Ah, the promposal.
Over the last couple of years I have watched a growing number of cute, silly, and sometimes romantic prom proposals pop up in hallways and classrooms. Usually, a boy comes up with a creative way to ask the girl of his dreams to attend the quintessential American rite of passage, PROM, but occasionally, the roles are reversed. Apparently this trend started in the early 2000s, with the Internet constantly raising the stakes from year to year. With the prom season beginning this month, thousands of teenage boys and girls are going to once again risk public humiliation or triumph, depending on their own hyped-up prom fantasies.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a hopeless romantic. I remember playing with my little sister’s Princess Diana wedding paper dolls, dressing up in the play wedding dress that my grandmother made for my sisters and me, watching princess movies and chick flicks on repeat, and reading countless romance novels. By the time I graduated from high school I had my future marriage completely planned out, complete with dreams of a fairy tale Christmas wedding.
So while I am a romantic by nature and I have no problem with the ritual of high school prom, I wonder if all of this planning and scheming in our teen years is hurting us down the road. After all, if a boy is expected to go out of his way to get a girl to go to a dance with him, what then is the expectation on a man when asking a woman to spend the rest of her life with him? What about all the money and party planning AFTER the high school promposal? Years later, have we allowed our teenage fantasies to impact the way we view and prepare for one of the most significant of adult relationships?
By this point, most of us (thankfully) are past looking for a prom date. But all of the expectations and experiences of our teenage years appear to be affecting the way modern 20 and 30-somethings view the marriage commitment. The numbers of men and women choosing cohabitation before marriage are rising, as is the average age of both men and women when they get married.
There are many reasons people give for choosing cohabitation over marriage, but I would argue that one of the many reasons people are increasingly choosing living together over a legally binding commitment is the fear that once the extravagant, over-priced, over-planned reception has ended (the current average cost of a wedding is just over $26,000, although most couples spend less than $10,000), the romance will die.
My sister-in-law and her husband got married in a civil ceremony just eight months after I married her brother on a snowy December day. I wore a poofy, off-the-shoulder ivory gown and a tiara complete with updo; she wore a pretty white dress that cost significantly less than my clearance wedding gown. My marriage started with a pastor in a church with a huge reception following; her marriage started in with a Justice of the Peace in a courthouse with a small party following. I had six bridesmaids; she had one. But I do not believe for one minute that my sister-in-law and her amazing husband are any less committed to each other than my husband and I are to each other. Why? Because for all four of us, it has always been about the marriage.
Marriage isn’t the hangover from the party. Marriage is the reason for the party. Yes, marriage is a difficult path with breathtaking highs and crushing lows. Some days it is beautiful and other days it is ugly. Some days it is thrilling and other days it is downright dull. An honest married couple, after years of marriage, will admit to having felt nearly every emotion on the spectrum. And yes, after several years there will probably be way more pajamas and Netflix nights than fancy nights on the town, but shouldn’t part of the fantasy be someone with whom we can be 100% us?
The problem with fantasy isn’t that we are dreaming of a perfectly wonderful life. The problem with fantasy is that we start believing that is the way it is always going to be. When it doesn’t turn out that way, and we are so bitterly disappointed, we start to look for things—or more specifically the person closest to us—to blame.
One of the most important ingredients to a successful long-term relationship is the ability to love someone despite their faults, to show grace where necessary and to be willing to admit when we need grace ourselves. The fantasy perpetuates the idea that anything less than the romantic ideal is grounds for walking away.
We don’t have to stop dreaming. We don’t have to stop saying “Ah” when we see a cute promposal or a creative couple’s wedding proposal posted on Youtube. But if we want to keep marriage from becoming an institution of the past, we need to start being honest about the gritty details that make marriages last a lifetime.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on marriage from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.