When you fall in love, you want to sing it from the rooftops. But with social media, you no longer have to shout. Just share the nitty-gritty of the marriage process online.
Before Facebook, the details of a proposal often stayed between the couple and their close friends and family. People rarely broadcast their planning process or budgets with crowds. Now, social media is taking engagements and weddings online in a very public direction, and it’s creating heightened expectations and pressure that can put a damper on an otherwise beautiful event.
The Viral Engagement
The rituals of marriage are often thought of as longstanding cultural institutions, but in reality, most of the trappings signifying a union are relatively recent traditions. For example, the diamond emerged as the standard engagement ring only after an aggressive De Beers campaign after World War I. And as engagements started requiring specific rings in the 20th century, they continue to change.
Today, it’s not a powerful diamond cartel molding how people approach engagements — it’s the Internet, which adds a public performance element to popping the question. Of course, before YouTube, there was always the odd bended-knee on the Jumbotron at a game. And Jumbotron proposals are a common enough occurrence to call for an ESPN commercial — but now a much wider segment of engagements, fueled by online sharing, are taking off.
Couples are raising the stakes to grab attention from friends increasingly accustomed to witnessing the moment. No longer is a proposal by way of flash mob necessarily a guaranteed viral hit, since that type of proposal is becoming a more regular occurrence. There are even businesses, like BookaFlashMob.com, designed to offer flash mobs for proposals or other romantic occasions. No, people like Isaac Lamb of Portland and “the world’s first lib dub proposal” are resorting to more elaborate tactics to get the girl and a lot of national attention.
People who pull off these very public engagements say they did it to impress their fiancée first, and many claim they didn’t intend for their videos to go viral, but they film the event in case it went well.
For example, New York Times tech reporter David Pogue created an elaborate fake movie trailer for his girlfriend and arranged a showing in front of family and friends in a movie theater. He then posted the results online with a shot of her reaction in the corner. Since Pogue writes about how technology intersects with day-to-day life for a living, it makes sense he would embrace the idea of viral proposals. He even provided a “How to Propose Like Pogue” Q&A on the New York Times website.
But while Pogue embraces this type of engagement, other people are less enthralled, including Slate journalist L.V. Anderson, who lambasted the idea of a public proposal. Anderson pointed out that Pogue’s claim to be surprised at his proposal’s reception is highly suspect. Anderson points out, “The man has 1.4 million Twitter followers, and any link that he tweets — in this case, accompanied by the words “Here’s the video of my marriage proposal yesterday, including her reaction, courtesy of a spy cam in a ficus plant!” — gets thousands of clicks, instantly. Pogue wouldn’t have posted the video of his proposal if he hadn’t wanted it to garner attention, and he can’t be surprised that it did.”
An elaborate engagement proposal like Pogue’s not only costs a lot of cash — creating a fake movie trailer and paying a theater to air it isn’t cheap — it will set the stakes extremely high for a wedding which is just as exceptional, public-facing and performative. And just as viral marriage proposals are on the uptick, so are crowd-pleasing weddings, designed with fans, followers and friends on social media sites in mind.
Facebook, Pinterest and the Public Bride
Social networks are making it easier than ever to share details about rings, wedding planning, honeymoons and almost every aspect of modern nuptials that follows the “I do.”
And that’s not a bad thing: people who are trying to plan their wedding from out-of-town can get helpful tips from Yelp and reach out to their guests on Facebook and can sort through different types of weddings using visual tips provided by Pinterest’s troves of boards devoted to weddings.
Brides can take advantage of Pinterest to make their wedding more affordable, perhaps by enlisting the services of the board-based bridal gown consignment Nearly Newlyweds, which will buy back a wedding dress for a third of the original price.
But they may also feel inclined to buy a more expensive dress than they would have otherwise after browsing through thousands of beautiful but pricey designer gowns on the website. And they may feel more inclined to take part of a burgeoning trend known as “Trash the Dress,” where married people take photos of themselves destroying their expensive wedding apparel, which would prevent re-selling the garment.
The virtual pinboard can breed potent dissatisfaction. For every intriguing thrift store-foraged mason jar placeholder, there’s a photo of a thoroughly out-of-price-range dress making brides feel inadequate. While sites like Pinterest can be genuinely helpful in wedding planning, people clicking through image upon image of wedding accoutrements, even those done cheaply, can find these images distracting and feel stressed and woefully under-financed.
On social networks where people are more apt to share personal information, it’s common for brides-to-be to post photos of their rings, dresses, engagement parties, weddings and honeymoons. These images can be harder to deal with than those on Pinterest, since they’re linked to real people — and sometimes linked to ex-lovers or rivals. People with more economically successful friends may feel their weddings cannot possibly live up to those they see in Facebook albums titled “Puerto Vallarta Wedding Blowout” or “300 Guests, An Even Larger Love.”
Facebook is rolling out changes that make wedding and engagement announcements feature more prominently on the site. There’s now a specific “Weddings and Engagements” feature placing these announcements alongside birthday postings. The increased emphasis on the wedding nuptials gives people an excuse to publicize their plans and creates unpleasantness for those who don’t have the means to afford the type of celebrations they see plastered prominently all over Facebook, especially since they know people will expect to see pictures all over their pages.
To be fair, Pinterest features oodles of DIY burlap guest favors and more barn weddings than there are barns. But the site still reinforces the idea that a wedding should have guest favors in the first place or brides and grooms should devote resources for find an appropriate rustic and picaresque wedding reception venue — and not choose a less photogenic, but cheaper, City Hall ceremony.
Facebook fuels that insecurity, inspiring its own form of hand-wringing about wedding details. You see long-lost high school sweethearts, improbably successful college nemeses and those distant relatives Uncle Bill, getting hitched — making you feel inferior.
Taking a Step Back
The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. tops $27,000, with costs in areas like metropolitan New York skyrocketing up to $65,000. These figures speak to the escalating expectations of those planning a wedding while constantly comparing it to those trumpeted on social networks. People initially set on a budget-friendly affair find themselves drawn in by meticulous arrangements shared on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Facebook gives people a glimpse at the lives of friends and loved ones, and while that is great for people teaching abroad in Tokyo who want to see how their cousin said “I do,” it is essential to look at wedding and engagement photos with a grain of salt and understand that these have been carefully cropped and edited to make things look far more shiny than they actually are. Social media can offer invaluable wedding inspiration, but it can also tempt brides and grooms to overvalue small and often expensive details and not the lasting sentiment behind the ceremony.
Some of the people in viral wedding videos are thrilled their special day is broadcast for everyone, but that does not mean private proposals are of lesser value.
Viral proposals and obsessive social media monitoring can make people planning weddings and engagements feel bush-league, poor and profoundly un-hip. And everyone embarking on this supposedly joyous life journey would do well to recognize how deeply unnecessary all this Internet hoopla is.
Just because you didn’t have an iPhone handy to Instagram the ring slipping on the finger doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And even though your floral arrangements aren’t locally sourced baby’s breath and you didn’t have time to insert tea candles into 100 mason jars doesn’t mean your wedding wasn’t any less beautiful, fun and meaningful.
Get married in a boring but affordable banquet hall in the suburbs, or in a cute barn filled with mason jars and burlap, as long as your personal tastes and capabilities drive the decision, not online trends. Instead of feeling hemmed in and panicked trying to keep up with the newly-engaged social media Joneses, you may decide to get engaged in a bar and, gasp, not take one picture about the special moment on Tumblr.
You could always get engaged at a Yankees game with Derek Jeter leading a flash mob while it live-streams on YouTube, too, but just recognize that no one way is better than the other, as long as the core sentiment behind the actions is love and a want to build a life together. Unless you’re planning a neo-Nazi ceremony with Creed as a live band and boiled hotdogs covered in expired mayonnaise as the entree. In that case, every one way is better than that way.
Viral proposals and excessive Internet wedding documentation aren’t exactly ruining marriage, but they can diminish happiness in engagements and wedding ceremonies if people don’t take the time to differentiate between appreciating something as an Internet trend and having that thing dictate an important occasion. ♦
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