Have you ever watched a mega-elaborate viral proposal video and thought to yourself, "Wait, THIS is what a proposal is supposed to look like? That's just absurd."
If you answered "yes" just now, you're not alone. Despite the big trend for public, over-the-top proposals, the best choice may just be a private one.
A new study by ScienceOfRelationships.com interviewed nearly 400 participants about their proposal preferences and found that 69% said they'd prefer to keep it private. Seventeen percent of respondents said they would want "semi-private" proposals (just close friends and family around), while only 15% said they prefer a public event.
Moreover, 9% reported that they were disappointed by their actual proposal because their partner went big and public, when they actually would have preferred something more low-key.
"One sense that I've been getting is that some people think that big/public/elaborate displays are ideal and very romantic," Lisa Hoplock, the researcher behind the study, told Mic.
Why? "The popularity of big proposals on Youtube perpetuates it."
The viral trend: Last month, it was the in-love-since-fifth-grade couple traipsing around Philadelphia on a daylong music video shoot culminating in a romantic dinner. Two years ago, it was a couple whose daytime trip to Home Depot spontaneously morphed into an intricate Betty Who dance routine in the middle of the wood aisle.
Public proposals have practically become their own YouTube genre, and it's no surprise. The public engagement is the loud, seductive fulfillment of that classic rom-com feature: the grand romantic gesture.
Take those grandiose aspirations, combine the ability of YouTube to make anything into a mini-movie along with the distribution power of Facebook, and proposals have effectively become "pornified." As blogger Dennis Hong put it in 2013, "Do you know what happens when you take a proposal and make it public? You get engagement porn — stuff that people who aren't happy with their own relationships drool over, and stuff that people in fulfilling relationships smirk at."
Yes, these adorable videos work magic on our emotions and tear ducts, melting even the iciest of hearts. But does a proposal really need to involve a marching band, a flash mob and an entire year's worth of secret messages to be special? No — and it's probably better that way.
The beauty of privacy: As the ScienceOfRelationships.com data shows, there's actually value in the private proposal — or at least a strong preference for it.
"I wanted to make it personal, not so much for anyone else," Jim*, a married 28-year-old, told Mic of his 2012 proposal to his girlfriend. "It was just the two of us, and we told our friends and family later that day."
Another married 20-something, Jennifer,* told Mic she was glad to have had the privacy during as well as after the moment.
"Because of the region we were traveling in, we barely had any cell phone or Internet service that day or the rest of the week," she said. "Instead of feeling like we had to call all our family and friends to fill them in and rehash the story, we had an excuse to just privately enjoy our new engagement together for several days before reintegrating with the rest of the world."
For others, a loud, elaborate pageant doesn't feel like the right fit. "My relationship isn't a public spectacle," Steven, 28, told Mic. "While flash mob proposals are sweet and endearing and entertaining to watch, it would inaccurately reflect my relationship."
Then there are the curmudgeonly onlookers. "Proposals should be for two people," Tauriq Moosa wrote for the Daily Beast last year. "Not two million."
Just talk about it: Of course, 15% of those surveyed did still claim they'd rather go big or go home. So as with virtually every other aspect of a relationship, it seems that making the right decision between public and private ultimately comes down to communication between partners.
"I think that it is important for proposers to talk to their partner in advance to determine whether their partner would prefer a public proposal or a private proposal," Hoplock told Mic. "They can talk about it in advance and still have it be a surprise."
* Some names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.