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A Not-So-Modest Proposal

A primer for popping the ultimate question

05·29·2016

Making the decision to get hitched is one of the biggest decisions someone can make—a magic door to your new life as a husband or wife. So, you should probably take care with how you knock on said door. You don’t want to knock too softly and you certainly don’t want to go barging through. The goal of a proposal is one word: “yes”, and if you really want to get it, you’re going to need more than the obligatory ring and a fancy candle-lit dinner. You’re going to need some words to go along with it.

Obviously, there isn’t a standard template for a proposal. Your little speech can be romantic or realistic, dramatic or calm, serious or humorous. As Deng Xiaoping says, “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”

The “bossy-boss” (霸道总裁,bàdào zǒngcái) style is definitely one of the most popular types of proposal nowadays. For this, we can blame popular TV romances aimed at women, featuring the ideal that the man should be powerful, masculine, and a little bit of a control freak. Toughness is the new sexy and a non-negotiable proposal represents, for some ungodly reason, deep and sincere love.

The bossy-boss: Listen to me. I will say this only once and won’t take no for an answer.

Tīng hǎo le, wǒ zhǐ shuō yí cì. Nǐ bùxǔ shuō bù.

听好了, 我只说一次。你不许说不。

Woman: What?

Shénme shì?

什么事?

B: I want to marry you.

Wǒ yào qǔ nǐ.

我要娶你。

W: Uh…

E……

呃……

B: Do you need to consider that long to say yes?

Xūyào kǎolǜ nàme jiǔ ma?

需要考虑那么久吗?

A “bossy-boss” shows confidence, so using imperative sentence structure is, well, imperative. And remember: never wait for the answer. Honestly, it’s a risky move because, if you propose to someone like a mob boss looking for protection money, there’s always the chance she might just say “no” and walk away. There’s not a whole lot of wiggle room afterward.

The 暖男 (nuǎnnán), or “sunshine man”, is another type: gentle, sweet, always know their way into your heart. They think about you all the time and know everything about you. As such, their proposal style features, inevitably, a promise to take care of you forever. Much like a state-media editorial or an evangelical preacher, they usually start off with a statement that they are the only ones who truly understand you.

You are struggling in this city, renting a small apartment, working hard. I know it isn’t easy.

Nǐ yī gè rén zài zhè zuò chéngshì lǐ fèndòu, zūzhe xiǎofángzi, gōngzuò yě hén xīnkǔ. Wǒ zhīdào zhè bìng bú róngyì.

你一个人在这座城市里奋斗,租着小房子,工作也很辛苦。我知道这并不容易。

Please let me take care of you in the future. I can make you happy. Will you marry me?

Zài wèilái qǐng ràng wǒ zhàogù nǐ ba. Wǒ néng gěi nǐ xìngfú. Jià gěi wǒ hǎo ma?

在未来请让我照顾你吧。我能给你幸福。嫁给我好吗?

But, to be honest, that sort of cloying emotion is enough to make some want to reach for a barf bag. So, when it comes to the 文艺青年 (wényì qīngnián), or artsy youth, being a sweetheart isn’t good enough. Their proposal is all about the spiritual world—the soul, destiny, the completion of life itself. If you’re waiting on a proposal from this sort, get ready for some famous quotes.

People say “marriage is the tomb of love”. But if I could take you with me, I would go there without hesitation.

Rénmen dōu shuō, Hūnyīn shì “àiqíng de fénmù”. Dànshì rúguǒ néng hé nǐ zài yìqǐ, wǒ huì háo bú yóuyù de zǒu jìn qù.

人们都说 ,婚姻是“爱情的坟墓”。但是如果能和你在一起,我会毫不犹豫地走进去。

I know what you’re thinking: tomb? Really? You and me in a tomb? Hang on, the gushing isn’t over.

It was the 500 glances from the previous life that we threw at each other that led to our acquaintance in this life. It’s destiny that I met you. You are the other half of my soul. Will you marry me?”

Qiánshì wúbǎi cì de huímóu cái huànde jīnshēng de yí cì cā jiān ér guò. Yùjiàn nǐ shì mìng zhōng zhùdìng. Nǐ jiùshì wǒ línghún de lìng yí bàn. Nǐ yuànyì jià gěi wǒ ma?

前世五百次的回眸才换得今生的一次擦肩而过。遇见你是命中注定。你就是我灵魂的另一半。你愿意嫁给我吗?

For some that sort of thing is romantic; others, well, prefer their suitor eschew the dead body metaphors altogether.

Of course, you can’t expect such a poetic presentation from everyone. Like being traded for cattle and land rights in the past, marriage can be political and economical. They may just have breakfast with their girlfriends as usual, and make the offer naturally, just like talking about the weather.

Man: Maybe we should get married. Then, we can have breakfast together every day.

Huòxǔ wǒmen yīnggāi jiéhūn. Nàyàng dehuà, wǒmen jiù kéyǐ měitiān yìqǐ chī zǎocān le.

或许我们应该结婚。那样的话,我们就可以每天一起吃早餐了。

Woman: What?

Shénme?

什么?

Man: I said we should get married. You see, you rent an apartment and I rent another one. If we get married, we can live together and save half of the money.

Wǒ shuō wǒmen yīnggāi jiéhūn. Nǐ kàn, xiànzài nǐ zū yí jiān gōngyù, wǒ yě zū yí jiān. Rúguǒ wǒmen jiéhūn le, wǒmen jiù kéyǐ zhù zài yìqǐ, shèngxià yí bàn de qián.

我说我们应该结婚。你看,现在你租一间公寓,我也租一间。如果我们结婚了,我们就可以住在一起,省下一半的钱。


“A Not-So-Modest Proposal” is a story from our newest issue, “Romance”. To read the whole piece, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.

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