The “Perfect” Marriage Proposal: Spectacle versus Meaning?

I have written a fair bit in past blogs about the pressure couples (and brides in particular) face, from media and Hollywood to have the so-called perfect wedding (which doesn’t exist by the way). The stress of it all can lead couples to behave in ways they might normally not and can affect family ties and friendships in negative ways. Many brides in particular report they don’t even end up enjoying their wedding day.

However, the pressure begins long before the wedding is even being planned. Aside from the fact that we are entering high wedding season, I was reminded of this after reading an article called The Privacy and the Spectacle of Promposals (I didn’t even know “promposal” was a word), which talks about the different ways teens in mixed-sex relationships now ask each other to a prom and, the growing practice of sharing that promposal on social media — thus turning it from a private, personal event into a sometimes rather complex, public spectacle replete with gimmicks and/or props. Indeed, she suggests that anything less in today’s environment may be considered “subpar”.

I could not help (nor could she) making the connection to wedding proposals of today. And I wonder what messages these “promposals” teach or reinforce for our children in terms of equating “big” or “public” with perfect or good, or whether these ideas reinforce notions that the world is a spectacle with no need for private, intimate moments. It’s not like the wedding industry doesn’t have this “proposal” idea already wrapped up. To give you an idea, a rudimentary search on Google for ‘wedding proposal ideas’ generated 6,880,000 sites.

In this Science of Relationship online publication, Lisa Hoplock, (M.Sc) suggests that the ritual of mixed sex marriage proposals generally follows a well-known and traditional script regardless of whether it is more public or private, low key or more extravagant. Hoplock writes that most marriage proposals still include either asking for parental (or father’s) approval or permission, a surprise of some sort, getting down on one knee, presenting a ring and “popping the question” — Will you marry me? Perhaps what surprised me most however (although I am not sure why) was that the research she used found that people polled outside these relationships “rated relationships as stronger when the proposal was traditional versus when it was not”. That is a bit worrying.

Most people like hearing exciting engagement stories. Indeed when I personalize ceremonies through my Humanist Officiant work, I like to ask couples if there is anything they would like to share about their own engagement story (if there was an engagement process). However, I sometimes find couples are almost apologetic or embarrassed if there is nothing “exciting” to report in the traditional sense. Yet these couples, many of whom tell me that they decided to marry through mutual discussion, exhibit the same strength and loving qualities, as any other couple I come to know.

I am neither for nor against big, creative marriage proposals. I do not suggest these proposals are any less sincere than smaller, less extravagant proposals or even non-proposals. However, I can’t help but ask couples considering an engagement to at least consider the “promposal” article which suggests “In some ways, it’s easier to have a prop or gimmick that does the work for you”. With that in mind, I ask you to ask yourself “What matters most here”? “Does this feel like me”? and finally “Would this person say yes either way”?

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