Proposal

Photo: Derek Latta

What is your dream marriage proposal? Does it involve a dancing flash mob at the Sydney Opera House, a giant neon billboard in Times Square or being asked at half time during a televised sporting event? Who can forget Kanye West's extravagant surprise proposal to Kim Kardashian at a baseball stadium with fireworks and a 50-piece orchestra?

But spectacularly over-the-top public proposals involving giant television screens, choirs or helicopters are not what most women want and all too often they can end in a humiliating rejection, say proposal experts. According to a survey by a US bridal retailer, most brides do not want an epic proposal. “Everyone's heard of the elaborate Jumbotron and flash mob proposals, but, surprisingly, more than half of brides wouldn't say yes to either of these extravagant proposals,” according to "proposal planner" Sarah Pease. “Instead, brides are hoping for more unique, personalised and creative proposals.”

Is it time for groomzillas to start listening?

“When it comes to proposals, men are clueless” says Melbourne-based proposal expert Jonathan Krywicki, one of a growing number of professional proposal planners who help men struggling to find the right way to pop the question. One desperate suitor even faked his own death in a car crash in the hope of persuading his girlfriend to marry him, he says.

Krywicki's proposal planning service has taken off. “The problem a lot of guys have is that they are not that creative. Their idea of romance on Valentine's Day is giving her a rose. I push them out of their comfort zone.”

Krywicki encourages his clients to stay away from spectacular public proposals. “There is a trend towards lavish proposals,” he says. “At one stage people were really going over the top. They were doing flash mobs and all these really crazy things. I think it's a little bit tacky. You can't just take someone else's idea and copy it and try and make it your own. It doesn't work. Your proposal is a story that you weave, that you craft, that really tells the journey that you and your partner went through so it has got to be really specific to her. If someone proposes on a billboard in Times Square to me it doesn't really show the guy gave it much thought.”

Public proposals often backfire, says Krywicki, describing how one man went about asking his girlfriend to marry him. “A couple were watching a basketball game and at half time the commentator called the woman to come down to the court. Then the guy appears out of nowhere with a microphone. He proposes to her in front of everyone. She is shocked, whispers something in his ear and starts shaking her head and she runs off the court. That is someone who obviously didn't know their partner and didn't know that she doesn't doesn't want a public proposal. She wanted something more private and intimate. He really messed it up and who knows they may not even be together.”

In another scenario a Russian man went to elaborate lengths to propose to his girlfriend by faking his own death. “The car was smashed up and the police were there,” says Krywicki. “There was a makeup artist making him look bloody. His girlfriend is brought to the scene to identify the dead body. She is beside herself and hysterical and as she walks away he gets out of the car all mangled up, blood everywhere and he taps her on the shoulder, gets down on one knee and pulls out a ring. She has no idea what is going on and she starts hitting and slapping him. This is where men get it wrong. He thought by making her feel a loss she would realise how important he was in her life but there are other ways to do that.”

Krywicki, who has written a guide, The Seven Biggest Mistakes Men Make When Proposing, explains why a badly thought out proposal can quickly turn into rejection. “What happens particularly in public proposals, is that she feels pressured to say 'yes' because there are all these people around her. But afterwards she may say 'no' because having a bad proposal really plays at the back of her mind. [She thinks] 'Does he not know me? Does he not get who I am? If he doesn't get me now what does that mean for the rest of our relationship?' To me getting the proposal right really sets the tone for the rest of your life together.”

Sydney wedding planner Bree Taylor agrees most women would prefer a low-key proposal. “Lavish proposals are not the thing to be done at the moment. It is almost embarrassing,” she says. “I don't think women like the show. They might think 'I'm not Kim Kardashian' so why have a ridiculous, lavish proposal when it's not reflective of them and their partner?”

She advises men to “do something in keeping with their character rather than trying too hard. Don't be something you are not. An ideal proposal is while doing the things you love doing with each other. If you go for a walk every Sunday morning and it's unexpected, that is a good time to do it. I think it is about keeping that unexpected, surprise element. You also don't want to overshadow the ring with a fireworks spectacular,” she adds.

Tayler McCarthy says her boyfriend got it just right when he popped the question (without any help from a proposal planner) on a holiday they had already planned to the US last year. “We were at the top of the Empire State Building. It was a really terrible day. It was raining and it was really empty,” says the 24-year-old. “He had a little speech prepared. He got on one knee and said 'will you marry me?' I burst into tears because I was so excited and happy. As women we can build the proposal up in our minds but I didn't really care about where, when or how or even if there was a ring. I just really wanted to marry him."