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A Very Sour Steak

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We've all seen it -- a good looking, young couple out for dinner at a restaurant a little bit nicer than your average franchise, probably celebrating an anniversary or a birthday. The man somehow cleverly slips the woman an engagement ring and the whole room bursts with applause; a few older women tear up when the soon-to-be-bride answers the proposal with a simple "yes". It is the very pinnacle of overused clichés to avoid when asking for a woman's hand in marriage.

Recently, I believed I was about to witness one of these made-for-TV proposals while out celebrating my sister's graduation from law school. We were eating at one of the top-rated restaurants in town, featuring a steak priced at over a hundred dollars. It was a rather elegant affair for the family -- not only did I put on a tie, but I actually bothered to shave. Not a simple task for a man who steadfastly refused to join the work force in a traditional sense.

It was a busy Friday night, and a line of luxury German cars were lining up at the valet. My family had just been seated, and our waiter was impatiently blurting out the evening's specials. I was mulling over the few vegetarian options on the menu when a beautiful woman in her mid-twenties caught my eye -- not because she was so stunning, but because she was clearly out of her date's league. I cynically chuckled to myself about the man's salary and continued to figure out which overpriced pasta I would order.

As our meals arrived, I noticed the beautiful woman had excused herself to go to the bathroom. The sub-par-looking man had pulled out a black, satin ring box and placed it next to his glass of wine. Great, I thought, now I'll have to answer questions about getting my degree and getting married. I loosely followed the conversation at my own table, my attention gravitating towards the man about to propose. He seemed, understandably, quite anxious.

As the beautiful woman returned to her seat, her date smiled and began talking just a little bit louder so the other patrons could hear him. He was obviously looking for some public attention. His long-winded speech sounded like something out of last summer's hit romantic comedy starring Kate Hudson or Cameron Diaz or one of those other typecasts. Something about never being happier and spending the rest of their lives together.

The whole room, my table included, had shifted focus to this man, now on his knees, holding up the black, satin ring box and finally popping the question. The beautiful woman appeared flustered, her face a shade of red, but her eyes did not even remotely match his enthusiasm. She stuttered a few nonsensical words and syllables, yet failed to form a complete sentence. I could see many faces misinterpreting this as pure shock and joy.

Finally she forced out a strong "no" and ran out of the restaurant. The man didn't chase her, and as he stood there, looking bewildered, the waiter brought out their meals. The man had ordered the hundred-dollar steak.

The room was silent. Tables lacked conversation. No one was really sure how to handle this public humiliation. The man, however, carefully cut apart his steak and enjoyed each bite. I couldn't imagine that steak tasted anything but sour, no matter how expensive or succulent it was. Anyone caught staring at him for more than a few seconds was treated to a slightly aggressive, "What the fuck are you staring at?"

I initially felt sorry for this man's embarrassment, but as my family left for the evening, I couldn't help but think he avoided a lifetime of regret and a six-figure bill for legal fees.