Voices: I don’t care if you’re the Australian prime minister – a Valentine’s Day proposal is never OK

Anthony Albanese is the first Australian prime minister to get engaged while in office – on 14 February, unfortunately  (AP)
Anthony Albanese is the first Australian prime minister to get engaged while in office – on 14 February, unfortunately (AP)

Okay, so Valentine’s Day is over and… well, it went fine, didn’t it? Now, we can be honest and admit romance is a scam cooked up by Big Monogamy to sell more love. And I for one will not be taken in by it anymore.

To be clear, I’m talking about the big romantic gestures here – ostentatious proposals, crashing weddings, standing outside your girlfriend’s house in the rain holding a boombox. The kinds of things that romantic comedies told men women like, but actually just make them feel awkward and under pressure.

The age of the Ross Gellers of the world is over – long live small, sensible romantic gestures.

It seems that Anthony Albanese didn’t get the memo though, as yesterday he became the first Australian prime minister to get engaged while in office. Albanese proposed to his partner, financial services professional Jodie Haydon, on a balcony of his official residence following a romantic dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Making history and proposing on Valentine’s Day? That’s a full 10 out of 10 unacceptable.

To be fair to Albanese, though, at least Valentine’s Day is a thematically appropriate occasion to propose to your unwitting girlfriend. It could have been a lot worse, like the guy who went viral on TikTok last year for proposing at a New Year’s Eve party. In that instance, the proposer caught his hapless proposee off guard by bringing the entire party to a halt, in what the person who uploaded the video described as the “most awkward” marriage proposal “ever”.

Or how about the guy who, last June, ran up on stage as his girlfriend was collecting her degree certificate and popped the question in front of what might have been the least receptive audience imaginable? Because we all know that when we attend our child’s graduation, the thing we’re really hoping to see is a Hugh Grant wannabe shackling himself to some poor woman.

What’s really shocking about both of those examples is that, in defiance of all logic and reason, both of those women said “yes”. I can’t tell if that’s a repudiation of my hardline stance on big gestures, and that women actually do like them after all, or that big romantic displays put people under so much pressure that they don’t feel like they really have a say in the matter. If somebody proposed to me in front of hundreds of confused strangers, I’d probably say yes just to make the moment end – then, afterwards, abscond in the middle of the night so that I never have to see that person again.

Maybe I’m just bitter (he said, extremely bitterly). People always talk about how romance, as portrayed in fiction, affects women – but in my experience, it’s the men who have been set up to fail (and I’m sorry if this seems overly heteronormative, but Hollywood still hasn’t come around on LGBT+ romantic comedies, despite all of my letters).

Growing up, guys my age were told again and again that the only way to win over the woman of your dreams was to go big, or go home alone. It soured an entire generation of men on romance, who had grown up thinking that the only way to win a girl over is with some grand gesture – even if that gesture ends up humiliating them in public.

In a twisted sort of way, it’s why “toxic male” influencers like Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson are so popular right now – listen to how often their advice boils down to “Here’s how to secure the girl of your dreams.” It’s sort of quaint, in its own way. Even the most toxic, misogynistic, problematic dudebro in your life is, at his heart, just trying to fulfil a dream that was sold to him by How I Met Your Mother in 2005. That doesn’t necessarily redeem him, but it does go some way towards explaining why he’s so sad all the time.

In light of that, maybe Albanese isn’t the worst romantic offender out there – even if he does make our garage flowers and box of Celebrations look a little pathetic by comparison.