Proposals become public display of affection.
From private moment to momentous occasion: Guys get more comfortable, and creative, in popping the question, and social media captures it all on the spot.
On a recent afternoon, a man walking along the Sutro Baths paused next to a dilapidated, limbless plaster statue and dropped on bended knee facing his girl. The woman shrieked, then asked him to hold on a minute.
She, too, removed something from her pocket. An iPhone. He proceeded to propose, and she proceeded to film the occasion.
In sweeping romantic gestures, or others less so, legions of couples probably decided to take the leap toward marriage on Wednesday, which marked the vernal equinox, when planets align to bring lovers together for National Proposal Day. The holiday is a decades-long tradition, but today's couples face pressures that never plagued their predecessors. These days, as perhaps done by the bride-to-be in the above scenario, proposals can be shared with all 3,712 of your closest Facebook friends and Pinterest followers, making some people feel as if they need to impress.
San Francisco therapist Lori Mothersell says there is a drawback to the increasingly public exposure of an incredibly intimate event. Many of YouTube's 250,000 proposal videos go viral with millions of hits. More than one claims to be the "most epic" or "best" wedding proposal "ever."
"We're connected in so many different ways via technology ... yet there's this immense disconnect," she said. "Now there's this pressure to present yourself that you're happy, that you're doing well. It creates anxiety."
Indeed, about 80 percent of brides said they'd scoff at a public Facebook proposal, according to a study of 500 betrothed women conducted by the 300-store chain David's Bridal. Despite the risk of public shame, 63 percent reported they would say no to their beau proposing via Jumbotron, and 57 percent said they would reject a flash-mob proposal.
And there are a growing number of professional proposal consultants like Nicolas Garreau of ApoteoSurprise, whose company specializes in organizing romantic proposals in Paris. On Valentine's Day, to impress someone's girlfriend, he helped orchestrate what he called "the first proposal in space" by capturing video footage of a balloon wafting through the stratosphere.
"Men are no longer ashamed to express their love, and most of them are now ready to organize something really unique and memorable. Expressing one's love in public is no longer a taboo for men," Garreau wrote in an e-mail from Paris.
A public display certainly wasn't a problem for Walter Shen when he proposed to Helen Wang. The software engineer started planning a year in advance, using months of "funemployment" to stage a Bay Area proposal. He plotted a scavenger hunt, inspired by TV's "The Amazing Race," for Wang and her pals. At the end, Shen led Wang into the world of her favorite Disney flick, "Alice in Wonderland," complete with tailored costumes and a custom-built set that Shen hired a production company to build. Shen estimates that he spent up to $8,000 so that he could pop the question.
"I figured it would make a good story and memory. Experiences are worth it," said Shen. Wang said yes, and the Mountain View couple married in 2011. They've started a trend for their peers.
"I think the bar is getting really high for a lot of my guy friends - especially after Walter," joked Wang.
Their friend Amit Kumar was up for the challenge. On New Year's Day, Amit Kumar led Ruchika Kumar - he and his girlfriend conveniently have the same surname - across the Golden Gate Bridge to a vista point. The area was unusually empty, except for a tourist couple nearby. He surprised her with a special Advent-like calendar that he had commissioned an artist to make, featuring relics of their favorite memories since they'd started dating a year earlier in San Francisco. In the last cubby was the ring.
And the nearby "tourists" were photographers that Amit had hired from Craigslist to document the experience.
Was it too much too soon? Not a chance.
"When you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to start immediately," said Amit, paraphrasing a quote from the romantic comedy "When Harry Met Sally." "You always think about how you're going to propose."
He said it's important to make popping the question personal and special "because you're going to remember it for the rest of your life." They'll tie the knot before the end of the year.
Sara Ann Hayden