Just in case the onslaught of videos showing painstakingly choreographed flash-mob proposals or reports of day-long proposal treasure hunts aren’t enough to highlight the extremism of our current engagement culture, guys everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief, because apparently we’ve built in a trial run: The Promposal. Who needs to wait around until you feel like you’ve established your own identity or bother genuinely connecting with the person you want to commit yourself to for the rest of your life before spending weeks or even months planning an epic ask? Who cares if you’ve only been dating for four months?
Promposals aren’t a new trend—according to this piece from The Washington Post, they’ve been around since 2002—but they didn’t gain this level of viral ubiquity until sometime after 2007, and it would be another four years before the term “promposal” became a familiar addition to our lexicon. Currently, YouTube returns over 50,000 hits for videos tagged with that word, and I’ll go ahead and spare you the wasted hour—for the most part, they’re as shockingly over-the-top and ridiculous as whatever you’re imagining.
It isn’t news that marriage proposals—which, you know, at least usually take place between actual adults who have probably spent more than a couple of weeks making out in the back of someone’s car—are already rife with problematic concepts that reinforce harmful institutionalized ideals relating to the worth and autonomy of both men and women.
Prom is, of course, certainly not a wedding, but though the stakes are obviously different, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still high. The societal expectations for marriage proposals appear practically boundary-less—why not propose by faking your own violent death? Worked for this maniac—and as these expectations have trickled down to high school students, the stunts for the next “most epic” promposal likewise grow increasingly more and more outrageous.
Like this guy, who worked overtime to embody an actual Disney fairy tale:
Look, I’m a human with SO MANY feelings—I’ll admit that some of these are cute as shit. Take this video, for example, with a squishy prom-repurposed rendition of “Blank Space”:
Or this chick, who is pretty much my new feminist high school hero:
But pre-promposal, this yearly capstone event wasn’t suffering from a lack of pressure—the push toward “coupling,” expectations about dating post-prom, the expectation of sexual intimacy, the stigma of going alone, the worry over turning someone down or being turned down and, of course, the anxiety over asking in the first place. At no point did these pressures need to be exponentially leveled up by turning the question, “Will you go to prom with me?” into something a person has to spend three weeks practicing with the entire student body of his high school:
And as for the girls being asked? (Okay, true, it isn’t always girls being asked by guys, but much like marriage proposals, the heteronormative, patriarchal arrangement of guy-asking-girl does make up a majority of promposal videos.) There’s no graceful out from a question that rises up amid the squees and cheers of a couple dozen or couple hundred or couple thousand of your friends and peers—the acceptance becomes a given. The more outrageous and over-the-top the promposal, the more certain she’ll feel that she can’t possibly say no.
We can dial back this frenzy and pressure by de-emphasizing (maybe even divorcing) marriage proposals from their current status as a means of measuring how much one person loves and values their partner. Or as the be-all-end-all event of a couple’s lives to date. (Until, of course, it’s replaced by the wedding, which also isn’t the be-all-end-all, that’s the marriage you’re thinking of, folks).
Personally, I think something like this awesomeness should be about the speed we’re looking for: