A Jersey City woman clocked a 4:24 on Sunday in the New York City Marathon, an extremely respectable finish for a first-timer. And she might have done it even faster—if she hadn’t been stopped at Mile 16 by her boyfriend, who proposed marriage to her midrace. (She said yes. Then she got back to running.)
CBS News ran with the story about the no-doubt sweaty ring transfer between proposer Dennis Galvin and proposee Kaitlyn Curran, bringing further attention to an event that probably already drew quite a few stares and neck cranes when it happened during the race. Once again, the internet has given us a very public marriage proposal, and once again, it’s bringing up feelings a lot more complicated than “aww, heartwarming.”
Public proposals have become a mainstay of modern life, especially now that so many people carry around smartphones capable of capturing video and instantly sharing it on social media. And as such, they’ve also become a mainstay of internet outrage—the New York Times’ Amanda Hess has explained, in video form, what she finds so skeevy about these broadcasts of love, calling the worst of them “emotional surprise porn.” If the cycle seems tiresome, it’s worth remembering why they make people angry: Public proposals put the proposee, almost always a woman, in a deeply awkward position if she wants to decline. They reaffirm a traditional worldview, one where getting chosen by a man for marriage is a rite above all else. And they transform a serious decision about the future of a relationship, best made with much consideration and care, into a spectacle for public consumption that takes for granted that marriage is a social good. It’s not necessarily, and certainly not for everyone, and that’s fine! People watching get so caught up in the emotional, moving story that they become less likely to question the ideals the clips are subtly pushing.
This midmarathon proposal is a particularly galling example, since it literalizes the idea that marriage should take precedence over all of a woman’s other goals. It takes a situation where time is of the essence—she’s running a literal race—and makes a woman slow down for a man. He’s inserting himself into what should be her day and making it about him—even if he thinks he’s making it about them. This proposal butts into an occasion that should be 100 percent about Curran’s personal achievement and hard work and mixes it all up with her love life so that she’ll never really be able to untangle “the day she ran the marathon” from “the day she got engaged.”
A marathon is also grueling: It requires careful mental preparation and specific choices about comfortable clothes and strategy. Imagine how a sudden proposal, and then having to finish wearing a big old ring, could mess with that delicate balance. (Were her mile split times affected?!) Putting aside how Curran wanted to experience her engagement, the proposal shows very little thought for what runners like her endure to complete a race like this.
It’s totally possible Curran loved the way Galvin proposed and doesn’t see any problem with it, as is her right. Maybe she even requested a big surprise. But it doesn’t matter. In truth, when you propose in such an inescapably public way, it’s no longer about you—it becomes about your projection on everyone else. (Another great reason not to do it!) Even if the two of them are very happy with their story and blissful going forward, as any right-thinking person would wish for them, big showy proposals like this are a net negative, if only because they may inspire more men to propose via huge public ask. Men, I’m begging you: please don’t.