When a female friend announces she just got engaged to her squad, amidst the Congratulations! and It’s about time!s, two things happen. We demand to see the bling, and then we ask one critical question: How’d he do it? Meaning, where did you take her, what did you plan, how did you act and what setting did you create in which to pop the biggest question of your life, her life, and as the audience for this anecdote, our lives? It had better be good.
To be fair, though, “good” used to be a lot easier to accomplish. Dinner at a nice restaurant with a well-timed glass of champagne with the ring floating in it, or a candlelit, hotel bedroom scattered with rose petals on a weekend getaway. But then, social media and flash mobs, Instagram and YouTube, and everything-has-a-camera-on-it happened, and now that doesn’t cut it anymore. The pressure of viral wedding proposals with choreographed dancers, professional pics and extravagant locales has given men a much higher bar to aspire to, and women permission to expect a lot more.
“It’s a big pressure,” Nicole Harris of proposal planner company Dreams in Detail in L.A., tells me. “Everyone posts the proposals, girls cry when they see it, they share it with the guy and it becomes their dream. Now the guy feels very compelled to give her this, because he wants to make her happy, to give her a semblance of the surprise and wow factor.”
Harris and a handful of other event planners have stepped in to fill the niche space of clueless-guy meets social-media-pressure meets wedding-industrial complex. Called proposal planners, they’re the concierges of engagements, available to handle every detail of getting a yes, all for a fee that ranges from a few hundred bucks for a list of customized ideas and how to pull them off, to a few thousand for a turnkey customized proposal, with flowers, music and a perfect setting, all scouted and secured in advance, to as much as $700,000 if you need a celebrity appearance. Helicopter ride? Flash mob? Beauty and the Beast theme? Your wish is their command (if, of course, you’ve got the dough).
“The main reason I got into this is that I had a lot of guys approaching me saying a lot of their girlfriends would send them my Instagram profile and say, ‘I really like her stuff,’” Harris explains. “They’d say, ‘I’m thinking of proposing, do you have any ideas?’ They were really clueless.”
“Drop a ring in the champagne glass and propose on a Jumbotron,” adds Michele Velazquez of The Heart Bandits in L.A. “Tragic! That’s why I started my company.”
“In 2008, men were still just getting down on one knee,” says Megan Ellis, a proposal planner at Yes Girls. “We still see that to this day. Just not a lot of thought put into it. They think that’s what it has to be — you scatter some rose petals, and you get down on one knee in the middle of a crowded dining room. They don’t realize that’s what we’re told is romantic, but that’s not that romantic to everyone. It’s much more romantic to get her a bouquet of peonies, because those are her favorite flowers.”
Yes Girls, based in San Clemente, California, opened in 2008 and promotes itself as the original marriage proposal company, but they’ve obviously since been joined by several others now offering roughly the same concept, if different executions. For example, Paparazzi Proposals, founded by former paparazzo James Ambler, whose idea was featured on Shark Tank, brings the weight of skilled photography to memorable settings. He also helps guys temper their ideas and expectations, like guys who think they can somehow afford to propose in Times Square with no one around, on a budget of a hundred bucks. Or guys who want to propose first thing in the morning without considering the fact that she might care what she looks like in the photos.
“Do it before dinner if you know it’s important to her to be dressed up,” Ambler says. “If you walk out the door in joggers after you just woke up, she might not be that impressed when a photographer jumps out of the bushes to take pictures.”
Meanwhile, This Magic Moment in Las Vegas, founded by illusionist Rob Anderson, incorporates magic into the night. “It’s almost a wingman service for the guy,” Anderson tells me. “We’re answering his questions as a single nervous guy about to pop the biggest question of his life. He knows she’ll say yes, but he doesn’t know how to make it special. He’s got the ring, he’s got the girl. He knows she wants something unique, but he doesn’t know what to do.”
Luxe Proposals in Vancouver attracts “people willing to go to the next level.” “We don’t do cheesy,” says co-owner Juan Leal. “Everything we do is high end, a luxury. There’s no bed of roses anywhere.” At the same time, he adds, “We try to help [men] understand that luxury doesn’t always mean extravagance, it can mean simple and elegant.”
“A lot of what we do is try to get their vision out of them and understand their relationship dynamics,” he continues. “Are they playful, serious or romantic? We try to understand her profile, their favorite hobbies, the kind of music and flowers she likes, what they do together. Also, what they did on their first date, and the way they spent their anniversary.”
Though all the planners are quick to agree that there’s nothing wrong with an intimate, private proposal at home, their livelihoods are based around a notion that’s hard to argue with: This is how we live now. With pics or it didn’t happen. With staged everything. With social media feeds that broadcast our every move. And so, the big moments really have to hit.
“More and more guys are doing this, more women expect it, and when a friend gets engaged and the guy does something special, they’re all going to be speaking about it,” says Leal. “It’s once in a lifetime. It’s a big moment, something they’ll tell their kids about. That’s a story worth making into an event you’ll never forget.”