11/05/2013 04:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Marriage Proposal: When Popping the Question Goes All Wrong

Oh, the best laid plans. Sometimes all the engagement planning in the world cannot guarantee a marriage proposal without hiccups.

Tying the knot is one of the most important moments in a person's life, but it almost never happens unless one half of a couple first pops that "Will you marry me?" question. The marriage proposal gets things off and running, but sometimes, instead of being wrapped in a bow of perfection, the proposal winds up in a bit of a tangle. Fortunately for all brides and grooms-to-be, even flubbed proposals and decidedly non-sentimental words are still capable of effectively getting the job done.

The "Oops, This is It!" Marriage Proposal

Dan and Kim worked mall craft shows together. They'd fallen in love, and an engagement was imminent. With a proposal on the horizon, it was uniquely fitting that Dan enlist a fellow artisan, a custom jeweler, to create the perfect set of rings.

About a month later, mall management planned a friendly reception for the crafters, but not every crafter got the message. The jeweler arrived late to the mall, saw the party in progress, and jumped to the conclusion that it must be an engagement celebration for Dan and Kim. Thinking he'd nearly blown the surprise, he dashed away to retrieve the finished rings. When he returned, he approached the mall manager and told her that he had a box for Kim. Unfortunately he didn't mention what was in the box, and the mall manager promptly delivered the small package to the unsuspecting, not-yet-engaged, bride-to-be.

When Kim flipped open the box and spied the wedding rings glistening against their bed of black velvet, Dan swallowed his shock, dropped to his knee, and proposed. Then, with a straight face, the quick-thinking groom-to-be took credit for the party without missing a beat.

Note to prospective grooms: Lightning fast reflexes can come in handy during a proposal.

Dan and Kim Bell (now married 22 years)

The "Sink or Swim" Engagement

It was to be more than just a fun trip to Texas to watch the Dallas Cowboys play.

The night before the big game, James planned to surprise Jennifer with a gondola ride on the lake, but the drive from California to Texas proved to be easier than navigating the unfamiliar state once they arrived. They got lost trying to find the gondola service, and the surprise destination had to be sacrificed when James asked Jennifer to help with the directions as he drove. They arrived late, but James' spirits remained high. There was still time for their hour-long ride and the even bigger surprise that was to come during their glide over the moonlit lake.

The champagne was chilled. The strawberries were sweet. And the love songs from the gondolier's rich baritone filled the night air with romance. James' heart pounded as he waited for Jennifer to discover the bobbing bottle with its "Will You Marry Me?" message tucked inside. Everything was perfect -- for about 10 minutes. Then lightning struck. Literally.

Before the gondolier could surreptitiously drop the bottle into the lake, a sudden lightning storm split the night. The skies began to rumble, and the gondolier declared in no uncertain terms that they must return to shore. Jennifer laughed over how short the ride was, but then she didn't know what she'd missed. James knew, and he was miserable.

At the dock, the couple remained in the boat as the gondolier went to see about a refund. James felt his proposal opportunity slipping away, and he wasn't about to let that happen. He stood then dropped to his knee, rocking the gondola side-to-side in the process. The slush of water over the rim didn't even slow him down, and as the champagne tipped and the strawberries tumbled, James pulled the ring from his pocket and proposed. In spite of the string of woeful events of the night, the heart-on-his-sleeve proposal would still have been the most beautiful moment Jennifer could have imagined, if not for the crack of lightning that completely drowned out James' tender words.

She didn't hear a single syllable, but Jennifer got the message. Emotions kicked in, and she blubbered like a baby. But, she needn't have worried that the tears would ruin her makeup, for by this time, both James and Jennifer were bobbing in a flooded gondola as the sky opened up and drenched them to the skin with an inopportune downpour.

Sometimes perseverance is the truest path to matrimony, and every year Jennifer and James toast their comedy-of-errors proposal with true, fond remembrance.

James and Jennifer McMullen (now married 8 years)

Marriage Proposal Choice Words

Chris: "Want to get married?" Peter: "You mean to each other?" - Peter and Chris Edberg (now married 11 years)

"Let's go fishing. If the fish don't bite, we could get married." - Bob and Nellie Blair (now married 59 years and still going strong!)

"Well, if we're going to get married, we might as well go ahead."
- These were the "romantic" proposal words spoken by my own husband-to-be as we shared breakfast at a local diner - Mark and Tricia Spencer, (now married 31 years)

The Fairytale "I Do"

Fairytale proposals are wonderful, but flubbed proposals, or less than romantic words, can still launch long and happy marriages. After all, there's really only one truly horrible proposal experience -- the one where the answer is "no."