Public marriage proposals: for love or for Instagram?

Big emotional gestures can be an overwhelming thing in private but when these big emotional gestures, like a marriage proposal, are done in public, they become a spectacle. They also become a new thing to frame as picture perfect for Instagram.

I’ve never been engaged, so I don’t know the rigmarole that goes into preparing to propose but I expect it’s not exactly a walk in the park, financially or sartorially.

I’ve never picked out a husband either but, like picking out a ring, I expect that takes on some financial and sartorial strain too.

However, I am a social media user and in this role, I have seen many proposals play out at concerts, just before the finish line at a marathon, at birthday parties and in front of iconic tourist destinations, like the Eiffel Tower or the Cliffs of Moher.  These videos and photos aren’t candid and these proposals aren’t a promise between two people anymore.


"Public marriage proposals aren’t a new thing by any means, but social media has certainly amplified them."

It’s an event planned by a team of friends, which is the nice part, but it’s also an event that’s staged to be observed by an audience. 

Instagram story

Public proposals aren’t a new thing by any means, but social media has certainly amplified them.  Knowing the effort that it takes to simply take a selfie captioned with “I found my light”, when really you know that your cleavage is 10 out of 10 that day, the to-do list to get down on one knee got a lot longer, creating unnecessary stress when all you need to worry about is, you know,  “I do” and the rest of your life together.

When you’re asking someone to marry you, there’s every risk that they could say no and with a waiting audience holding cameras at every angle and a 15-second timer per Instagram story, you might feel like you have no choice but to say yes. 

What should be a private moment before two lovefools is now content to be shared and liked by family, friends and hundreds of strangers. 

I’ve previously written pieces for on how Instagram is turning us in a shower of show-offs and this falls in line with that. The aesthetics of holidays, birthdays, weddings, brunches and how we align our cup of coffee with the latest novel we’re reading all chip away at this idea of perceived perfection. 


So when you broadcast what is usually a private moment in public and then again on social media, it frames your relationship in a rom-com light and not a realistic one.

Kim and Kanye

In a way, I blame Kanye West’s proposal to Kim Kardashian in 2013. Spending a whopping $3 million, he rented out San Francisco's AT&T Park and led a blindfolded Kim onto a baseball pitch where a 50-piece orchestra played - and somewhat ruining - Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful, which is unironically taken from The Great Gatsby soundtrack.

"As ever, social media is a competition, whether you’re a willing participant or not."

Hiding in the bunkers were all of Kim’s friends and family, who Kanye flew out there, and, of course, the entire camera crew from Keeping Up with the Kardashians captured it all for us to see. C’est crazy, non?


As ever, social media is a competition, whether you’re a willing participant or not.  As we go further down the line of publicly broadcasting private moments, things tend to get bigger and supposedly better.


The evolution of the engagement photo, for example, has come from a bashful photo of the happy couple taken at a party taking place days or weeks after the actual proposal using a disposable camera to a zoomed in pic of a manicured and newly minted hand holding a glass of bubbly, taken within minutes of the engagement. The partner may or may not be in shot.

The big difference between these two one photo catches a moment in time and the other shows that we're always ready for the moment no matter what time it is.

Flashmobs galore

So if you're planning on proposing with a full production, just ask yourself where does it stop?

If the engagement is a hands-on affair with flashmobs, confetti and hundreds of people watching, what's the wedding going to be like? Or the 10-year anniversary? Can you afford keep outdoing yourself?

We used to give out about public displays of affection but now the public displays are about something else entirely.


Read more: I'm keeping my name when I get married

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