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Relationships I’m glad you’re in love, but, please, no more viral marriage proposals

A woman at a Q&A at the SXSW festival U.S. premiere of Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River, asked her girlfriend to marry her.

YouTube screen shot

It's not everyday you get to upstage Ryan Gosling.

This weekend, Gosling was at the SXSW festival for the U.S. premiere of his directorial debut, Lost River. During a Q&A session on stage, one woman in the crowd interrupted her chance to ask a question to propose to her girlfriend of 11 years. (Skip to the 11:45 mark of the Q&A video to watch the proposal.)

"This really wasn't planned," she said. "My heart started pounding and I couldn't help it," she added after Gosling offered her his microphone.

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The crowd applauds, the couple kisses. Gosling smiles. Multiple news and entertainment websites have since highlighted the video. (A tip for all you viral-minded romantics out there: If you really want YouTube views of your proposal to go through the roof, get Ryan Gosling involved.)

The unnamed couple in the video seem happy. I hope their wedding is all they want it to be and their marriage is long and filled with joy.

But most of all, I hope we as a culture can put an end to viral wedding proposals.

These videos - seemingly created for the consumption and approval of strangers - have become a genre unto themselves in the past few years.

We have wedding proposal videos filled with flash mobs; presented as trailers at movie theatres; done at Disnleyland; others with song and dance routines; at least one re-creating The Notebook; at least one with a helicopter.

The Internet is so glutted with them that multiple sites have compiled "best of" lists. There are even guidelines on "How to nail your viral video wedding proposal," for anyone so inclined.

But these guidelines aren't to help you do something romantic; they are to help you do something other people will see as romantic, and share on Facebook.

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Of course, public proposals predate social media. The video from SXSW is more reminiscent of Jumbotron-era proposals than most of today's over-the-top spectacles.

And just like when asking your girlfriend to marry you in front of 40,000 sports fans, today's public proposals carry a slight twinge of coercion – who could say no in front of all those people, after all?

But our ability to craft and design proposals specifically for their virality – so that they will be watched and adored by millions of total strangers – has introduced a new and unsettling aspect of expressing our love.

As Chloe Angyal of BuzzFeed has noted, "Our collective desire to make a spectacle out of our love, and our unprecedented ability to broadcast and share that spectacle, have produced a visible and dramatic shift in the culture of romance."

As she also pointed out, it's understandable why people who've been denied the right to marry find it appealing to make their proposals public.

Social media has radically shifted our romantic lives in such a way that we seek out the approval and envy of our peers and everyone else online, and marriage is not immune. Whether it's Pinterest boards of wedding dresses or Facebook photos of honeymoons at luxurious locales, every aspect of tying the knot has become increasingly public.

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Viral proposal videos are the most glaring example of this cultural shift.

These videos assume we care even though we are total strangers. And the thing is, they're not wrong. Some of these videos have been viewed more than 10 million times on YouTube.

The people who make these videos and post them online want us to care. They want us to validate and admire how wonderful their love is by clicking and sharing and commenting.

And unlike Jumbotron proposals that came and went with the evening news, today's videos remain online for eternity, a spectacle for strangers to revel in whenever they wish.

People in these videos certainly love each other; you don't choreograph a flash mob and hire a videographer for someone you really don't care for.

These videos are about one person expressing his love for another. But they are as much about his relationship to the audience, forever online.

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