Right after the news of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's engagement broke, royal fans were glued to their screens, eager to uncover all of the romantic details of the marriage proposal. Did Harry, like his brother, pop the question while on a far-flung vacation? Or maybe he opted to ask her to marry him on top of the Eiffel Tower? After all, this was a proposal that needed to be fit for a royal.
When the couple finally announced in their first official interview that it happened at home over roasted chicken, many people were surprised by how low-key it sounded. But Markle seemed perfectly happy with it. "It was so sweet and natural and very romantic," she said in the same interview. And just like that, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gave the world a master class on how to get engaged and not care about audience approval.
Their attitude has become rare. According to a new report, 10 percent of parents find out about their kids' engagements via social media. That's right, parents. Why? Because two in three couples broadcast their engagement immediately after it happens. As life events become opportunities to rack up likes on Instagram—sometimes designed specifically to rack up likes—our relationships with our online audiences are eclipsing our relationships with our relatives and real-life friends.
"Social media drives everything these days," said Belladeux Event Design's Kim Sayatovic, who, in addition to planning weddings, is often hired to plan and coordinate elaborate marriage proposals. Many of her clients request that the photography be Instagram-friendly, and some are looking to recreate a favorite engagement shot they spotted on Pinterest.
The worst part? When the need to share makes us feel like choosing to keep the moment intimate is a cop out. One friend recently told me that when he got engaged to his now wife, he considered changing his low-key proposal plans because he felt the pressure to measure up to the dramatics we've come to expect. "Proposals are for your partner for, like, five minutes," Kenneth said. "Then, they're for the rest of the world." Kenneth stuck with his original plan: He asked his now-wife Anika to marry him at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir in New York's Central Park while they were on a stroll. Even now, he feels a slight pang of guilt that he didn't go for "something that would've made people say, 'Wow, that's a great story.'"
Anika, on the other hand, has no regrets. "It was perfectly us," she said, explaining that the moment perfectly captured the couple's romance.
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That's the key ingredient that most Pinterest-perfect marriage proposals miss, said Rachel Sussman, a New York City-based licensed marriage and family therapist. "If you’re planning a grand gesture for the sake of being grand, you’re really not thinking about your partner and what he or she wants. You’re thinking about your friends, and you’re thinking about social media."
Sussman noted that this kind of thinking can be a red flag for how your significant other may act in the relationship moving forward. "If your partner plans an engagement that doesn't seem to resonate with you, or he or she hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about you and what you want, it could feel really uncomfortable. It could feel very lonely. It could feel like, 'Oh my god, this person really doesn’t know me.'"
Don't get me wrong: There's nothing inherently wrong with fireworks or shutting down Times Square (power to you), but often the reason for the spectacle isn't so much about the connection between you and your partner as it is about the way you show it off to the world.
Sayatovic has often heard couples talk about one-upping acquaintances' marriage proposals. "The person actually popping the question will sometimes mention that they have to 'outdo' a friend or family member who already had an over-the-top proposal," she said. Isn't that kind of ... well, gross? Whether they're designing the proposal to impress someone other than their fiance-to-be or are worried that their fiance-to-be will compare the proposal to someone else's, the experience winds up being about someone outside of the relationship.
Even if the intention behind the design is totally pure, when you introduce a camera right away and know the pictures will be seen by your entire network, it's hard to stay in the moment.
I had an impressively unimpressive engagement—by Instagram's or anyone's standards. My husband proposed to me one night, in bed, right before we fell asleep. I was incredibly surprised; I think he was, too. But he had that look of pure love on his face, and it's one I will never forget even though I don't have a photo of the exact moment. It happened before selfies were a thing, but more importantly, I don't need a photo. I can picture it exactly as it occurred because at that very moment, I wasn't focused on anything but him.