The Proposal is Dead. Long Live the Proposal

Love and Sex

The Proposal is Dead. Long Live the Proposal

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

Almost ten years ago, on a chilly, rain-soaked Saturday afternoon, my best friend from school and I – then just giggly teenagers – were trying our best to remain inconspicuous from our respective parents. Couched uncomfortably on the floor, the two of us held our landlines close to our ears while exchanging a piece of information of paramount significance in overexcited whispers. The boy she had been crushing on for the last two years, had at last “proposed” to her, days before our ICSE board exams no less.

I listened eagerly as she breathlessly regaled me with the minutiae of the whole shindig: There were roses, a few candles unconvincingly spread across his terrace, an Archies’ card, and a heartfelt question. Even though her answer had been in the affirmative, the proposal had momentarily rendered her speechless, enveloping her in that celebrated feeling of being “the one”. The theatrics had guaranteed that the proposal transformed into an event; one that I’m certain that the two marked fondly as one of the stages in their romance.

My friend wasn’t alone in putting the idea of the proposal on a pedestal. At that time, a period before the bastardisation of romance in the clammy hands of hook-up culture and low-attention spans, the “proposal” was a rite of passage in any relationship. When the guy you’d been talking to on Orkut, or playing out Stare-Wars: The Force Awakens with at your English tuition, suggested going up to the terrace, it could mean only one thing: readying yourself for the arrival of the desi “proposal” that marked the onset of a relationship.

While we settled on the couch with a box of pizza and wine late at night, the television played our favourite guilty pleasure: Kal Ho Naa Ho.

Now, a visit to the terrace with a potential bae is just another selfie opportunity. You see, back then, there were no alternatives to the proposal. No one seemed to be dedicating their lives at the altar of casual sex, and not everyone was desperate to hop onto the “commitment-phobe” bandwagon.

For anyone falling in love back in the day, the proposal was a legit, tangible thing. An inevitable little hurdle that paved the way for a fruitful companionship, voluntarily crossed without any negotiation. A thoughtful gesture that cut out the ambiguity and ensured that you were on the path to a sure-footed relationship.

Back in the day when these things meant something, a proposal was a stamp of being official. Some people went all-out in their proposals designing it with grand declarations of love, while some defeated by low self-esteem would be forced to vomit it in handwritten letters. No matter what the mode of expression, it was all united by one thing: People did not shy away from wearing their hearts on their sleeves. This candour, and willingness to fully love and be loved ensured that the art of the proposal thrived.

As with every good thing, this too came with an expiry date.

Somewhere along the way – a little before our utter dependence on the promise of dating apps and a while after an air of indifference was desired in a romantic encounter – the idea of proposing to someone you wanted to be with, started becoming an afterthought. We started questioning the relevance and the need for a proposal. After all, what was stopping two people who liked each other to just take it forward without any fuss? So, we went ahead and formed relationships, alliances, and flings without the weight of the “P” word.

According to the dating rulebook of the “asking out” generation, the “propose maarna” was replaced with a text, a kiss, a right swipe. Since then, the proposal has become a quaint remnant of a bygone era; a chipped but not quite broken Victorian teacup. We’ve left it behind like the company of an old friend, whose memory is all but forgotten.

Today, as the conventional definition of love and its bywords get constantly updated, the markers of commitment have evolved as well. We now make do with virtual communication, with dancing gifs that exclaim “I love you”, deleting dating apps together, and assuming that the other person likes us when they agree to hang out on the third consecutive day or when they share their Netflix. Sure, it’s made things easier for our relationships, but sometimes it’s hard to admit that an invite for a picnic may not result into a larger-than-life proposal.

On one night a few months back, I reconnected with my friend after years of letting adulthood and its responsibilities distance us. While we settled on the couch with a box of pizza and wine late at night, the television played our favourite guilty pleasure: Kal Ho Naa Ho.

In our hopelessly romantic minds, Aman’s tearjerker monologue where he professes his love for Naina, is the gold standard in judging the sincerity of a proposal. “Pyaar toh sab hi karte hai, par mera jaise pyaar koi nahi kar sakta kyunki kisike paas tum nahi ho,” had seemed like it was designed specifically for our tear glands. But years later, as we watched the film, neither did we lip-sync “Tum meri ho, main tumhe zindagi bhar pyar karunga, marte dum tak pyaar karunga aur uske baad bhi” to perfection, nor did tears flow down our faces. Instead, both of us rolled our eyes at Aman’s disastrous attempt at lying and Naina’s frustrating gullibility.

“Aman must have had side-chicks and I’m confident Rohit would never delete his Tinder profile for Naina,” my friend smirked. This is the same girl who’d repeat her proposal story for a month after, to anyone who was willing to hear.

If my friend had lost her faith, then it must be true. The proposal was well and truly dead. And we didn’t even get to say a final goodbye.