Snow falls on a cobble road outside of a picturesque restaurant. A handsome man falls to his knee before his elaborately coiffed girlfriend, in his hand a velvet box pops open to reveal a sparkling diamond. Her hands cover her face and she falls toward him behind tears exclaiming, “yes, of course, yes, yes!”.
We've seen this engagement scenario played out ad nauseam for years in ads, movies, and tv shows, but rarely in real life. Sure, the heteronormative straight folk engagement can look a lot like this insofar as gender roles go, but real life doesn’t look like the movies. Real life is a lot messier, a lot less simple, but thankfully, a lot more diverse. So why don’t the stories we’re told reflect that?
Modern popular culture dictates how we tell and digest romantic stories about two people falling in love, getting engaged and living happily ever after. While one could easily take a pessimistic look at this phenomenon, the more hopeful take on this historical truth is to realize that we, humans, have the power to evolve that narrative and move customs toward a more inclusive space.
The proposal tradition might be the result of cultural construct, but it’s one we, as a society, have embraced because it actively encourages and celebrates love. It’s a tradition that brings people together and makes people genuinely happy, and not just the ones getting married. It’s really, really fun. And because we recognize it’s a tradition we had a hand in creating somewhat recently for gender-normative, heterosexual couples, it should empower us to realize that we have the ability to open up that tradition to all kinds of love. The act of a proposal doesn’t have to be gender-specific, nor should it be. Really all it takes is a couple who are on the same page about wanting to get married, and one of them choosing to make it a special, romantic moment in which the “asking” part is stylized and gives us all a reason to celebrate.
If LGBTQ and non-binary couples feel left out of the the pre-marital customs in our culture, it’s because we aren’t including them in the stories we tell and the pictures we paint of those customs. We, as human beings, absorb both direct and subliminal messages from the ads we see, and the movies and television shows we love to binge. We internalize what is reflected as “normal” on screen and if those depictions don’t include LGBTQ and non-binary couples, why would we expect them to feel seen and part of that tradition? The highly regarded rom-coms, the ads leading up to Christmas and Valentine’s Day peppered with men surprising their soon-to-be-fiancés with sparkling rings, so on and so forth. The truth is that marriage equality was only established recently in the U.S., so the incorporation of those stories into modern mass media has been slow to follow. It all comes down to representation, like anything, and we need more of it.
So what now? How do we advocate for representation? Ultimately, it starts with the ad executives, storytellers, and big-money players, and it means they have to start taking risks. The same way ad executives take "risks" when they put a bi-racial couple in a cereal commercial for the good of the world, that level of “risk” needs to happen here. Big brands may lose some clients at the onset, but creating more inclusive engagement traditions and stories will equal more dollars in the long term. By including all kinds of people and all kinds of love, brands open themselves up to 100% of the world instead of limiting their market.
And we as consumers have to support brands that do that. We have to watch movies and TV shows that tell the less-often-told stories of love, and that, in doing so, normalize all kinds of relationships. We have to make space in our lives to internalize a different kind of love that might not look like what we know, but we know in our hearts makes the world a better place.
The snow has started to fall harder on the cobble road outside of that same picturesque restaurant. A handsome man falls to his knee before his elaborately coiffed boyfriend, in his hand a velvet box pops open to reveal a shiny platinum ring. His hands cover his face and he falls toward him behind tears exclaiming, “yes, of course, yes, yes!”. And the credits roll.