Public Proposals: I Do or I Don’t?

Feature photo by Mark J Sebastian

If we’re to believe popular wisdom, it’s the most important moment of a girl’s life: her boyfriend, complete with perfect hair and straight white teeth, takes her hand, gets down on one knee, and pulls out a giant, sparkling diamond. And then, in the background, a dozen people break out in a synchronized dance, surrounding the couple while everyone around them pulls out their phone to record the moment.

More and more, these events, which should arguably be about a moment shared between two individuals, are becoming public. Flash mobs, YouTube videos and billboards are commonplace, and some degree of publicity or elaborate planning may even be expected.

On the surface these proposals seem romantic and charming, but do they expose an inherent selfishness on behalf of the person proposing? By forcing a private moment into the public eye, it becomes much more difficult for someone to turn down or defer the proposal. It becomes more about the person who is proposing and the act of proposing itself than the feelings of the other person. It’s very possible that these proposals put the person on the receiving end in a very uncomfortable position. The propose-ee may feel pressure from the other people involved in the event or may feel that he or she should say “yes” simply because of the amount of effort put in.

This isn’t to say that any public proposal is automatically selfish; there are undoubtedly people who feel flattered by the attention and appreciate the over-the-top display of sentiment. There are also ways of making the moment grandiose and yet still private. One particular story, in which the man rented out a movie theater and showed his girlfriend’s favorite film entirely for the purpose of proposing in the credits, illustrates this perfectly—a large gesture that was still shared only between the couple.

Ultimately what it comes down to are the personalities of the people in question. There seem to be enough degrees of balancing the public and private aspects of these events to fit everyone. Public proposals may continue to gain popularity and traction with the ever-increasing availability of social media, but there will undoubtedly still be those who prefer to keep these moments to themselves. And because of this, it seems that the proposal should be indicative of the state of the relationship: If either member of the couple is uncomfortable with the method of proposing, it could reflect a fundamental difference in their views of personal boundaries and the influence and involvement of other people in their lives.

Whether public or private, a proposal should be a celebration of a relationship and its history. Even as the cameras roll, the most important moment will undoubtedly be one that goes unnoticed by anyone but the couple themselves… as all eyes are on the people around them doing the Macarena.