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Published on March 19th, 2010 | by Staggered

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Phoning It In – How To Propose On The Phone

Is it at all possible for a relatively well-adjusted adult to defend the notion of proposing marriage over the telephone, which a recent statistic tells us – 6% of men do?

Asking this question of any other relatively well-adjusted adult – particularly a female one, it can seem – commonly meets with the sort of reaction you’d expect from having leaned over and given them a quick paper cut: an angry wince and a sharp intake of breath, quickly segueing into reproachful glares and/or physical retribution.

No matter which way you look at it popping the question over the phone remains the cowpat-smothered Tsar Bomba lurking in the boggiest furrow of the marriage proposal minefield. We’re stubborn here at Staggered, though, and refuse to fence it off completely – instead, how about a few pointers to help you minimise the potential fallout?

Have A Bloody Good Reason

There are countless reasons why you might feel that a telephone proposal is the way to go, but it’s fair to say that precious few of them will

hold up to the minute scrutiny such an unorthodox move is bound to face (regardless of the net result) in the aftermath.

- Extreme nerves may seem like the most universally understandable defence – after all, who doesn’t imagine themselves likely to come across as a jabbering imbecile under the buckling pressure of a face-to-face proposal? Realistically, though, blind panic is probably the least acceptable excuse going: the recipient of your overtures could easily be forgiven for rejecting an applicant who favours conducting serious relationship business from behind an emotional dressing screen.

In this scenario, it’s impossible to claim that the phone is playing a vital role, which it must be if you’re even considering using it. No, all it’s really doing is providing the caller with a flimsy mask behind which they forlornly hope their mantling vulnerability might somehow be partially concealed. It won’t – which is just one of many good reasons why wearing a fake face while proposing has always had a rather patchy success rate outside of Renaissance-era Venice – so if your only excuse is a terminal lack of minerals, you probably shouldn’t even be bothering.

- Equally, the telephone mustn’t be viewed as a modern enabler of the historically unfeasible ‘emergency’ proposal. Anyone attempting to push a proposal through a barely-ajar window of question-popping opportunity should, with a few /highly/ specific exceptions, be hearing some pretty shrill alarm bells already. This is of course particularly true if said window is closing due to your own precarious situation, as opposed to that of your significant other.

Once again, there will be clear-cut and specific exceptions to this rule. But, broadly speaking, while a proposal shrieked down a stuttering mobile as you cling one-handed to the remains of a collapsing Amazonian rope bridge may /seem/ quite the blockbuster gesture in the heat of the moment – to the incurable romantic with serious prioritisation issues, at any rate – in reality, nobody on the other end is likely to appreciate being put through that sort of emotional mangle. Besides, whatever answer you get will inevitably be heavily skewed by the circumstances, and therefore somewhat compromised in value.

If You’re Gonna Do It, Do It Right

While it’s easy to rip the piss out of the whole concept of phone proposals, it’d be naive to assume there couldn’t exist a scenario in which doing so was really the only practical method available. For such specific cases, let’s sort through a few options, using the wholly undemocratic format the internet was apparently built for: a blinkered and crushingly prescriptive list of arbitrary Dos and Don’ts.

BAD THINGS TO DO

- Don’t drop a phone proposal /completely/ out of the blue. Controversial, perhaps (we know an element of surprise is, within reason, a key part of the romance), but think about it: who ever chose to handle a major decision over the phone without requesting the luxury of hanging up, chewing it over and calling back later? Be sure you’ve at least previously discussed – in person – the idea of getting married if you’re planning on using the phone method when crunch time rolls around.

- Don’t send the ring on ahead of you, unless you’re unlikely to see your partner for a /very/ long time after the phone proposal. By holding on to it until you do actually see them, you get to propose again ‘properly’ at a later date, and in doing so you’ll be keeping something back to bring to that therefore-no-less-special party. Few recipients will pass up at the opportunity to gleefully accept a second time, especially as it’ll be under even more romantic circumstances and unclouded by the dizzying emotional maelstrom of your first proposal.

- Don’t necessarily expect an immediate answer. Since being on a roughly equal footing isn’t a prerequisite for a phone conversation – caller and callee needn’t be in remotely similar situations or surroundings when a number is dialled – unannounced calls tend to be underpinned by a tacit understanding that interruptions, postponements and call-backs are compromises inherent to the medium.

- Don’t treat the fact that a phone call is an entirely vocal platform as your warrant to try to talk them into it. You’ve asked a potentially hugely taxing question: prove that you respect their decision-making prowess (a prerequisite to marriage anyway) by not loitering in the background hissing /your/ favoured answer while they’re busy trying to formulate their own.

- Don’t sell yourself (or your partner) short, though; make sure you say your piece in full before stepping back and leaving the decision in their capable hands. Crucially, don’t just drop the four-word bomb and then scatter – explain exactly /why/ you want them to marry you, and precisely what it would mean to you if they did.

- Don’t do it pissed. Or even slightly tipsy. It’s ludicrously easy to tell if someone on the other end of a phone has had a few to ‘loosen up’ (arguably more so than in person, unless the suspect is visibly trailing a shimmering haze of whiskey fumes). This is true no matter how much practise you might’ve had at playing sober during sheepish calls to friends and family from the police station.

- Don’t do it from the police station, obviously.

GOOD THINGS TO DO

- Do consider making your actual phone proposal just one part of a more elaborate gesture. Try sending something deeply personal – a video of you might fill a dual role in your absence – to your loved one, then being on the phone when it arrives or is opened. This obviously relies on organisation, luck, and perhaps the intervention of a third party, but it’s definitely doable. And, if you pull it off cleanly, it’ll basically make you look like some kind of all-powerful romance warlock. Or something equally awesome, but a bit less terrifying.

- Do make it fairly apparent that a call of this magnitude is on the cards before you actually hit them up with it, especially if you /are/ desperately hoping for an answer before one of you hangs up in a blind panic. Explicit forewarning may feel like you’re putting a dampener on the Dear Diary moment, so you’ll have to assess your partner’s ideal balance between the two for yourself. Still, some weighty prior hints coupled with an agreed date/time for the call are likely to be appreciated more in this sort of situation than the potentially ill-advised dramatic coup of catching your intended completely off guard.

- Do come up with some suitably high-quality lead-in to the actual proposal. It needn’t be minutely scripted, it shouldn’t be overblown and it mustn’t sound too rehearsed – but you don’t want the question to sound like either an agonising wrench, or something that dropped in through a conversational crack. You’re not ordering your own execution, but neither are you ordering a takeaway. Confidence, maturity and absolute frankness are your key allies on this mission.

- Do be prepared for lengthy silences, given the potential toughness of the question you’re asking. If they do occur, they’ll be even more excruciating than they would be in person – they can’t be padded with comforting body language or meaningful eye-contact – but remember why they’re happening. Although they might seem to you like vertiginous chasms of whistling nothingness, to the person on the other end of the phone they probably feel more like trying to skim-read the complete works of Tolstoy at knifepoint. Except, y’know…in a good way. You hope.

- Do remember that, whichever form the proposal takes, there is never anything wrong with getting (or giving) a delayed or deferred answer. An “I’ll think about it” mean’s you’re being considered as a serious candidate – and if you felt they’d just say yes to any old chump brandishing a pricey ring, you presumably wouldn’t be asking in the first place. You absolutely can’t expect such a hefty decision to wriggle its way to you down a phone line any more easily or quickly than it might do in person; probably quite the opposite, in fact.

- Do above all remember that in any marriage proposal, one thing alone is more important than the plan, the setting and the execution combined: the proposal itself; the fact that you’re asking someone to marry you. Everything else is so much window-dressing, and although you both deserve to dress this particular window as well as you’re able, the right customer won’t view any of it as a deal-breaker on its own.

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About the Author

Staggered is the world’s leading publisher for grooms, best men and fathers of the bride. Across websites, emails and magazines we help over 73,000 men every month.



2 Responses to Phoning It In – How To Propose On The Phone

  1. Claire says:

    Beautifully written, had me crying with laughter and at the same time nodding at your sage advice. I’m particularly fond of your use of Bush and Mo. Inspired wedding advice, love it. Claire x

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