It used to be that the most important decision a man had to make (after choosing the girl) was what type of ring to buy. Now he's got to plan a knockout proposal—at least something cool and clever enough to go viral on YouTube. Planning a proposal has become a booming industry itself, from the creating perfect proposal video to hiring a proposal planner.
A recent article on Converge discusses how our wedding-obsessed culture has grown engagement-obsessed, too. In some cases, it seems we've become more concerned with the proposal than the actual marriage.
Writer Nicki Lamont suggests we slow down a bit and think about why we actually want to get married in the first place:
It seems to me our generation has become infatuated with celebrating the act of becoming engaged, rather than celebrating the act of two people committing their lives to one another. The proposal pictures we gawk over on HowHeAsked.com keep us so fixated on planning our weddings, that we start to forget one important fact: weddings turn into marriages.
The rise of the over-the-top proposal is probably owed to in part by the high number of couples now living together. When unmarried couples already share their lives (and beds) with each other, the wedding night may become less of a milestone. Now, engagement becomes the "next step" to celebrate. There are entire boards on Pinterest devoted to the "perfect" wedding. And who hasn't seen an engagement ring show up on her Instagram feed the morning after the long-awaited proposal? (It's about that time of year again…December is the most popular month to get engaged.)
The heightened expectations for proposals affects how we date and choose our future spouse, how we view and navigate our own relationships. When it seems that everything is supposed to be spectacular—with filtered photos and sparkling diamonds—what happens when your relationship feels just a little bit ordinary? How do you know if it's love? How do you know if he's the one? We may be tempted to measure our passion against relationships we see on social media feeds or in movies. We may judge a guy by the aww-factor of his proposal, instead of the content of his character.
These larger-than-life proposals fail to give us an accurate picture of reality, and in some ways, they can be setting us up for future failure and disappointment.
I'm thankful for my proposal. It was sweet. It suited my husband and his personality. On Christmas Eve several years ago, we had been talking about engagement for a few weeks. I was under the impression that he might propose around my birthday, a month and a half later. Instead, he got on a plane, flew to my parents' house in Florida, and staged an elaborate proposal that I was hardly expecting and was definitely not ready for—I was still in my pajamas. In the post-Facebook age, we got it all on video and posted it for all to see that afternoon.
Over time I found myself constantly looking back to that day and thinking, "Why doesn't he still do stuff like that?" Now, my husband remains very thoughtful and works hard to pursue me, but the type of excitement and fanfare that surrounds a proposal cannot be sustained over the long haul. It's just not realistic. None of us live with our own personal flash mob following us around serenading us with our favorite love song. When we live with those types of expectations, and many of us do, we are only setting ourselves up for future disappointment when every day doesn't feel like the engagement day or the wedding day.
As Christians, we know that the proposal is a cultural means to a God-created end. Our culture has shaped proposals, so that's what we do. But God created marriage. I love a good proposal story, just as much as the rest of those who will press play on YouTube or click through slideshows, but that's not what it's all about. Elaborate proposals are not necessarily wrong, but they may not set us up well for the impending marriage.
And with all the talk about flashy engagement rings and elaborate proposals, we can't forget that they are all leading to the mother lode of all things spectacular—the wedding. As the proposal planning industry has emerged, wedding planning has fully taken off. Our obsession with the perfect proposal is in many ways an off-shoot of a lingering expectation of the perfect wedding. All of these peripheral obsessions can often miss the point of it all. A marriage is coming. And Lord willing, it will last much longer than a 20-minute proposal or a three-hour wedding and reception.
Lamont went on to say that it took her many years before she ever asked how her parents got engaged. For her, the proof was in the marriage that lasted over time. A good lesson for those of us who desperately want to see marriages last in our increasingly divorce-happy society.
So as we think about what it means to get married in a society obsessed with engagement, let us pay more attention to the character of the man proposing than his talent for pulling off the next big proposal sensation. While it might make a good story, it won't necessarily make a good marriage.
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