‘Jan, you are the sunshine in my life…’

Put a ring on it: Glenn Weiss and Jan Svendsen have been together for 10 years. © Getty

Are public proposals a good idea? At last week’s Emmy Awards, director Glenn Weiss got down on one knee in front of 10 million viewers. Popping the question has been a big deal for centuries…

It was certainly an acceptance speech to remember. After winning an Emmy, the director Glenn Weiss made a tearful tribute to his mother, who had died two weeks previously.

“Mom always believed in finding the sunshine in things and she adored my girlfriend Jan,” he told the 7,000 people in the audience — plus 10 million more watching at home. “Jan, you are the sunshine in my life… You wonder why I don’t like to call you my girlfriend? Because I want to call you my wife.”

Her jaw dropped. The audience stood and cheered. She began nodding her head before he had even asked the question. When she joined him onstage, he dropped down onto one knee. “Will you marry me?”

It was the ultimate example of a growing trend for grand, public proposals.

According to a 2017 survey by the wedding website The Knot, 45% of American proposals now happen in a public place. Grooms (and when it comes to straight couples, it is almost always the men) typically spend four-and-a-half months planning the event. Almost half hire a photographer or videographer to capture the moment.

It is a paradox that as marriage becomes less popular among young people, its ceremonies get more extravagant. Some attribute this to romantic comedies and celebrities; Kanye West spent an estimated £38,000 proposing to Kim Kardashian in a baseball stadium with fireworks and a 50-piece orchestra.

Others point to social media. “Women want that perfect picture,” sociology professor Ellen Lamont told The Atlantic. Meanwhile, men feel pressure to outperform their friends.

But although there is more spectacle, the traditional parts of getting engaged have not changed for centuries. Getting down on one knee dates back to medieval courtship, when it was a sign of respect and loyalty. Engagement rings are even older; in Roman times, women had a gold ring to wear in public and an iron ring for doing chores.

Two millennia later, are public proposals a good idea?

Popping the question

Absolutely not, say sceptics. For one thing, the tradition is archaic and sexist. It allows men months to decide when they are ready for marriage, while women get just seconds to make one of the biggest decisions of their life. A public proposal only adds to this pressure, as most women do not want to humiliate their partner by saying no. It is far healthier to have a private, honest conversation.

Lighten up, say others. Grand proposals are romantic. Lots of people want to feel special when they are proposed to, and the person doing the proposing would not go to such trouble if they were not sure of a “yes”. Proposing in public also shows that they are willing to lay everything on the line for their beloved. There is nothing sexist about that.

You Decide

  1. Would you want to perform, or receive, a public proposal?
  2. Should more women propose to their partners?

Activities

  1. Write down a list of everything that makes a perfect proposal. This could include location, style and how long a couple has been dating before it happens. Compare your list with someone sitting next to you.
  2. Create a timeline which explores the history of marriage over the last 2,000 years.

Some People Say...

“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.”

Winston Churchill

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Public marriage proposals are increasingly common, even as marriage declines overall — at least in Western countries like Britain and the US. On YouTube, the three most popular proposal videos have 33 million views each (not counting a failed proposal video, in which the potential bride says no. That has 38 million views.)
What do we not know?
What is causing the trend — or how many brides-to-be would have said no if their proposal had been less public. Professor Ellen Lamont, who interviewed 105 people about their proposals for her research, said that “a few” of the women said yes despite not wanting to be married. “I felt like it would be saying no to the relationship, rather than just saying no to the proposal,” one woman told her, according to The Atlantic.

Word Watch

Emmy
America’s biggest television awards, organised by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Weiss won the award for Outstanding Directing for A Variety Special, after directing the Oscars earlier this year.
10 million
This was actually a record-low viewing figure for the Emmy Awards, which aired on Monday night last week. It was the award show’s 70th anniversary, but viewership dropped by 11% from last year.
2017 survey
The Knot 2017 Jewelry & Engagement Study was released in November 2017. It was based on a survey of 14,000 couples who were engaged or recently married in the US.
Less popular
Earlier this year, the Office For National Statistics said that the number of marriages in England and Wales had hit a record low in 2015, falling by 3.4%. Meanwhile, the average age to get married is increasing: 37.5 years for men, and 35.1 years for women.
£38,000
This figure does not include the cost of the ring, which is estimated to be around £4.6 million, or the £152,000 rental fee for the ballpark which was reportedly loaned to him for free.
Medieval courtship
The modern idea of love and romance dates back to the Middle Ages, when wealthy men would “court” noblewomen with poetry, songs and other grand gestures. Kneeling was also a symbol of servitude.
Archaic
Old-fashioned.

Subjects