Planning on proposing to your beloved? Please, please, please do not film it on YouTube, hire 100 little girls to dance around you, or FAKE YOUR OWN DEATH. Public marriage proposals are almost always cringe-inducing and manipulative, and we're sick of pretending they're adorable.
A Russian businessman beat The Onion to the punch by illustrating how ridiculous the my-public-proposal-is-more-epic-than-your-public proposal trend has become when he faked his own death before asking his girlfriend to marry him.
After working with a stuntman, a make-up artist, a screenwriter, and a directer to stage a phony car crash, 30-year-old Alexey Bykov of Omsk told Irina Kolokov to meet him at a certain place at a certain time so she could witness the accident.
"When I arrived there were mangled cars everywhere, ambulances, smoke, and carnage," Kolokov told Russian media. "Then when I saw Alexey covered in blood lying in the road a paramedic told me he was dead and I just broke down in tears."
Bykov said that his goal was to make his girlfriend realize "how empty her life would be without me and how life would have no meaning without me." He seems more than slightly crazy and insecure, but his proposal — really the ultimate public test of true love — would only have made more perfect sense if it was set to Bruno Mars' "I think I'm Gonna Marry You," the public marriage proposal anthem. Bykov is not really an exception to the rule, and that's a problem.
The concept of the proposal as spectacle is nothing new; as Helen Fisher, the author of Why Him? Why Her? How to Find and Keep Lasting Love, told the New York Times for an article on flash mob proposals (gag), "Men have done astounding things across history to win a bride, and a mother for their young - in battle and in romance." AKA: men have been making proposals all about them since Helen of Troy.
Viral video proposals aren't a new thing, either; we wondered how much was too much when it came to public marriage proposals back in 2010. But thanks to reality TV, our compulsive need to share everything with everyone, and what seems like an increasing pressure to make milestone moments matter in an increasingly overwhelming and unstable world, the trend has only gotten more intense in the past few years and often is way more indicative of the needs of the person proposing than those of the eventual ring-wearer.
"Over-the-top proposals allow men to signal to a future wife, and to family and friends, that they are all in. They are ready to man up, forgo all others and become a responsible husband," W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia told the Times. But why do we need to signal? Isn't an audience of one enough?
Apparently not. Recent viral marriage proposal hits range from lip-dub extravaganzas (admittedly my favorite, because they obviously have a sense of humor about the whole thing) to little girl flash mobs to fake movie theater trailers to impeccably (verging on creepily) choreographed little girl flash mobs. "I've known Tina and Danny for years now and everyone's been waiting for this engagement for even longer," a friend wrote on the latter video's page. "Danny did an amazing job pulling this one off and surpassed everyone's expectations on how he was going to propose! It was an honor to be asked to capture this amazing moment and I couldn't stop watching Tina's expression over and over again."
Interesting how the video "surpassed everyone's expectations." Why were there expectations to begin with? Shouldn't friends and family care more about how one treats his spouse, not how he proposes to her? And now, with every new viral hit, it's not just friends and family who get to approve — it's millions of YouTube watchers, too. We received an email today from a woman who wrote: "My partner surprised me with a very public marriage proposal, involving hundreds of people. He gave me over 1000 roses and captured it all on video. If you would like to know more you can watch the video and contact me on XXX-XXXX." So that's where we are now: engagement as PR ploy.
It's easier to see why public marriage proposals are often creepy when they go really wrong, like in the case of the man who was famously rejected at a food court. Check out the strangers taking photos and living vicariously through the proposal, and then moaning in sympathy when the woman — now forever known as the bitch who didn't accept the food court proposal — runs away at the end. Sure, the spurned lover may have noticed how his girlfriend liked to eat her cupcakes, but it doesn't seem like he knew anything else about her before he planned the ill-fated extravaganza.
Fisher also told the Times that public marriage proposals might make men feel more secure in their relationships. "She won't forget it," she said. "When they hit some bumps down the road, she will be able to recall this moment and perhaps forgive his other foibles." But page views don't equal marital happiness, and, as the New Yorker's Silvia Killingsworth points out, there's something sinister in thinking otherwise:
In addition to getting bigger and flash mobbier, public proposals have skyrocketing production values. Without a doubt, the pinnacle of proposal showmanship belongs to Justin Davis and Nikki Marquez, who get surprise-engaged and immediately flash-married as part of a Fox reality show called "Mobbed." For me, the video skates a very fine line between orchestration and manipulation. Nikki, like most of the women in these videos, is positively overcome with emotion and adrenaline. There is something sinister about the fact that the wedding dress she is slipped into over her clothes is never buttoned all the way up the back. It's almost a perversion of the form, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.
It's hard to know how to feel about it because there's something very bitter and Scrooge-like about hating on lovers. Who are we not to celebrate — or at least respect — a couple's happiness? But a proposal isn't supposed to be a spectacle. It's supposed to be the beginning of a partnership. You're not heartless if you don't feel like cooing over your coworker's fifteen-minute-long "She Said Yes!!!" montage; you're just a rational person who never wants to listen to that goddamned Bruno Mars song ever again.