Never mind all this gay stuff — when is parliament going to get on with the marriage legislation we really need? I’m talking about the law banning men from proposing to their girlfriends in public.
It’s been happening for years. Local radio was always the worst offender. ‘Gareth, I think you’ve got something you want to say to Julie, haven’t you?’ the vapid Simon Bates wannabe would leer. In fact I blame Simon Bates for the whole phenomenon: he legitimised this mawkish sharing of supposedly private emotion. Those of you old enough to remember his ‘Our Tune’ feature on Radio 1 will know what I mean. To the rest of you I simply say: you lucky, lucky people. Then it spread to TV, village fêtes, public occasions of all sorts. I once saw a man propose to his girlfriend during half-time at Charlton Athletic’s football ground, which has to be the definition of ‘taking the edge off’.
But then along came YouTube, and the problem went viral. Philosophers don’t discuss trees falling over in empty forests any more; instead they ask whether, if an event happens and no one uploads it to YouTube, the event really happened at all? These days your marriage proposal doesn’t count unless it achieves over a million views. A typical exhibitionist bestriding the bandwidth is Adam King (1,680,383 and counting), who hired a choir to secrete themselves around a carriage of the 19.57 London Overground train to Watford Junction. One by one they start singing ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill -Withers (it’s a great performance), then they all pause before the last line so that Adam can produce the jewellery box and pop the question. His stunned and teary girlfriend says yes, the choir finish with a resounding ‘lovely day!’ and everyone cheers. If I’d been there I’d have been reaching for a quickly folded copy of the Standard, ready for the old heave-ho.
Which many of you will no doubt see as cynically unromantic. But these public proposals aren’t about romance, they’re about narcissism. Yes, the men who do this sort of thing are passionately in love — with themselves. You just know what sort of bloke they are when they go down on one knee and start the ‘Sharon, we’ve been together for three years now…’ spiel. They’re the sort of bloke who says, ‘You have to watch out for me, I’m a bit mad.’ Who requires oh-so-little ‘persuading’ to drag up for Comic Relief. Who (and I promise you I’ve seen this too) makes a toast at someone else’s wedding wishing the happy couple a marriage ‘as fulfilling as mine, because then they will have conquered the world’. They’re not professing undying love for their intended when they propose in public — they’re addressing everyone who’s watching with an unspoken cry of ‘you have to watch out for me, I’m a bit romantic’. They’re like those German teenagers you see snogging on Tube escalators, mouths a good couple of inches apart so you can see the tongues meeting: ‘Look everyone, we know how to French kiss.’
You could say that proposing in front of other people is the ultimate PDA (Public Display of Affection). It’s the one you’re not allowed to sneer at, because it’s the biggy, the M-word, marriage. ‘Soon,’ the guy is announcing, ‘I will spend tens of thousands of pounds at a mid-range country house hotel, where my guests will be entertained by the “amusing” message written on the soles of my shoes for when we kneel during the service, as well as my 55-minute groom’s speech and my rendition of “Everything I Do, I Do It For You” during the karaoke.’ Actually, come to think of it, maybe a public proposal isn’t quite as extreme as PDAs get. You get the feeling these guys want to take it one step further; once she’s said yes in front of the gathered crowds at the local shopping arcade, why not celebrate by giving her a quick five minutes over the bench outside Jigsaw?
Although, as we’ve said, these relationships aren’t really about the union between a man and a woman. They’re about the union between a man and himself. There’s a word for men who practise the act of self-love; it’s got six letters and if ever it applied, it applies here. Don’t you just yearn for one of these unfortunate women to point that fact out to her beau as he subjects her to a public proposal? Instead of going all gooey and mumbling a grateful ‘yes’, one of them should reply: ‘No, as it happens I won’t marry you, you sad little git. Why don’t you go and find yourself a woman whose level of independence you’d feel comfortable with — in other words, an inflatable one — and leave me free to find a man whose socks don’t all bear pictures of Homer Simpson?’
Now that would be worth watching on YouTube.