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Gentlemen, please cease and desist with the meme-ready marriage proposals

Proposing to your spouse in a viral video is creepy, exploitative, unimaginative, and honestly, just really, really stupid.


EJ Dickson

Internet Culture

Posted on Jan 31, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 7:42 pm CDT

I am not a romantic. I loathe The Notebook, consider flowers a waste of space, and my Valentine’s Day tradition with my boyfriend is streaming Holocaust documentaries on Netflix (shout out to Hitler’s Children, whut!). I also don’t come from romantic stock: According to family lore, my father proposed to my mother during halftime of a Jets game by turning to her and saying, “The ring is upstairs on the dresser if you want it.” 

Given my genetic predisposition toward hating romantic gestures, one should probably take my stance on marriage proposal memes with a grain of salt.  But the fact of the matter is this: Proposing to your spouse in a viral video is creepy, exploitative, unimaginative, and honestly, just really, really stupid. And I would like to take this opportunity to beseech the gentlemen of the Internet to make this trend go away.  

To be clear, I am not opposed to proposal memes because I’m a puritanical, bonnet-wearing Luddite who thinks Facechat and Tweeter and the Youtubegrams have destroyed the last vestiges of humanity. While I don’t necessarily share the impulse to broadcast significant life events on various social media platforms, I understand it, and I don’t begrudge anyone the opportunity to share these kinds of moments with the world if they so desire. 

What I am opposed to, however, is narcissism and a lack of imagination, and it seems to me many of the auteurs behind these proposal videos have both of these in spades. Not only is there no longer anything original about staging an elaborate marriage proposal with the intention of it going viral, it strikes me as breathtakingly selfish to throw an unsuspecting partner into the mix, usually without his/her consent, under the guise of a bold romantic gesture. 

I can only speak for myself, but if I were on the other end of these proposals, my first concern would be the zillions of vicious YouTube commenters who were about to see this, and whether I looked presentable enough to withstand their criticism. Which is why it’s so infuriating to me that these men (most of the offenders in these situations are men) don’t appear to have considered how their partner feels about being exposed in such a dramatic, public fashion. “You couldn’t give her a little heads-up in advance, so she could swipe on some lipstick first?” I feel like screaming to the doltish Romeos in these videos. “You couldn’t tell her to run a brush through her hair? Jesus f**king Christ, dude, how f**king selfish can you be?”

While viral proposal videos are certainly not a new phenomenon, it seems like there’s been something of a boon in the proposal meme industry over the past few months or so. There was the Peter Pan proposal meme. There was the cycling app proposal meme. There was the Jane Austen cosplay proposal meme, an LED proposal meme, a fake arrest proposal meme, and, of course, a meme proposal meme (when I envision the smug look that must have crossed this guy’s face when he came up with the idea, I think of the Unabomber’s anti-humanity/technology manifesto, and I can say, with all honesty, that I totally understand where he was coming from). 



Whenever I see these videos, the following thoughts pop into my head, in exactly this order:

1) Oh, what’s going on? What’s that guy doing? Is he— oh, he is! D’aaaaaawwwwwww.

2) This is cute and all, but something about it strikes me as a little off. This seems like it might’ve been rehearsed or staged beforehand, maybe. (This especially applies to videos that involve big, slick production numbers, like this Home Depot proposal. Great song, and you guys are adorable, but I find it extremely hard to believe you have that many people in your social circle who can dance that well).

3) … Actually, now that I think about it, what kind of person would stage and rehearse such an intimate romantic moment, and then broadcast it on the Internet? That sort of primal need for attention must stem from deeply rooted feelings of low self-worth, or perhaps a college theatre background. (Same difference, right? Ooooh, college theatre slam!) 



4) For that matter, what kind of person would agree to marry someone who’d stage and rehearse such an intimate romantic moment, and then broadcast it on the Internet? 

5) These people are clearly narcissists, and I refuse to continue to bear witness to the celebration of their union. Their love is condemned to failure, and when their wishes and dreams inevitably implode, I hope they choke on the dust from the fallout. 

While I’m obviously skewing a bit toward hyperbole, I defend my third and fourth points. Think about it: If you are deeply in love with someone, and you wanted to ask them to spend the rest of their life with you, you’d probably want to figure out how to ask that question in a way that’s respectful and suited to your partner’s tastes and feelings. 

While I’m sure many of the women on the other end of these proposals were delighted with them and thrilled by the Internet attention, I’m sure that some of them weren’t (the lady in the fake arrest video certainly wasn’t), and these dudes should’ve ceased and desisted the second they thought their partner might’ve been uncomfortable. 

To these men, I have to pose the following question: What does it say about you that you’re willing to forsake your partner’s feelings for the possibility of becoming an Upworthy headline? And what kind of precedent does it set for the rest of your relationship? If your first major milestone together as a couple is expressly designed for virality, will the next ones—the first house, first kid, first death—be designed for virality too? 

Ultimately, my feelings about the proposal meme stem not so much out of an aversion to memes or Internet culture, but my discomfort with how these videos are changing the definition of love in general. Because I don’t think of love and marriage the same way the couples in these videos do. I think of love as two people who are so certain in their desire to commit to each other and build a world together, that the opinions of those who exist outside of that world don’t count for shit. 

When your first act as a couple is specifically crafted for the purposes of entertaining the Internet, when you start to build a world with another person and invite anyone with two eyes and a Wi-Fi connection to bear witness to it, that is totally antithetical to my definition of love. That kind of bold, romantic gesture seems to me to have less to do with being bold, or even romantic, and more to do with showing off how quirky and clever you are for thinking of such an ingenious, d’awww-worthy way to propose to someone. 

That cynical, attention-grabbing way of thinking is great if you’re in marketing or ad sales (hell, it’s great if you’re in journalism), but not so much if you’re in love. Being in love is awkward and messy and not necessarily always swoon-inducing; it involves a lot of crying and hand-holding and having long, boring conversations about basically nothing and tolerating your partner’s Chinese takeout farts while streaming police procedurals on Netflix. There is nothing about the experience of being in love that is meme-worthy or viral-ready, and that is exactly what is so awesome about it. 

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for almost five and a half years. During that time, we’ve broached the subject of marriage a few times, and while neither of us are in a hurry to make it official, the subject of the proposal has come up as well. The other day, after watching my umpteenth proposal meme, we discussed it again. 

While I made it clear that he’d have to set a higher bar than my dad (I’m no romantic, but my standards are significantly higher than “the ring is on the dresser upstairs if you want it”), I told him in no uncertain terms that should he ever ask me to marry him, I would prefer it if he kept the audience limited, and that under no circumstances should that moment be posted to the Internet. 

He seemed bewildered at the suggestion. “Honestly, that would never have even occurred to me,” he told me. To me, that admission was infinitely more d’awww-worthy than any proposal, meme or non-meme, could ever be. 

Photo via Collin Harvey/Flickr

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*First Published: Jan 31, 2014, 3:08 pm CST