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6 Reasons Marriage Proposals Get Rejected

It matters whether a proposal is public, and not always in a good way.

Key points

  • A new study analyzes marriage rejections from stories posted online.
  • Public proposals had a higher rate of rejection than private ones.
  • Most often, the woman felt she was too young or not ready.
Motortion Films/Shutterstock
Source: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

When a man proposes to a woman in public, many people respond with great enthusiasm. If you instead get an uneasy feeling, you may be on to something. Just-published research on the characteristics of marriage proposals that are rejected shows that proposals made in front of other people are more likely to be rejected than proposals made in private.

In “Rules of engagement: A content analysis of accepted and rejected marriage proposals,” published online in the Journal of Family Psychology, University of Victoria psychologists Lisa B. Hoplock and Danu Anthony Stinson analyzed 374 stories of rejected and accepted marriage proposals that were posted anonymously at or Most of the stories (81%) were written by women. Nearly all of the people who proposed (94%) were men proposing to women. Because of the lopsided numbers, only the proposals by a man to a woman were analyzed in detail.

Characteristics of Proposals that Were Rejected

The proposal was public

When men proposed in front of other people, their proposals were more likely to be rejected. Of proposals that were accepted, other people were present only about a third of the time (32%). Of the proposals that were rejected, other people were present nearly half the time (45%).

The couple never discussed marriage before the proposal

Every time a proposal was accepted, the couple had already discussed marriage. Of the proposals that were rejected, 40% of the couples had never even discussed marriage.

The couple never even dated before the proposal

Every time a proposal was accepted, the couples were dating. Of the proposals that were rejected, 10% came from men who had never even dated the woman they were proposing to. Six of those proposals were made by complete strangers.

The couple had not been dating for many years

When proposals were accepted, the couple had been dating for nearly twice as many years (an average of 4.2) as when proposals were rejected (an average of 2.2 years).

The man doesn’t have a ring

When the man didn’t offer a ring, his proposal was 8.5 times more likely to be rejected. If he did not get down on one knee, his proposal was 4.7 times more likely to be rejected.

The man proposed in an attempt to save the relationship

When the men and women talked about the reasons the man proposed (and not all of them did), one reason was mentioned only for proposals that were rejected: the man was proposing to try to save the relationship. The couple was having problems, and the man thought a marriage proposal would solve them.

That wasn’t the most common reason, though. Most often, when a proposal was rejected it was because the woman thought they were too young or they just weren’t ready yet.

Relationships that Continued After the Rejection

For three out of every 10 couples (31%), a rejected proposal was not the end of the relationship. They continued to date. Only 21 people indicated how long they continued dating; on the average, it was 2.4 years. Five couples eventually married.

Rejected Proposals: The Special Risks to Women

Getting their proposals rejected was, unsurprisingly, painful to the men. Their most common reaction was to cry. They also expressed hurt and confusion.

In some ways, though, it was worse for the women. If the proposal had been made publicly, the audience was more likely to be hostile to the woman than to the man. The man was sometimes comforted by the onlookers. In contrast, one woman was “booed out of the bar” and another was kicked out of a restaurant.

When proposals were rejected, 15% of the time intimate partner violence occurred. Behaviors included as instances of intimate partner violence were “excessive control, threatening suicide, stalking, coercive and manipulative behaviors, emotional intimate partner violence, and physical intimate partner violence.” Sometimes the violence was already occurring in the relationship. Often, it occurred after the rejected proposal, most often in the form of stalking. A few instances occurred during the proposal, as, for example, when a man pulled the woman’s hair to get her attention.

Because only 25 of the proposals were made by women, the authors did not analyze those proposals in detail. They did, though, note one thing about them: Their proposals were about twice as likely to be rejected as the proposals made by men.

Facebook image: Motortion Films/Shutterstock