Are public marriage proposals getting out of hand?

Previously private moment is ‘becoming a public event’ as companies cash in

A man proposes in Times Square, New York
A man joins growing number of would-be grooms who propose in Times Square, New York
(Image credit: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

A trend of men paying “proposal planners” to help them pop the question is getting a resounding “no” from some critics.

“Aspiring grooms-to-be” are paying an average of between £2,000 and £2,500 to propose, said The Telegraph, and “some are willing to pay as much as £165,000 for private venues”.

Earlier this year, a man rented space on a 55ft-wide, 31ft-tall billboard in New York’s Times Square to display a photo of his girlfriend and their son, with the caption: “Will You Marry Me?” Surrounded “by strangers”, said the New York Post, he then got down on one knee to his partner, who said “yes”.

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But while onlookers reportedly “cheered around them”, not everyone is celebrating the surge in public proposals.

Going public

A betrothal was “once one of the most intimate moments of a courtship”, said The Times, but “the private moment is becoming a public event”.

Industry insiders report that the trend began during the pandemic. “In lockdown, the demand for people wanting to spend money on themselves and their partners increased massively,” said Shivani Kattri, founder of The Proposal Planners.

Kattri told The Telegraph that her four-person team now plan up to 50 proposals a month, some of which included hiring out helicopters and private jets.

Alisa Grabovaja of planning agency The Proposers said that while more women and same-sex couples were using her service, most of her customers were men. Clients can opt for a Harry Potter engagement for £5,000, with a treasure hunt and a personalised wand with the ring attached, she told the paper.

One man paid £12,500 to recreate a McFly music video in order to ask his girlfriend to marry him in a theatre packed with friends and family. Another couple reportedly rented the Disneyland Paris park and projected their faces onto the iconic castle, at a cost of £165,000.

‘Terribly embarrassing’

“Too many people are spending too much time trying to be clever, and to come up with an event that will look good on YouTube,” said The Plunge.

Other critics worry that proposees may feel compelled to say “yes”. Liz Wyse, an etiquette adviser for Debrett’s, told The Times that a public proposal, with a third party involved, could make a partner feel they were being “doorstepped in public”.

The “safe default is to do it privately”, said Wyse, because “it’s terribly embarrassing if the person says no” and you shouldn’t “put the person you’re proposing to in an impossible situation”.

Romance author Jilly Cooper agreed that staged proposals were “awful”, because the partner “would feel pressurised”.

Religious leaders have also weighed into the debate. Rabbi Jonathan Romain, of Maidenhead Synagogue, said the growing popularity of proposal planners “reflects the Instagramisation of everyday life” in which “each moment has to be captured, recorded and shared”.

Neuroscientist Dean Burnett, author of Emotional Ignorance, argued in The Guardian that while “doing it in front of friends or family is one thing”, proposing “in front of numerous strangers” even potentially adds a “far more sinister element”.

In 2016, when Chinese diver He Zi received a silver medal at the Rio Olympics, her boyfriend, fellow diver Qin Kai, went down on one knee “in front of a global TV audience”, the BBC reported. She said yes but some felt he had stolen his partner’s thunder.

At least she said yes. Last year, a man at a National Hockey League match in New York waited until the “kiss cam” reached him and then knelt down in front of his girlfriend and removed his shirt to reveal the message “PLZ SAY YES YES YES”.

As thousands looked on, she too knelt down, whispered something to him and then fled the stadium, leaving him “publicly humiliated”, said The Guardian.

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.