The privacy and the spectacle of promposals

Promproposals have escalated into larger, more creative productions.
Promproposals have escalated into larger, more creative productions.

I went to my senior prom with a boy named Clyde. He casually asked me to the dance while we were standing beside his car after school outside of the band room (he played saxophone; I played flute). We'd been good friends for the better part of a year, and I'd been hoping he'd ask me, so I said yes right away.

The moment was simple. I can still see his nervous smile and recall the leap of joy I felt at the question, the way that happiness carried me through the rest of the evening.

Today, that straightforward invitation would be considered, by most high school seniors, to be subpar. These days, the asker is expected to put on a show when they pop the question for the prom, decorating driveways with lights that spell out "Prom?"; giving the would-be date a pizza with "Prom?" spelled out in pepperoni slices, or a hamburger with "Prom?" written in ketchup on the inner bun.

I even saw one online proposal where the girl asked a boy by spelling out "Prom?" on the ground with musical instruments!

First of all, if Clyde had done that, he would have been yelled at by the band director for abusing the instruments. Secondly, I'm not sure he ever would have asked me if he'd had to make a spectacle out of the question.

At least, that was my first thought: how embarrassing to have to ask someone to the prom in front of everyone with an adorable prop of some sort!

But the more I considered it, the more I began to understand the appeal of a "promposal" for the asker. In some ways, it's easier to have a prop or gimmick that does the work for you. Speaking directly and privately with someone you care about can be scary. With a promposal, friends are usually involved - helping set up the scenario, then standing by to snap photos for Instagram.

Because that's another thing that's new: sharing the promposal with everyone on social media. Almost every event of significance is now photographed and videotaped, then shared online.

Before promposals became popular, wedding proposals took on new dimensions of creativity and lavishness, which is perhaps what sparked the era of elaborate promposals.

My wedding proposal was almost as simple as my promposal. My husband, John, and I were at Gas Works Park in Seattle. He'd just gone for a run and I'd just roller bladed on the path around the park. (This was the '90s – OK? Everyone wore roller blades.) He walked me over to a private spot under a willow tree beside the banks of Lake Union where we'd first professed our love to each other, several months earlier. I didn't know why we were there. The place was muddy from a recent rain and we were both sweaty and tired. He knelt down in the mud, held up a ring and asked me to marry him.

Do I wish a flash mob had popped out from behind the trees and danced to our favorite song before John proposed? Not really.

Do I wish we had been photographed or videotaped? Sort of. It would be amazing to have that moment captured now, to be able to share it with my kids and to have been able to share it with my friends at the time.

Instead, it will always be ours, alone, which, for me, is even better. His proposal was private and intimate. It lives inside of our two minds and no one else will ever witness it. They will only hear our version of it, if we choose to tell the story, and that shared story binds us deeply together.


Heather Skyler is a columnist for Saturday's Life/Family section in the Orange County Register and editor of OC Family magazine. She enjoys exploring the whole glorious and terrifying scope of parenthood, sharing its most interesting, funny, rewarding and challenging aspects from her experience as a mother of two. She is also a published novelist ("The Perfect Age"). When Skyler is not writing, she enjoys poolside reading, gin and tonics, and ping pong. Contact Skyler at or through Twitter: @HeatherSkyler

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