It was midnight when the bell rang. My grad school roommate, an inexplicably fearless Texican, flung our basement apartment door open without even asking who was there. This was Yonkers, and we were both new there. My eyes were saucer-wide as I pushed off the sofa and braced myself to be her backup, in case it was about to go down.

A six-foot-five dude stood smiling widely on the other side of the storm door.

It was my boyfriend. Correction: ex-boyfriend. It’d been rocky between us ever since I’d moved from Baltimore to New York. He’d protested, invited me to move to Virginia, where he lived and find a grad school there, so we could “work on getting married,” issued ultimatums, and eventually began to call less and converse with increasing dryness until I called things off.

And now here he was at my door in 20-degree weather, after midnight.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

He responded with something like, “I came to fight for us.”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s called The Grand Gesture. Maybe you’ve heard of it—or even better (or worse, depending on the outcome) you’ve been the giver or receiver of one. Grand Gestures are those extravagant, seemingly self-sacrificial acts intended to prove the depth of your love.

There’s another example of this example of this in current TV commercial rotation:

On its surface, The Grand Gesture is sweet, doting, and devastatingly romantic—insomuch that you’d be hard-pressed not to greet it with outstretched arms and a lingering kiss. (These equally grand gestures of gratitude are usually expected.)

But every Grand Gesture’s a gamble. In the Chevy Cruze Evo commercial above, the teary girlfriend just can’t accept parting with her paramour at the airport. But driving all night to his destination was a huge risk. Depending on how long they’ve been together, and on the overall state of their courtship, it could’ve read as stalkerish, clingy, or distrusting. Fortunately, for her it pays off.

But what about this unfortunate bloke, down in the club?

The Proposal by Mims Media from Mims Media on Vimeo.

In this priceless viral clip, the Grand Gesture reads as an ill-timed, ill-advised, last ditch effort to save something irreparably broken. Public Grand Gestures like this one can be a huge red flag, especially when the relationship has had serious breaches or when the recipient of the Gesture is begging you to stop, mid-flashy-spectacle. (See: Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Cynthia Bailey any time her husband Peter says he has “a surprise” for her.)

In these cases, Grand Gestures can be wildly manipulative. With a roomful of eyes on you, it’s that much harder to reject the hard-sell. You may be caught off-guard, mortified, or loath to shame the wooer with so public a rejection. Or you may be so swept up in the romance of the moment that you’ll agree to just about anything; suddenly your tepid feelings about a potential suitor are transformed into a belief that he’s the man of your dreams.

It’s tricky. Three pounds of rose petals and 100 votive candles scattered throughout a home could be really breathtaking, for the right romantic partner. For the wrong one, it’s excessive and uncomfortable. Springing a two-karat diamond on a woman in front of her large, extended family, the first time she’s invited her boyfriend to meet them, could be spontaneous and whimsical. Or it could be cause to reconsider everything.

It comes down, first, to knowing—and then actually listening to—your partner. If he doesn’t like surprises, sending that singing telegram to his office as an apology might not be the move.

Second, check the motivation. Is the Gesture intended to replace an apology you truly deserve? Is it to compensate for a series of smaller problems? Is he only romantic or committal, when he thinks he might lose you?

One thing’s for sure: if you’ve already broken up, driving five hours through black ice to “fight for the relationship” could be really ill-advised. How’d that work out for my ex? Well, he slept in his car that night.

But we got back together in the morning.

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