The Art of the Grand Gesture

by Stacia L. Brown

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.

  • Iris

    No way! Did you really make him sleep in his car over night? Well as my counselor would say “that’s setting boundaries” if nothing else. I’m amazed at the strength to tell a man, who drove in the snow, to sleep in his car. Kudos? Crazy? I don’t know but I’m glad it worked out.

  • African Mami

    Grand gestures are DOPE! I’m about to do one, it will be a Christmas present. I hope it is not rejected. Pray for me ya’ll! He is my Mandigo warrior-after careful assessment. I’m not getting any younger, I’ve seen some sprouts of white hair. It’s time I stopped, the BS of playing hard to get! Now I’ll be very easy and accessible! It’s going to go down red light district style!

  • Stacia L. Brown

    Awww. Good luck! :-)

  • Whatever

    “invited me to move to Virginia, where he lived and find a grad school there, so we could “work on getting married,” issued ultimatums,”

    Wow, I was in the exact same situation before…

  • NinaG

    1. this article makes me think of what Chimamanda Adichie said about engagements:

    2. Can women execute grand gestures without coming off desperate?

  • Stacia L. Brown

    2. I think so. Grand gestures are really relationship-specific. I know women who’ve proposed marriage and men who’ve accepted, without anyone feeling threatened by the reversal of traditional gender roles. I know women who’ve publicly declared love, when love had only been discussed privately before–and the object of her affection didn’t feel uncomfortable or put off by it. And then I know of people for whom these things have backfired pretty badly.

  • Arcy

    I have executed a grand gesture without being in a relationship! A few years ago, I was crushing hard on a man in one of my classes. I’m shy, and unfortunately didn’t get up the nerve to ask him out. I ended up taking another class in the summer, and to my amazement, when I walked through the door on the first day I saw him there! We ended up talking a lot throughout the semester; we borrowed books from each other and even ate lunch together, but I was STILL too nervous to ask him out. On the very last day of class, after he was done with our final essay exam ( I was still working on mine) he got up and left the room–a few minutes later I bolted out the door to run after him! I caught up tp him, told him how I felt, and gave him my number–he called me that same night. We dated for six months.

  • Stacia L. Brown

    He really did sleep in his car. In the snow. My roommate thought I was a rockstar for pulling that off.

    And it only worked out for a while. We’re not together now. A few grand gestures (and years) later, it all went kaput.

  • grace

    African Mami, I think you should just stop commenting on this site and finally open up your own blogging site, Jamilah Lemieux-style, so we can all follow your regular struggles and gripes about life :)

  • SAA

    is that what happened to Jamilah?! I really liked her posts and was wondering where she went. @grace- can you redirect me to her blog??

  • Stacia L. Brown

    Sweet story! Thanks for sharing. :-)

  • African Mami

    @ grace,

    Loooool!!!! I would NEVER dream of doing that. I’m very PRIVATE! Just enjoy the commentary on hurrr!!!

    @ Stacia,

    Thanks ma!

  • African Mami

    @ Arcy,

    That’s what I’m talking about. I can’t ask my Mandigo warrior out, lest he reject me and the demons in me get out and start doing him DIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRTY!!!!

  • grace

    YEAHHHHH Right! I could put together an admittedly rudimentary portfolio of your past love relationships, your pet peeves, your knee-jerk reactions to some current pop culture trends. That’s really all you need for a blog.

  • African Mami

    @ grace,

    Rally up African Mami commentary fans and I might just do dat!!!!!

  • Clutch

    Jamilah now works for Ebony Magazine – we are super happy for her. Her personal site is –

    Thanks :)


  • SAA

    @Dede- thanks!

    @African Mami- if you started a blog, I’d definitely be there!!

  • grace

    Wow, sorry, SAA, for not seeing your comment earlier. I knew about her blog but not about the Ebony Magazine opportunity. I’m sad she moved on but kind of happy for her as well. Thanks, Dede!

  • grace

    Wow, sorry SAA for not seeing your comment earlier! I knew about Jamilah’s blog but not about the Ebony Mag thing. I admit I missed seeing her articles here, but I am glad about her new opportunity. Appreciate the heads up!

  • Ginger

    I’ve always been the one to do the grand gesture . . . to undeserving men. I’ve lost count of how many times I have teary-eyed knocked on the door to express my love. It always works in the movies, right? lol

    Wonderful article, I could have used this during the melodramatic moments in college.

  • African Mami

    @ SAA,

    Looool! Thanks ma! So far, 2 people! 98 more to go! loool

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