The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Stop trying to stage-manage the boyfriend’s marriage proposal


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hello, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My boyfriend and I have talked about marriage. I expressed that my big dream for an engagement is something big and public. I don’t mean expensive, maybe just like one of those cute, on-camera things at a sporting event.

My predicament: My dad told me my boyfriend has asked permission to propose to me. And, that he is going to propose at an upcoming sports event. My dad expressed concern that my boyfriend’s co-workers will make fun of him and cause problems at his job. My dad wants me to tell my boyfriend not to do this.

I think my dad is projecting his own concerns onto my boyfriend. Should I tell my boyfriend not to propose this way, or let him make his own decision? This is supposed to be a surprise to me. We are both 30, no previous marriages, responsible professionals.

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Engagement Surprise?

I hope your boyfriend is comfortable being told what to do, marrying into this family.

Tell your dad you’ve already tugged your boyfriend’s strings to extract the public proposal in the first place, and so you’d appreciate his not tugging his strings in a different direction.

Or tell Dad that, even if he’s right, Boyfriend might respond better to workplace ribbing than to having his confidence betrayed — especially when all your dad had to do to avoid that was to express his misgivings to your boyfriend directly.

b\hjkaqhalhb (forehead, keyboard).

Re: Surprise:

I’d like to point out that given the level of detail, direction, and other specifics given by the letter-writer, there’s absolutely no way this would ever be a surprise to all parties involved. There’s nothing wrong with a big proposal, but it looks like this poor guy is getting pushed around by you and your father. Everyone is telling everyone else what to do over something that’s supposed to be simple and sweet. I feel like there’s no way anyone is going to be happy in all of this.


The one who’s happy is the one who gets his or her way, duh!

I’ve beaten this point senseless, but when has that stopped me:

Dear letter-writer, PLEASE let life happen, vs. trying to direct it into the scene you’ve always envisioned. Have your boyfriend show his love his way vs. yours, and love him your way vs. his, so you can see what that means and whether that works — unless and until there are small adjustments you can make to your ways that you’re eager and able to make for each other and that don’t compromise who you are.

That way you’re not constantly working at being the person the other needs you to be. Instead you can save your effort for pulling your weight, showing kindness, having each other’s backs.

When you feel the impulse to start directing someone else’s actions, consciously stop yourself. Wait. See what happens.

If you don’t love the result on a reasonably consistent basis, then don’t take that as a signal to start directing again. That’s a sign you need to make changes in your choices, up to and including your choice of mate, friends, career, hobbies, locale, anywhere you seek satisfaction in life.

Maybe an over-answer, but, there it is, just in case.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Be a man and cry
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Sleep advice you won't find in baby books
Play Videos
Drawing as an act of defiance
A flood of refugees from Syria but only a trickle to America
Chicago's tacos, four ways
Play Videos
What you need to know about filming the police
What you need to know about trans fats
Syrian refugee: 'I’m committed to the power of music'
Play Videos
Riding the X2 with D.C.'s most famous rapper
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Europe's migrant crisis, explained

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.