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Public-Spectacle Marriage Proposals Are Selfish

At the 2018 Emmy Awards show, the award for best director for a variety special went to Glenn Weiss. Instead of just accepting the honor, he used the occasion to propose from the stage to his girlfriend, Jan Svendsen. The camera pointed to her as she enacted the predictable big display of emotion, complete with the covering of her face with her hands. Then she went up to the stage, as Weiss got down on a knee and proposed. She accepted.

The audience went wild.

Afterwards, so did everyone else. CNN said that Weiss won the “best Emmy moment with live proposal.” On Morning Joe, Willie Geist interrupted the report on the awards winners to effuse about the proposal, calling it his favorite part of the ceremony. NBC Entertainment sent out a tweet that started with, “SHE SAID YES!” Even the staid New York Times published an article about the proposal.

Matrimania ruled the day.

Personally, I was not surprised. These public spectacles have become commonplace, not just for marriage proposals but even for prom proposals. It seems that there is no event of any sort with cameras at the ready that does not become a scene for a splashy look-at-me proposal. At the Rio 2016 Olympic games, for example, there were five public marriage proposals. Five!

Though I was not surprised, I was appalled. I looked around to see if anyone else was not feeling the love. I found that Today offered some cautionary notes:

“…a public proposal can put the person being asked on the spot or feel pressured into saying “yes” to avoid looking heartless. Some even suspect sinister, manipulative motives: Perhaps the person asking in such an over-the-top way is overcompensating for something lacking in the relationship or is seeking to turn the attention on himself.

“Then, there’s the risk of getting a very high-profile and awkward “no:” Proposals that were rejected were more likely to take place in public in front of many strangers…

“Public sentiment also seems to favor an intimate moment…”

These are all good points. I think there is another problem with these public proposals: They are selfish.

The Emmy Awards show was supposed to be about the Emmy award winners. Okay, they are celebrities – they get tons of attention – so it is hard to feel too sorry for them. But how about all those Olympic athletes who only get a shot at an Olympic audience once every four years. Why should couples steal the attention from the point of the event, and turn the spotlight on themselves?

Remember, people who are proposing are celebrating something utterly, soporifically, ordinary. Tons of people get married. Some try it over and over again. Getting married doesn’t make you special; it makes you predictable.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with getting married, if that’s really what you want to do and you are not just doing it because you think it is something you should do. But really, there’s nothing remarkable about it. Getting married does not put you in the category of an Olympic athlete or an Emmy winner. It puts you in the category of doing what just about everyone thinks you should do. You are reading from the conventional cultural script.

One of the stickiest stereotypes about single people is that they are selfish. In fact, though, research has shown that in many important ways, they are less selfish than married people. Yet somehow, the selfish label gets pinned on them, even when they least deserve it.

Meanwhile, when people make a huge public spectacle of their marriage proposal, stealing the spotlight from others who have earned it, audiences and pundits just ooh and ah. Somehow, a proposer’s selfishness rarely gets recognized for what it is.

That’s one of the ways that engrained stereotypes persist, even as they are being debunked right before our eyes.

Public-Spectacle Marriage Proposals Are Selfish

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2018). Public-Spectacle Marriage Proposals Are Selfish. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 20 Sep 2018
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