There can't be many things more mortifying than having your marriage proposal rejected. Look up "failed marriage proposal" on YouTube, and there are endless videos of people being shot down, each of them as hard to watch as the last. For some reason, a huge number of them seem to happen either at shopping malls, next to large monuments, or at sporting contests. This, of course, compounds the already deep, cavernous sense of despair: Nobody wants to be consoled by a football mascot in a fucking tiger costume.
What these YouTube videos don't offer is a chance to ask the people involved what the experience actually feels like. I wanted to find out, so I tracked down three people who've either had a proposal turned down or turned down a proposal and asked them to tell me all about it.
(Names have been changed)
ARTS 'N' CRAFTS DISASTER
Illustrations by George Yarnton
My girlfriend and I have now been together for just over a year, and I've always been very clear that I have no interest in getting married, or having children. I'm 29, and she's 25, and she seemed to go along with that. In October of last year, though, she started get a little bit "nesty"—she told me that she loved me and began to start talking about moving in together, which I found all a bit too much to handle.
The conversation died down for a while until February 29. It was a Sunday afternoon, and my girlfriend invited me to this bracelet workshop she was doing. When I arrived at the workshop, which was a room filled with middle-aged women and colored thread, my girlfriend was working away, making these bracelets. I sat down opposite her, and she passed me a box of stuff, so I could make my own bracelet. The box contained a handful of small letters to fix on to the thread. Looking into the box, I realized that the letters spelt out "Will you marry me?"
My eyes widened immediately. I really didn't want her to embarrass herself in front of a group of women in loose, floor-length dresses, so I started putting the letters on the bracelet in deliberately in the wrong order. I was making words like "owl" and "lily" instead, but she stopped me and started hysterically crying. She knew I was intentionally not taking it seriously in order to avoid having the conversation about it.
I felt really uncomfortable. Not just because I'd just been proposed to, but because it happened via the medium of a handmade bracelet.
Then we went for a walk, and after she'd stopped crying, she tried to pin it on the fact that it was the 29th, supposedly the "one date a year where women can propose to men." She told me that if you say no, the man has to purchase the woman a pair of silk gloves. I thought it was totally bullshit, but there's a Wikipedia page with it all on there. Then she told me it was all a joke. But if it was a joke, I don't see why she had to cry so much. I've always been pretty clear that I never want to get married; I primed her to that fact.
After it happened, I just went home because I had work in the morning. We began awkwardly texting the week after it happened. I didn't see her for three days afterward, and during that time, I thought to myself, As long as she doesn't bring it up, everything will be fine. This is still pretty fresh, so we're still working things out. She's a really nice girl, but it's a bit weird that this has happened.
To be honest, I've had a very sheltered life up until now, so having an embarrassing teen movie proposal that I had to turn down in front of a room full of primary school teachers was all pretty terrible. It's probably the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
READ ON BROADLY: Planning Viral Wedding Proposals Is an Actual Job
A TEAM GB UPSET
When I first started going out with Tom, I was completely starry-eyed. He was ten years older than me, completely gorgeous and had been an Olympic athlete for Team GB [the British Olympic team]. On paper, he was my perfect man, but the reality was entirely different. Although he was in a team that won gold at the Olympics, he injured himself just before the last race, so wasn't in the lineup to get a medal. That moment stuck with him throughout his life and gave him this massive complex about being in control and having to prove himself. After two years, the difficulties in our relationship became too much, so I decided to call it quits.
Some time later, my dad told me he'd received a message from Tom on Facebook, saying, "I need to talk to you about your daughter." The next day, I woke up to a call from Tom saying he was in Canterbury. I was so hungover that I couldn't quite process what he was saying, but I made out that he wanted me to meet him at the cathedral. I couldn't quite believe he was there, but I slumped out of bed and got in the car to go and meet him.
When I got to Canterbury Cathedral, Tom was waiting for me outside this incredibly beautiful building with a bottle of champagne and a bunch of flowers. Before I had a chance to say anything, he got down on one knee and proposed. He gave me a necklace—not a ring, a necklace. Suddenly a mob of tourists rushed toward us and began taking photos of him down on one knee and me looking like I was about to throw up everything I had consumed the night before. I was mortified. I asked him to get up off the floor and explained to him, in front of a group of Japanese sightseers, that we were not even together, let alone about to get married. Tom had convinced himself that proposing to me would fix all our problems.
We left the cathedral, and I walked him to the station, but the trains weren't running, so he had to get on a coach replacement service home.
DEAD CAT DILEMMA
I first met Claire at a club in London called KOKO. The night I met her, she was wearing a luminous bra, and I was wearing a T-shirt with an alien on it. As bad as it sounds, she asked to borrow one of my glow sticks. That's how we met.
At the time I proposed, Claire and I had been together for six years. We'd just moved in together when she began saying that she felt trapped in her job and wanted to leave. In the most middle-class of ways, she found an advert in the travel section of the Guardian that said you could pay $1,400 to go sailing for a year. It was mad. They teach you how to sail and provide all your lodgings for a grand. She was obsessed with going; I think she thought sailing would solve all of her problems. I was weaker at the time and pretended to be fine with her going to live on a sailboat for a year. Obviously I was shredded up inside, but I couldn't go with her because I'd just gotten a new job.
During her time away, we'd only Skyped now and again because she was literally out at sea in the middle of nowhere. Every time we spoke, she seemed less and less interested in coming back. As a result of her disinterest, I became fixated on the idea that marrying her would be the way to get her back. It became an obsession of mine, and I booked a flight to go and meet her in Tahiti.
In the weeks leading up to my trip to see Claire, her childhood cat that I was looking after at home started dying on me. I thought, Holy fuck, the cat can't die while she's away—there's no way she'll marry me! So for months, I had to medicate the cat, and I was paying a lot of money because there was no insurance. The vet eventually said it was going to cost more than $2,000 to save the cat, and there was no way I could spend that—all my money had gone on the flights. So I had the cat put down—which also costs money, by the way. I chose to bury it in a mass grave because it was free. It was really bad.
The day after the cat died, I boarded my plane to Tahiti, but the flight was severely delayed. I started to get this sort of stress rash, and before I knew it, I had literally broken out in hives. Then I missed my connecting flight in Paris, so I had to stay in a shitty Ibis hotel.
Finally, I arrived and spotted Claire in the arrivals hall. She looked stunning: bronzed skin and shells in her hair. I, on the other hand, was pale, covered in hives, and had lost about five pounds because of stress. That night, I convinced myself that I had to propose to Claire. As we met at a neon rave, I bought over 2,000 glow sticks—glow sticks that got me stopped at customs—to make a huge heart on the sand.
I brought Claire outside to see my glow stick love letter, but she knew what was happening and stopped me before I could say anything. She began this whole monologue about how things weren't right between us, and she wasn't sure about our future. I swallowed the sadness. At that moment, I was completely crushed.
I was sitting in Tahiti bawling my eyes out. Then I thought, Fuck this, I'm going to have a good time. But it turned out that because of a plane strike we were stranded for another two weeks on the island. It was awkward as fuck. We ran out of money, so we had to stay on the fucking boat that she'd been sailing around on in this tiny little cabin. A week in she confessed to me that she'd been sleeping with someone else on the boat the entire time.
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