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On Decent Proposals

It’s June. Wedding season. Only a few days left to dig out that embossed invitation, navigate your buddy’s online bridal registry, and take a Sharpie to the scuffs on your party shoes.

During the reception, the deejay will spin “Single Ladies,” and you’ll want to hit the dance floor and show off your mad self-spanking skills. But the groom’s gabby Aunt Joan and sozzled Uncle Ted will stop you to tell The Story. The treasured “How He (or She) Proposed” anecdote. It’s told and retold at these events, laying the foundation for the couple’s mutual mythology, the oral history of their romance.

Our culture loves a good “Will you marry me?” narrative. It’s the dragon-slaying folktale of our modern world. How’d he do it? How’d he fell the beast? Did he use wit, or brawn? Did he bury the ring in bean dip or convince the philharmonic to bust out Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything,” falling to one knee and wailing, “Marry me, marry me, marry me …”?

Outrageous proposals abound in recent news. A San Diego tattoo artist inked “Rachel, will you marry me?” onto his own leg. (I’d marry him for his perfect punctuation, but that’s my freak-ness weakness.) A New Jersey valedictorian popped the question by calling her beau and fellow grad to the stage after her speech. A New York fella edited himself into Back to the Future, rented a movie theater, and took his girlfriend to see the flick — in which he shows up on screen, looks into the camera, and asks her to be his wife. They all said yes. Aww.

But over-the-top marriage proposals make me uneasy. First, they pressure the askee to say “I do.” You have to sort of hate a guy to turn him down after he asks for your hand on the big screen at Staples Center during the Lakers playoffs. They also create an absurd standard of one-upmanship that has no place in real romance: “No, no, skywriting’s been done! I need dolphins, damn it, dolphins that sing!”

Don’t get me wrong; I applaud creativity. I know a guy who took his true love to dinner, disappeared into the men’s room, and re-emerged in a velvet Prince Charming costume with tights and beret. They lived happily ever after.

There’s even a dude on YouTube who orchestrated the mind-boggling coup of having a skyscraper’s windows light up to spell out “Lisa will you marry me?” while they stood out front at night. (Note the missing comma; I’m just saying.)

But here’s my biggest beef with Grandiose Proposals: Are they indicative of the kind of marriage that will follow?

After the cake has been ordered, the garter tossed, and the gifts exchanged for cash to pay for all the crap they bought on their honeymoon, these newlyweds have to live together. Like forever. Will their union be as inspired as the proposal that sparked it?

I heard about a guy who wrote “Will you marry me?” on a tortilla chip (See? A Sharpie’s uses are untold.) and had a waiter hide it in the chip basket at his gal’s favorite taqueria. The stunt showed foresight, imagination, whimsy — but will those qualities make him an ideal spouse? Will she ever again feel so special, so all-important, so worth his trouble? Hard to say. But I did enjoy typing all those commas.

The best proposal story I ever heard goes like this: A guy gets up in the middle of the night to use the can, comes back to bed and mutters, apropos of nothing, “That reminds me … will you marry me?”

Extravagant? Romantic? Promising? No. But I’d have given anything to hear Aunt Joan recount that pretty parable as the cake was cut.

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