Proposing in Public Spaces: Passionate or Pathetic?

Ah, the holidays. Or as they are collectively called, “proposal season.” My Facebook feed is brimming with recent engagements, I’m sure partially due to the intense pressure from this week of prolonged family parties. I can personally vouch that for every not-so-subtle hint I gave my now-husband that I was ready to be engaged, I had received no less than five admonishments from extended family members questioning why I hadn’t gotten him to pop the question yet, as if that was what my sole duty should be, and usually the admonishment was followed up with something about buying cows and free milk. Pledging to spend your life with somebody else is a beautiful thing, something definitely not to be decided on a whim, and is a worthy occasion to create an unforgettable memory. Hence, this increasing demand to have planned, elaborate, choreographed engagements. But in this age of viral videos, flash mobs, and constant one-upmanship, have public proposals gone from being romantic to being ridiculous?

First, let me say that I don’t want to be cynical. For some people, the best way to express their over-the-moon, can’t-wait-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-with-you love is to hire 50 professional dancers who can physically and musically demonstrate the joy that this relationship has brought to the earth. I get it. I know every time my husband comes home with cheese fries, or I come home to find that he’s already done the dishes, I feel like holding an entire parade just in his honor. But I don’t. And it’s not just because planning a parade would mean getting off the couch and neglecting the cheese fries. It’s because if every person created a public celebration to express the fact that yay, they love someone, it would create an obnoxious world where such expressions become meaningless.  And honestly, when proposals become such elaborate public affairs, the cynical side of me has to ask, are you really doing all of this to impress your incipient fiancée, or are you peacocking because you are an insufferable attention addict? Is your significant other really expecting a dance routine to her favorite childhood song in front of hundreds of people (tip: if your significant other is expecting a dance routine to her favorite childhood song as part of her proposal, run now); or can you not bear the thought that for one moment, the focus won’t be completely on you, so you need to create an event that will bring the entire internet to a stand-still?

Of course, not all public proposals have this level of obnoxiousness. My husband proposed in Bicentennial Park, just east of Millennium Park, because he wanted our engagement to happen in a place that we would be able to return to over time. But he didn’t need to hire a band or come up with a dance or do anything that attracted the gaze of the people around us. In fact, despite being in a public park on a holiday weekend, I don’t think one person even saw what was happening. The one couple who approached us immediately afterwards, whom I was expecting to congratulate us, actually asked us to take a picture of them. And everything was perfect. I was quickly reminded that as wonderful as it was to be at this point in our relationship, the rest of the world was still turning as usual and it wasn’t everybody else’s duty to fawn over our happiness.

In the end, get engaged however you want to get engaged. Who am I to say what the best and worst way is to dedicate your life to somebody. But think long and hard about what you’re really trying to do with your proposal, and if your answer is anything other than to pledge yourself to the love of your life, you may be getting into this whole marriage thing for the wrong reasons.


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