposal in front of the Eiffel tower.

Of course, a public proposal can come with its fair share of cons. Firstly, it’s very tough to control your environment when you’re in a public place. You may want to propose to your princess in front of the castle at Disneyland, but that won’t stop countless families from taking their own photos—or stop toddlers from having a mid-day meltdown in front of you! If you’re going to do a public proposal, you have to be ready to roll with the punches.

And, of course, whenever you propose to someone, there’s always that unspoken worry: what if they say no? A public proposal puts a lot of pressure on both the asker and the askee, as a negative response could mean awkwardness and humiliation in front of a lot of people. In fact, your partner may feel obligated to say yes in the moment, only to break off the engagement once you two are alone again.

The Private Proposal

On the other side of the proposal spectrum lies the private proposal. Once again, this proposal takes on many forms, from a romantic picnic on a secluded beach to a casual question at the dining room table. The key is that you keep the proposal private, with only you and your partner (and maybe the photographer you hired to hide nearby) there for that special question.

Just like the public proposal, there are many pros to this method. For one thing, it’s exceptionally intimate. A private proposal immediately becomes this romantic moment that no one else shares, something you both will remember fondly for the rest of your lives.

A man proposing to a woman in front of a white Christmas tree.

The private proposal also gives you a little more creative control over the evening (or afternoon—ask whenever you want to). While public proposals have to work around other people—literally, if you’re doing it in a public place, or figuratively if you’re trying to coordinate schedules—a private proposal gives you carte blanche to create the perfect moment for the two of you.

However, the private proposal can have some cons as well. While you may have the freedom to create whatever proposal you’d like, you might be limited by your own creative abilities, particularly if you don’t want other people to spoil the surprise. Asking your girlfriend’s sister to paint you an amazing “Will You Marry Me?” banner is a tough sell if she can’t be there to see it unfurl.

This actually brings me to the second con: no one else is there to celebrate! Being in love is great; it makes us want to jump up and down and shout it from the rooftops. But if no one is there to hear us, it’s not always as fun. If you’re getting engaged to someone who loves celebrating with family and friends, a private proposal can be a little anticlimactic.

So, which proposal style is best? Honestly, it really depends on you and your partner. If you guys are the life of the party, a public proposal might be a blast. If you’re more introverted, a private moment will be much appreciated. Or you could always compromise and have a private proposal with a party immediately after! Think about your relationship and what will make your future spouse happiest—you’ll know exactly how to ask.

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