The new rules of engagement

By Aimee Tjader

Traditional wedding proposals are increasingly being side-stepped as enamoured people find more elaborate ways of popping the question. Photo / Thinkstock
Traditional wedding proposals are increasingly being side-stepped as enamoured people find more elaborate ways of popping the question. Photo / Thinkstock

An unsuspecting woman cast her fishing line into a lake recently only to reel in a dazzling diamond ring, which had been attached to the hook by professional divers underwater.

An Ikea shopping trip for another couple ended with the future groom breaking into song and dance before getting on one knee.

To stage his proposal, a self-proclaimed "thrill-seeker" enlisted the help of a pair of Minneapolis cops to fake his arrest for homicide in front of his future bride.

Those stories may be rare, but more people are finding elaborate, sometimes extreme ways to propose marriage, wedding industry experts say.

For many couples, the marriage proposal has become part of the wedding build-up, complete with paparazzi-style photography to capture the moment, and often, an audience.

Some grooms-to-be are even hiring a "proposal planner" - for a fee of US$2000 - $10,000 (NZ$2400 - $12,100) - who all but promises that the bride-to-be will say yes.

"I'm only getting married once, so I wanted this to be an engagement to remember," Ryan Calhoun, 28, said of his "shocking" arrest proposal, which he said had little romance but plenty of adrenaline.

"It was a little risky, and it takes the right woman to do something like this."

From engagements that create public spectacles to private, jet-setting fairy tales, popping the question is not just becoming a bigger deal. It's big business, too.

Amy Lynch isn't surprised. The Nashville author and researcher of generations Y and Z said couples are getting married later in life and typically living together before they're engaged, therefore demystifying the proposal process - to the point that they feel the need to turn it into an event.

"Marriage isn't the usual marker of adulthood that it used to be," Lynch said.

"It's a bigger decision to make, so the proposal and the wedding have accorded more importance."

Jewellers say popping the question with a ring is no longer enough. Most women want to pick out their engagement rings, yet almost 70 per cent of women surveyed feel the "surprise factor" is essential to the perfect proposal, according to a joint survey by theknot.com and Men's Health magazine.

Having been in the business since the 1970s, Rich Nordstrom, manager of Bergstrom Jewelers in Minneapolis, said he's pleased to see that guys are going the distance to propose, because it hasn't always been that way.

"This is something you're going to remember forever and reminisce about," he said.

"Since she already knows she's getting a ring, there's more pressure to surprise her so that moment is burned into her memory forever."

Contests for the ultimate proposal story - and an opportunity for 15 minutes of viral fame - also help drive elaborately staged public engagements inspired by flash mobs, sporting events and unusual follies. In fact, private proposals decreased 57 per cent from the previous year in a recent survey by theknot.com and weddingchannel.com.

One Georgia couple even catapulted to national fame by posting their movie trailer proposal video, titled Greatest Marriage Proposal Ever.

The video netted more than 17 million views and landed the couple TV interviews, including an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where they received an all-inclusive honeymoon to Jamaica.

Such extreme engagements should be approached with caution, said Debra Orbuch Grayson, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Minnetonka, Minneapolis. Couples should understand the difference between fantasy and reality and not idealise romance by what they see on TV.

"The media - reality TV shows like The Bachelor - play a large part in distorting our view of romance and relationships," she said.

"If you start with this elaborate, extreme marriage proposal, where does one go from there?"

Some guys feel pressured enough to hire help. Sarah Pease expanded her New York wedding planning business to include proposal planning services. For US$2000 and up, the Proposal Planner will customise every detail so the only thing left for him to worry about is what she says after he pops the question.

"Everyone says the wedding is all about the bride, and the way I see it, the proposal is all about the groom's chance to shine," Pease said.

"This is his moment to put all of his heart and creativity into something that's a memory they'll have for the rest of their lives together."

Jason Dailey didn't need to hire a planner, but he spent months forming the perfect proposal to his girlfriend, Shelly, at their favourite Chicago landmark.

The bride-to-be opened a birthday gift to reveal a painting of her and Jason at the very spot where they were standing, Buckingham Fountain. The couple in the painting was wearing the same clothes as Jason and Shelly, and the man was on bended knee.

The Richfield, Minnesota, couple has been married for three years and now have friends trying to figure out how they will up the ante for their engagements.

"It was definitely the most elaborate scheme I've ever put together," Jason said.

- AAP

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