The Perils of Popping the Question in Public Places

In late 2017 I concocted an elaborate plan to propose to my boyfriend Stefan. Same sex marriage wasn’t even legal in Australia at the time, but I was in no doubt that I wanted to marry this wonderful man who had miraculously appeared in my life just two years earlier, and I was aiming for a proposal he would never forget. 

Winter can be a great time to visit New York

My long game was that I knew exactly WHERE I wanted to propose – we had a trip to New York booked for the week before Christmas and in the course of my “things to do in NY research” I’d stumbled across the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Station – more on that shortly. 

But first we needed to survive the deplorable Marriage Equality Plebiscite hatched by right wing conservative nut-jobs (why I should have to ask every Australian’s permission to marry remains a mystery to me). And even a YES vote didn’t even guarantee passage of the legislation through parliament.  

I also needed a plan in New York to lure Stef to Grand Central Station at some obscure hour when it would not be packed with commuters – I was planning a proposal, not a public performance piece. 

To help make this a trip to remember, I had secretly upgraded our flights to Premium Economy, and put in a points bid for a Business Class upgrade.  

So as you can see, I needed a few cards to fall my way if my plan was to proceed perfectly. 

On November 15th Australia voted YES to Marriage Equality – tick. On December 9th most of Parliament (with the notable exception of some of the same nut-jobs who dreamed up the plebiscite) voted marriage equality into law – tick. And on December 18th my hopefully-soon-to-be-fiance was gob-smacked when he learned he was about to fly Business Class for the first time (thankyou Qantas!) 

He celebrated by eating about a plane load of hash browns in the Melbourne Business Class lounge before the flight. 

Some 23 hours later (many of them in a lie-flat bed) we arrived in New York, refreshed and excited. Mid-December in the Big Apple is a great time to visit – the Christmas atmosphere is like nowhere else. Decorations, window displays, light shows, ice skating and carolling make you feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of a Christmas movie.  

Not that I had time for ice-skating – I still had the key part of my plan to execute. On our second day I manoeuvred us to Grand Central so that I could do some reconnaissance.  

The Whispering Gallery is located below the main concourse just outside the famous Oyster Bar. There also happens to be a Shake Shack (burger and milkshake specialists) nearby – store this information for future reference. 

The ‘gallery’ consists of four arched entry ways in a square formation. Stand at diagonally opposite corners of the archways and an astonishing acoustic phenomena allows a soft whisper to be heard 30 feet across the gallery despite the din of passing crowds. Your whisper travels up the curved wall, across the domed ceiling and back down the wall to the ears of your companion.  

It’s the same acoustic trick that can be experienced in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London or the Gol Gumbaz Mausoleum in India, or many other ‘whispering galleries’ around the world.  

Having scoped out the site, I determine to return the following evening, after a Broadway show, for the big reveal. 

Our third day in Manhattan is distinguished by mile after mile of walking, enjoying beautiful crisp winter weather under a pale blue sky. Up Park Avenue, down Broadway, across Central Park, it feels like New York is putting on a show for us. 

In the evening we see Waitress on Broadway and leave the theatre floating on albeit aching feet.

True story: I met Jason Mraz in a restaurant before the show!

I suggest some more sight-seeing, maybe a walk to Grand Central… Stef is not keen, he says he’s tired. “What if I take you to the Shake Shack at Grand Central?” I innocently ask. So easy. Putty in my hands. Pretty soon we’re marching down 42nd street as fast as our tired feet will take us. 

We arrive at Grand Central and head down stairs. My plan is working, the gallery space is relatively quiet. But I also know I won’t be able to hold his attention while he has burgers and shakes on his mind, so to Shake Shack we go – burgers, fries and a seriously good peanut butter milk shake. 

Nothing like Shake Shack to make you forget your aching feet

Leaving Shake Shack I see that the gallery is clear and the corners are free – time to do this thing, my heart rate is up a bit. We approach one of the arches and I tell Stef to stand there, and then – his phone rings. His sister Skyping from home. He takes the call while I wander around trying to compose myself. 

While Stef’s on the phone I see two girls obviously trying to fathom the secrets of the whispering gallery. And this Skype call seems like it’s never going to end – I’m getting mad with Stef, his sister, and the two girls who can’t figure out how a whispering gallery works.  

I approach the girls. “Hi, are you here for the whispering gallery?” I ask, maybe a little brusquely.  

“Oh my gaarrrd yaaasssss, do you know where it is?”  

I can almost hear my own eyes rolling in my head as I proceed to explain the gallery to the two Americans.  

“You: stand over there and face the corner. And you: stand in that corner. Then start whispering.”  

The girls obey and are suitably impressed by the magical acoustics. 

Eventually Stef gets off the phone, but the idiot Americans are STILL whispering to each other!  

Stef wants to know why we are hanging around. I tell him to wait, that there’s something I want to show him. “You’re being weird,” he says. 

At last the girls tire of whispering to each other, and I place Stef in one corner of the gallery. I go to the other corner and whisper a greeting to him. “Wow, that’s amazing,” he whispers back.  

“It’s called the Whispering Gallery,” I tell him. “The Whispering What?” he asks.  

“I brought you here to ask you something.” 

“Say again?” I hear his disembodied voice from the other side of the arch. Seems like the Whispering Gallery is having an off night, and I’m starting to lose my nerve. What I’ve got to say, I only want to say once. Time to think of a plan B. 

We leave Grand Central and I suggest we swing past Saks to see the Christmas light show, thinking this might afford a romantic opportunity. Sadly, its more crowded here and I’m really not vibing the location. 

Stef wants to Subway back to the hotel, but I suggest we walk through Rockefeller Plaza. Carols are playing on the PA, the ice skating rink is filled with people, and the iconic Christmas tree is twinkling above it all. 

Rockefeller Plaza

“Yeah it’s nice, can we go now?” asks Stef.  

“Not just yet.” I usher him to a bench roughly under the Tree, with not too many people around. We sit for a few minutes before I go into my more or less prepared speech, drop to one knee and ask the big question.  

Considering that he’s been asking me when I’m going to propose for about the past year, I don’t understand why he is so shocked and surprised. 

Plan B, but it worked

But he said yes, and I guess that’s all that matters.  

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