Proposals during the pandemic: How UAE residents are popping the question

Smaller, more intimate events, and Zoom conversations may just be the new norm

Ejaz Bangara with his fiance Sahar Atmar, after he proposed with friends and family watching on Zoom. 
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Ejaz Bangara had been planning to propose to long-term girlfriend Sahar Atmar, who was visiting from Australia, for over three months. He had the venue planned, the date set, the ring made and even had friends create an imaginary event to get her to the venue without casting any doubt. There was just one problem – the day of the proposal was March 23, the same day that restaurants in Dubai started to close down in a bid to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

"I thought I had time to come up with plan B for the proposal – but then we found out that flights back to Australia in May were cancelled. Her only option was to catch the one remaining repatriation flight on April 21. Once she [went], I wouldn't see her for another six months at least, there was no way I wanted her to leave without that ring on her finger. This meant I had roughly two days to plan the proposal," Bangara says.

Ejaz Bangara proposed to partner Sahar Atmar in his garden, which had been decorated with petals

That’s what led to what Bangara now describes as "the most impulsive thing he’s ever done in life".

“What originally took weeks to plan ended up being planned again in a few hours,” he says. At the time, Atmar was staying with his family, so he got them involved, with every member taking on a different duty, from decoration to taking photos.

On the day, he asked his Atmar to get dressed for a "going away party", then led her to the garden which was decorated with flower petals. With her friends watching over Zoom, he popped the question. Her answer was a resounding, "Yes".

It’s all about the small gestures

The coronavirus pandemic has affected most aspects of our lives, and proposal are no different. Caroline Ralston, founder of Dubai proposal planning company Proposal Boutique, says Dubai's summer months used to be their busiest, with most of their clients being tourists who came to the region through tourist packages. However, this summer has been particularly challenging, with many proposals being pushed back or cancelled.

However, she is focusing on the positives; while the very nature of proposing demands a certain showmanship – a scenic background, professionally-taken pictures, lavish-over-the-top gestures – the pandemic offers an opportunity to also make a proposal more personal, even if it is over Zoom.

"I think sometimes people can get complacent when they hire a proposal planner, they want little involvement. But now, we are working with our clients and helping them get really creative. We're encouraging men who have never cooked cook to bake a cake or set up flower petals. It's really different, really sweet," she says. In order to help more couples, Proposal Boutique has been sharing marriage proposal ideas every day for two weeks on its social media channels, starting Wednesday, May 13.

With the pandemic restricting movement, many couples in the UAE are treasuring their smaller, more intimate proposal stories, as is the case with Dubai residents Anna Grathien Aronce and Glenn Curtis Judd. The proposal on Thursday, May 7, came over a homemade pasta dinner, says Aronce.

“It was right before our one-year anniversary and he had cooked dinner for the two of us. I genuinely got teary-eyed when he said he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me,” she adds.

UAE residents Anna Grathien Aronce and Glenn Curtis Judd got engaged over a home-made pasta dinner

The best part about this proposal, to her, was how personal it felt, she adds. “You don’t have to break the bank to make a proposal memorable,” she says.

When should you propose?

However, the proposal should be customised according to one's likes and dislikes, cautions Ralston. "If you already had an elaborate [plan] in mind, one you know what she is going to love, or if she is absolutely hating this quarantine period, then it might be better to wait to propose."

Bangara agrees. "Every case is different. For some, not proposing until this is over could be seen as all the more special because you have the patience to wait until it's all over. But on the other hand, there are some who are just ready for the next phase of their lives. At that point, the quarantine doesn't matter. All that matters is it's the right time and person."

Can't propose at an exotic destination? Caroline Ralston Proposal Boutique recommends bringing the destination to you with the use of props. Courtesy Proposal Boutique

Another benefit of a proposal during the pandemic, according to Ralston, is that it's definitely one that will be remembered.

“It’s really about the core of the matter which is what no matter what life throws at you, you can handle it together. This pandemic is actually a great example of that. It’s a story to share with your grandchildren one day, that you were quarantined but something beautiful came from it anyway.”

Planning to pop the question? Here are five creative at-home ideas, courtesy Caroline Ralston, founder of Proposal Boutique

1) Have a travel theme: for those who love travelling but aren’t able to do it anymore, you can recreate the magic of a foreign country using props.

2) Order a surprise cupcake delivery that spells out, “Will you marry me?”

3) Hire a Dubai musician to serenade you with your favourite songs over Zoom.

4) Put together a home treasure hunt that leads to an engagement ring.

5) Suggest a couples' games night where you both piece together a custom jigsaw puzzle, one that spells out 'Marry Me?'