Probably everyone who has ever even heard my name, or three syllables of my name, knows how I feel about public marriage proposals (so terrible) and pranks (the worst), so you can imagine the disdain with which I read last night about a public proposal that was also a prank. (No, I'm not linking to it, because people who do these things and then post videos of them on the internet don't need any more attention!) Gross! If there was one thing that could make me hate public proposals even more, it was adding the element of PRANK! And if there was one thing that could make me hate pranks even more—JUST KIDDING I AM PHYSICALLY INCAPABLE OF HATING PRANKS EVEN MORE THAN I ALREADY DO!
Did you know there are such things as Proposal Planners now? People who can help you plan your elaborate public proposal which definitely needs choreography and back-up dancers and several professional camerapeople to record and edit the entire thing so you can upload it to YouTube and hopefully get on The Today Show or whatever I don't even know.
Do you think it's a coincidence that weddings now have to be BIGGER and BETTER and WAY MORE EXPENSIVE than they used to be, and proposals now have to merit national interest if you don't want to be the LOSERS whose engagement didn't even warrant a spot on morning television, especially if you're a straight white pair of gorgeous kyriarchetypes, right around the same time the nation started considering that maybe treating marriage as a privilege is kind of a jerk move? I think it's not a coincidence!
"Let's reclaim privilege with badly choreographed dance moves to some garbage currently on the pop charts! Or something!"—Straight America.
(Not that different-sex couples have the market cornered on this stuff. But they're definitely seeing your baseline equality and raising you Beggaring Ourselves in Celebration of Our Special Love.)
I was thinking about when Iain proposed to me, which was just a total comedy/tragedy of errors. He lost the engagement ring somewhere between the airport and my apartment—the engagement ring he'd designed himself, based on something I'd casually mentioned in conversation like two weeks after we'd met but he'd always remembered. He crushed roses in the process of trying to conceal them, but didn't realize it, and unwittingly handed me a smashed bouquet. He was gutted, and, worse, he was afraid that I wouldn't want to marry someone who did something like lose track of an engagement ring, who couldn't even propose right.
Iain didn't even yet know me well enough to know, or maybe a better word is believe, that I couldn't have cared less about an engagement ring, and I certainly wouldn't have broken off our relationship over a proposal that (for me) was merely a formality since we had to get married to be together and had already made that decision.
And I didn't even yet know him well enough to understand how much proposing to me was very important to him. I would only really begin to understand this six months later, when he conspired with my dear friend Miller to surprise me (privately) with a do-over proposal that was as romantic as he'd imagined.
Of course the story we tell of our engagement is the one in which the ring got lost and the flowers were falling apart. We love that story.
The thing is, there are people who want, genuinely, to stage a huge public proposal or to have a huge public proposal staged for them, and that's okay! Whatever makes you happy! (As long as you are certain your partner will be happy about that, too! Like, totally certain! Like, you've talked about it kind of certain! Which kind of undercuts the whole surprise thing, so I'm just not really sure how you do a public proposal that is both a surprise but also free of possibility of embarrassment or coercion by way of bystander expectation! I hope you work it out, though, if that's what you want!) But I think there are also a lot of people who just feel like they need a grand gesture to feel like it matters.
I think there are, increasingly, a number of people—especially young women partnered with men, who are entrained to believe that their value as a human is deeply tied up in being loved by a man, and who view Important Days Associated with a Wedding to be some of the rare days in a lifetime where they are allowed to be the center of attention and aren't expected to cater and defer to everyone else—who feel like they need a grand gesture to feel like they matter.
And, at a certain point, it becomes tough to distinguish what you really even want to fulfill you from what you feel obliged to have to fulfill external expectations. Intense cultural pressure can make it incredibly hard to tease out what's an authentic internal desire from a planted external expectation of compliance. How much HD documentation of public proposals, and bachelor/ette parties, and bridal showers, and weddings, and receptions, each with their own choreographed numbers and professional photographers who will definitely photoshop a dragon into your wedding photos is about, entirely or in part, just having something to put on social media, in an age of "pix or it didn't happen"? Do you need the grand gesture to feel like your relationship matters, like you matter?
And I just want to say: You don't.
I'm not in the business of telling people what they should or shouldn't want. Want what you want! I just want to say, like the old fart that I am on my digital front porch, that you don't have to want it, if, really, you don't. You don't need to feel obliged to perform your relationship in public to matter. You already matter.
Also? It turns out, as unlikely as it may seem, that it is possible to say, "Yep, I'll totes go all in with you, even though it will be evident years from now that we seem to not know fundamental things about each other, ha ha, oh well, let's go for it!" while holding a wilted rose, and have just THE BEST partnership with someone who, just last week, left the beautiful bouquet of purple flowers he bought for you on the train.
To which you will say, "That just means someone else, who maybe isn't as sure about how loved they are, will get flowers tonight, from someone who wouldn't have thought to buy them. You love me so much you make other relationships better, too!"
Because to love someone is an infinite action, not any single gesture. No matter how grand.