It was just another Saturday afternoon for Ginny Joiner. She was at the movies with her brother while her boyfriend, Matt Still, caught up on work. He had encouraged her to go without him. Sitting in the darkened theatre waiting for The Hangover 2 to begin, Joiner suddenly heard a familiar voice booming out of the cinema speakers. There, on the big screen was a video of Still asking Joiner’s father for her hand in marriage. For the next seven minutes a professionally edited “movie trailer” played, telling the story of Joiner and Still’s romance. Finally, Still himself ran into the cinema to pop the question (live) to a now sobbing Ginny, in front of the entire movie audience.
If this story sounds familiar, then you are probably one of the more than 26 million people who have watched Still’s proposal play out on YouTube. Still’s grandiose, and moving, romantic gesture might have gone viral, but this sort of lavish proposal is far from extraordinary these days. Modest displays of romance - getting down on bended knee in the living room or conspiring with the maitre’d to have the ring brought to the table nestled on top of a chocolate mousse – are increasingly looking about as au courant as VHS and scrunchies.
Why is the public proposal so popular?
It feels positively old-fashioned to suggest a proposal is a private act of love between two people, not an acting gig (or skydiving performance, or musical number, or choreographed circus routine...) to be witnessed by thousands. Today’s wannabe groom is more likely to have rented a giraffe or booked a mariachi band to surprise her after yoga, or at very least organised for her local barista to serve her skim cappuccino with “Will you marry me?” spelt out in a light dusting of chocolate.
The demand for show-stopping question-popping has seen proposal planning businesses spring up around the world. Heather Vaughan, founder of Texas-based firm The Yes Girls, spotted the opportunity while working in wedding planning. “I realised there wasn't a helpful resource out there for men when it came to popping the question,” she recalls. “That's when the idea ignited to help men create unforgettable proposals by personalising it to their relationship. I haven't looked back.”
However, hiring a proposal planner to manage the pyrotechnics and muster the hand-dyed swans is pricey. According to The Yes Girls’ website, a professionally planned proposal can set a bloke back anywhere between $900 and $10,000.
According to Vaughan, elements that might go into a big-ticket proposal include “venue rental (theatre, private rooftop, arboretum, yacht), photography, videography, prop decor rentals, flower arrangements, musicians or dancers, private transportation, personalised details (custom wine bottle and flutes, monogram decor, specialty notes and signs)”.
Across the Atlantic, lovestruck beaux can turn to UK-based firm The Proposers for creative help. The company’s founders, Daisy Amodio and Tiffany Wright, say the inspiration for their business came from watching a man propose to his girlfriend by spelling out his message in candles in a park.
Since then, the duo has organised proposals that range from a man who, literally, wanted be a knight in shining armour and popped the question in a castle (Amodio and her team had to convince him not to wear the helmet for the big moment), to a London-wide treasure hunt, to a $15,000 extravaganza that saw the suitor whisk his girlfriend to New York and into “a personalised boutique filled with designer shoes and clothes that matched her style”.
"It's gone utterly crazy," Amodio said. "We... have been overrun by demand. A lot of it is following celebrity trends, and the movies, of course. In days gone by you might have gone for a walk in the park to propose, but that's not enough now.”
The viral proposal trend
Billionaire UK property developer, and now Mr Holly Valance, Nick Candy, can take some of the credit for popularising the extravagant proposal meme: during a holiday to the Maldives with the former Neighbours star in December 2011, Candy asked Valance to be his wife with “Will you marry me” written in fire (the lack of question mark might suggest he was fairly confident about the answer). Handily, someone was on hand to photograph the moment when Candy got down on bended knee. We know this because Valance posted a picture of the romantic moment on Twitter for her nearly 150,000 followers to see.
Regardless of the size of the proposal-planning fee (elephant rental doesn’t come cheap), a showy question-pop doesn’t guarantee a happy-ever-after. One romantic baseball fan found that out the hard way last year when he proposed in front of 10,000 people in a US stadium and his girlfriend turned him down. Another wannabe groom asked US talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to pose the question on his behalf on national television –only to score a "no thanks".
The current reigning champion of the viral proposal may well be Portland actor Isaac Lamb. Last year, he arranged for his girlfriend, Amy Frankel, to be driven slowly down a street while 60 of her friends and family members followed the car and performed a live dance spectacular to Bruno Mars’ Marry You. Frankel was a blubbering mess by the time Lamb emerged from the dance crew to pop the question. Mars himself gave his blessings to the happy couple, tweeting: “Congrats to Isaac Lamb and the future Mrs ... I don’t think I could’ve made a better music video for this song. Thank you.” The video has now been viewed close to 20 million times.
Of the video’s viral nature, Lamb told Today, “I think people see the love I have for her, the love that we all have for Amy; it’s really moving to know that it’s touched so many people’s lives.”
Sydney physicist Brendan McMonigal also found himself in the international spotlight after his proposal to his partner of seven years, Christie Nelan, won over millions of people online. Instead of a ring (or a brace of doves and roses), McMonigal presented Nelan with an academic paper titled Two Body Interactions: A Longitudinal Study, filled with graphs, figures and scientific jargon that cleverly charted the course of their relationship.
“I subtly got down on one knee to get the paper from my bag and hand it to her, then stood up to wait for her reaction, he told The Sydney Morning Herald in February. She hadn't noticed what was happening at all, but as a typical physics grad, she read the abstract and then skipped straight to the conclusion and quickly cottoned on.''
So, are blokes just getting a whole lot more competitive (and creative), or is the bigger-is-better trend just another example of the commercial world cashing in on our personal lives?
Has social media ruined the average proposal?
For Relationships Australia counsellor Denise Reichenbach, there’s definitely an element of one-upmanship. “Given that we are part of a very ‘public’ generation, there is a sense of competitiveness to all parts of life,” she offers. “Parts which were very private before have become public in the digital age.”
The Proposer’s Daisy Amodio agrees. “Men want their mates to be impressed, as well as the girl,” she told The Observer earlier this year. “They are trying to outdo each other.”
Reichenbach says some women’s expectations are egging on the trend. “I am sure there are a lot of women out there who surf the net [for] information about getting engaged, and seeing wedding proposals on YouTube adds to a sense that it has to be extra special and better than anyone else's,” she says.
A statistic shared among wedding bloggers (and eagerly cited by proposal planners, unsurprisingly) claims that “80% of women were disappointed by their proposals”. Typically, if the wedding blogs and forums are to be believed, a “disappointing” proposal translates to the sort of proposal (bended knee + ring + single rose + Australian sparkling) that would have charmed 20 years ago.
A small sampling of online “woes” includes such horrors as, “He took me to my favourite restaurant for dinner and proposed after dessert. That was it. No big surprise or anything”, and, “To break the tension, I excused myself and went to the bathroom. When I came out, he was lying on the bed with the ring box open in front of him. Before the toilet had even finished flushing, he asked me to marry him”. The horror!
Why a low-key proposal is just as good
Reichenbach encourages prospective brides to see their partner’s proposal as an extension of his personality, rather than a performance. “I think it is important to focus on the fact that our partner proposes in his own, unique and special way and even if that might not be a big proposal, it is his proposal to the woman he loves,” she says.
Reichenbach wonders whether it might be possible to return the wedding proposal to its original meaning - a private, loving, and simple, moment shared between the couple themselves.
"It is about you and the man you love,” she says,” and not so much about what everybody else thinks or does. It’s between two people. The two million other strangers on laptops all over the world can watch something else."
Is Marriage Still Relevant?