A woman and her boyfriend are taking a nature walk on a beautiful, sunny day. They pause at the top of the hill to take in the unbelievable view in front of them. She turns around to find her boyfriend kneeling. He presents her with a box.
“Maddison Marie, will you marry me?”
She gasps, pausing for a moment before responding with: “Wait— you hired a photographer, right?”
Thankfully, this isn’t a real proposal. The hilariously YouTube video, titled “The Millennial Marriage Proposal,” is a satire of society’s obsession with social media and its ability to ruin even the most intimate of moments.
Nevertheless, the skit does hold an element of truth. In the era of Instagram feeds populated with impossibly magical proposals caught on camera, the soon-to-be-engaged are undoubtedly feeling the pressure to make their engagement story extra special.
Could these dreams-come-true be too good to be true?
No, this isn’t about fake proposal stunts to rack up Reddit karma (or just free dessert). But in an age when women are becoming more assertive and clear on their own wants and needs—especially in regard to their relationships—is there an element of fiction behind even the grandest engagement story?
Love in the Age of Instagram
That Millennial Proposal video may have been satirical, but the line about the photographer seems to be an emerging trend in the real world.
Instagram accounts like @wedding.proposals boast some amazing photos of engagements from all around the world. With over 200,000 followers and some seriously impressive photography, each photo garners hundreds (if not thousands) of likes.
One post, which has almost 2,000 likes, describes a proposal that many women would dream of:
“…I put on a fancy red dress and pumps and he picked me up in a Ralph Lauren coat and dress pants (he looked like prince charming). He took me out for pre-dinner drinks at J Parker rooftop in Chicago (where we went on our first date ever a few years ago). After drinks, we were picked up by a carriage ride to take us to dinner. About half way through the carriage ride, the coachman said she had to stop to feed Pickles, the horse, and suggested we take photos in front of a beautiful gazebo. As we walked up to the gazebo glowing in the sun and surrounded by bountiful red roses, Patrick got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.”
Apparently her boyfriend had hired a photographer, who was hiding in some nearby bushes and waiting to snap photos of the impossibly perfect moment.
Other stories also feature photographers who were conveniently close by. Some cunning boyfriends even propose to their girlfriends during a photoshoot, to make sure every minute is captured. But could these dreams-come-true be too good to be true?
It’s become a modern cliché to moan about people’s need to feel validated on social media, and accusing brides-to-be of using their proposal story as a ploy to get attention is more than a little bitter. But it’s certainly not unusual to paint a picture on social media of what we think the world wants to see.
In 2016, social media superstar Essena O’Neill shocked her followers by deleted her online presence. The 18-year-old, who had over half a million followers, went public with her reasons for doing so, explaining that she’d found herself in a toxic headspace, addicted to the attention she received from her online fame.
O’Neill admitted that she’d often spend hours of work on a single photo for Instagram, desperately chasing the idea of perfection that was hardly an accurate representation of her life.
At the height of her internet fame, O’Neill claims another social media star—a male model—asked her to be his girlfriend. But according to an interview with The Guardian, it wasn’t a proper relationship he was after. It was the ultimate stunt for attention.
“He referred to a lot of people who were doing just that,” she told The Guardian. “And he said in the industry it is not unheard of to do this, that it is actually really smart and that I should think about it as a business proposal.”
When people are faking entire relationships for the approval of their followers, it might not be too much of a reach to hazard that not every proposal is as perfect as what’s written in the caption.
There’s no denying that sharing an incredibly personal life event—engagement or otherwise—with thousands of strangers is quite the juxtaposition. Then again, aren’t weddings themselves the very personification of intimacy made public?
A marriage is about two people moving their relationship to the next level, and yet we still insist on sharing that very personal decision (and the moments following) with hundreds of other people.
The Wedding Is Still a Fairytale Affair
Modern engagements may be getting more Disney-fied by the minute, but they’re really only setting the stage for what comes next: the big day. Society’s view of relationships and marriage may be changing, but the same trends still hold true.
The fairytale ‘one perfect day’ feeling is still very much there.
A survey by The Knot revealed that the average American wedding costs more than $35,000—a number that was significantly higher than the previous year. In particularly affluent areas like Manhattan, that number sits around $78,000. About $1,500 of that goes toward the bride’s dress.
And if Pinterest’s most popular pins are anything to go by, then white dresses, flower-topped cakes, and pink bridesmaid gowns are still in style.
Of course, not every wedding follows the same formula. Wedding blogger Kat Williams runs Rock n Roll Bride, a website (and magazine!) that showcases unique weddings that capture the individuality of the lucky couple. Many of the couples featured on Rock n Roll Bride have piercings, tattoos, and neon-colored hair—a far cry from the usual white-wedding aesthetic.
Williams says that in her experience, even the most offbeat bride still holds on to a specific fantasy for their big day.
“Even if they’re having a low budget wedding or making things themselves, they still want the day to be perfect, and a reflection of the two of them,” she tells HealthyWay. “The styling of weddings may have moved on a lot on recent years with trends changing and more traditional elements falling out of favor, but the fairytale ‘one perfect day’ feeling is still very much there.”
The Need for Control
When people talk about their wedding, they don’t just share details of the actual day. The engagement is just as much a part of the story. But is a wedding only as good as its proposal?
You can can upgrade a diamond but you can never change a memory.
There are countless articles online that teach women how to get their partners to go about proposing the right way, including how to get the perfect engagement ring.
In fact, online forums are often filled with admissions from brides who admit that not only did they discuss the engagement with their boyfriend at length before being proposed to, but they even picked out the ring together.
In 2015, famed jeweler Tiffany & Co. launched an app for engagement rings. Women can scroll through all of their offerings and even virtually try them on, just to see what a 4-carat rock will look like on their fingers.
There’s no shortage of ways to plan your entire engagement before the idea has even occurred to your partner. Post-engagement planning is even hotter, especially thanks to nearly limitless ideas available on Pinterest. Granted, weddings are big, extravagant, and expensive affairs, and it’s important to plan them properly. But is the need for control usurping the beauty of a surprise proposal?
In Williams’ experience at least, not quite. “Almost all of the proposal stories I hear still have the element of surprise. The real difference is I am seeing a lot more women proposing to men these days though!”
As for staged proposals, Williams says she’s personally never seen any of those.
While the majority of women may not be literally orchestrating their own proposals, there’s no denying the pressure to have the picture perfect day is stronger than ever. How else would companies like The Heart Bandits—self-described “marriage proposal and romantic event planners”—exist?
From custom proposal planning to arranging proposal packages in cities around the world, the service (which requests potential proposers email them for service fees) says, “You can can upgrade a diamond but you can never change a memory.”
For Rocco Marchese (who did not reach out to The Heart Bandits), planning his wedding put a tremendous amount of strain on his relationship with his soon-to-be-wife. The prospect of planning and financing their engagement ring, party and wedding was enough to break them—but not in the way that you’d think.
Instead of letting the stress get the better of them, Marchese suggested that the pair elope.
“We were getting pretty stressed about it and my wife blurted out something like, ‘Do you even think we’ll get married?’ and I had had it,” he says. “I told her, let’s do it now. She was taken back by the comment after we were trying to figure out something memorable to do, since every other wedding in the family was always such a big deal.”
After making sure he really was serious, the pair jumped in his truck and headed straight for the courthouse. Unfortunately, it was closed—so they drove to the next one. They got there 10 minutes before closing, which was just in the nick of time.
“The lady who did our vows actually stayed late and did them in the street of Warrenton, Virginia,” he says.
Is Marchese’s story Instagrammable or Pinterest-worthy? Maybe not. Heart-warming? Absolutely.