Public romantic displays introduce stressful peer pressure, vulnerability

Here’s how it’s always pictured in the movies: a glittery poster with a goofy pun and a Very Important Question, a large bunch of red roses wrapped in cellophane, a boombox for good measure and a crowd of excited onlookers. This is high school romance, according to pop culture; it’s the tried-and-true recipe to the teenage dream. However, while public romantic displays are part of American tradition, they generate unnecessary peer pressure, create a power imbalance and remove all sense of intimacy, leading to an unstable relationship foundation.

First, public proposals or similar romantic gestures take place in an unhealthy, potentially disingenuous situation. Consider the perspective of the recipient: it’s a Very Important Question to answer on the spot while people observe. Not only that, the moment might be recorded without consent, posted and broadcasted on media. In a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, peer pressure is defined as “restricting individuals’ capacity to make decisions and engage in behavior of their own volition by making them feel uncomfortable about asserting their own opinions.” Introducing an audience does exactly that. The recipient must weigh their true feelings against the positive or negative consequences of their response. Given that the potential repercussions include public embarrassment, the recipient might feel compelled to say “yes” to save both involved reputations, despite what is in their best interest. Whether the result is a true or forced response, the possibility of starting a relationship out of pity or peer pressure is not worth it.

The bottom line remains that tradition is limited and outdated and may, in some cases, force people into gender roles.”

So why even have this strange peacock display? The prevailing reason is that it’s tradition. It’s expected. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always the best way to go; said tradition automatically creates a striking power imbalance. The proposer arrives at the scene armed with the boombox, the flowers and the poster, while the recipient is caught unaware. It’s not mutual. The proposer takes a risk with the support of friends and props. The recipient might have no support and certainly does not have time to prepare.

Plus—to strike at a deeper cultural norm—typically it’s depicted that the guy asks the girl out in a heterosexual relationship. We continue to overcome these assumptions as a more progressive society, but the bottom line remains that tradition is limited and outdated and may, in some cases, force people into gender roles. It’s not pretty, and it certainly isn’t romantic.

Possible feelings between the proposer and the recipient are the concern of two people, not twenty.”

Lastly, involving the public turns a private affair into a sensationalized spectacle. Possible feelings between the proposer and the recipient are the concern of two people, not twenty. Why should a friend manage the intimate affairs of another friend, promise “yes” on their behalf and submit them to public spectacle for the sake of tradition or “romance”? It’s good to do background research on availability and interest, but everybody talks. Matchmaking becomes food for the gossip grapevine; high school becomes a reality TV show, and with that comes the pressure to perform. In essence, the proposer should conduct business lightly, if at all, and keep away from the crowds.

In the end, romance is meant to be intimate. It’s fair to say that an unwelcome crowd of excited onlookers ruins the scene. Paired with the element of surprise, this can lead to a stressful, vulnerable and even terrifying moment—not the recipe for intimacy. Rather than showing up with a poster made by a grudging sibling or artistically-inclined friend, start genuinely and simply. Try a more relaxed setting, whether that’s in a private message channel, over a call or safely face-to-face. It’s lower stakes for both parties and leaves room for honest conversation. If the public display is a must-have, discuss it beforehand. That way, both the proposer and the recipient are prepared, and, as an added plus, there’s a 100% probability of success.