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PhD student hits YouTube to find out why marriage proposals sometimes fizzle

For all the poetry, songs and Valentine’s Day cards to honour the successful pursuit of love, almost no hard research exists on why it sometimes falls flat.
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Lisa Hoplock, a PhD candidate in psychology at the University of Victoria, is studying failed marriage proposals.

For all the poetry, songs and Valentine’s Day cards to honour the successful pursuit of love, almost no hard research exists on why it sometimes falls flat.

So Lisa Hoplock, a PhD candidate in psychology at the University of Victoria, is setting out on a scientific investigation to learn why some marriage proposals are accepted and others get turned down.

“I want to see if we can get a better sense of this cultural ritual that so many people engage in,” said Hoplock. “There is almost no research on it.”

She and her husband have been married one year, have no kids yet and did not have a ritualized, down-on-one knee proposal. It was more like a conversation in which both agreed they wanted to be married.

To get a look at how proposals are performed, the 28-year-old Hoplock has arranged to sample nearly 300 YouTube videos of proposals, both successful and unsuccessful. She will also read about 400 descriptions plucked from Internet sites such as reddit.com.

One quirk she has already gleaned from looking at the videos is that about 40 per cent of the failed proposals happened at public events, such as sports games with more than 100 people looking on. People contrive to pop the question via the arena scoreboard screen or have the game announcer do it.

“It’s a big thing for the crowd and it can be a really big show,” said Hoplock. “The crowd really gets into it and they clap and cheer.”

But the reaction is a little different if the offer gets turned down.

“If the proposee says ‘No,’ they will boo or there is this big, silent shock,” she said.

Hoplock said being forced to say no at a big public event can often bring on the “fight or flight” response from the rejecter of the proposal.

At first, a typical response for all proposees, willing or not, is to register shock, often with hands to the face.

If it’s a successful proposal, the next response is usually a hug.

If it’s unsuccessful, however, the next response is to run away. Sometimes, there’s a little argument, but it’s usually followed by a quick flight for the exit.

“Often, they never even look back at the proposer,” said Hoplock. “They just get out of there.”

Meanwhile, “the proposers looked so crushed in many of these videos,” she said. “They really looked like they thought something could be happening for them and then the person says ‘No’ and then follows up by running away.”

Hoplock, whose research is in the early stages, hopes the study might eventually broaden to include what a successful or unsuccessful proposal might do to someone’s self-esteem, or to a relationship.

Does it end soon after, continue on or even eventually succeed?

“These proposals can have impacts on the well-being and the future of a relationship,” said Hoplock.

“If it’s an unsuccessful proposal, that relationship could very well be over.”

But saying ‘No’ doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is going to end, said Hoplock.

“It definitely gets them thinking about where their relationship is going.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com