I was out on Sunday having brunch with my cousin in Hoboken and afterwards we were walking along the waterfront admiring the view of New York. There is this wonderfully scenic and relatively new waterfront walkway with a few parts that go directly out and over the water. Like the Pont des Arts in Paris, some local couples have begun to make it a custom to write their initials on a lock and affix it to the wire grills at these spots along the walkway and throw the key into the Hudson. We were going to walk to the edge of one of these spots to admire the locks but there were two couples at the end so we instead took a seat a bit away just to watch.
I got to see three very interesting, very real, and depressingly accurate depictions of modern-day life, all in the span of about five minutes. Here we go.
Event 1: Cousin and I are shocked and excited to see the man in couple 1 get down on one knee. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actual marriage proposal unfold in real life and so close, too. The couple looks to be in their late twenties; the woman has a stroller and running around their legs is a young child, maybe 3 or 4. The entire event is being recorded by someone I assume to be a friend of the couple, who is filming it all on his smartphone. There is something extra honest and ‘real’ about this couple. You imagine they’ve had to grow up and grow close and grow strong together very quickly. They’re a young, unmarried couple raising a child together. The proposal is understated; there’s no extra pomp or circumstance, no a cappella group emerges from the waves to serenade them, this isn’t a clickbait YouTube viral attempt with drone footage and letters bursting into flame. He makes a simple, honest speech about wanting to marry his best friend and provide for his young family, and she isn’t hamming it up with screams and tears but there is laughter, ‘oh my god’s, and even, in such a modern way, a ‘you’re so awkward’. She of course says yes, he slips the ring on her finger, and they kiss.
I am honestly and genuinely happy for these two. I admire the simplicity and sincerity of his proposal and am overjoyed by her joy. I just feel happy and lucky to have been there at the right time to witness this happening. It makes me feel excited, eager, energized.
Event 2: Literally two feet away from them is couple 2 who looks to be around their age. I hate to say it but there’s something too…’curated’ about them. Their clothes are expensive, her bag is designer, their sunglasses are gaudy. Both of them are too busy manipulating their own phones and angles and selfie faces to notice the special occasion that their duck faces are, frankly, impeding on. There are countless photos of selfies with pursed lips as if about to kiss but no actual kisses. Pose this way, pose that. The ultimate horror of the entire situation is when they, completely lost in themselves and oblivious to their surroundings, ask the friend recording the proposal to stop and take pictures of them. I am flabbergasted. The only bright side is I now have a completely legitimate reason to be able to say ‘flabbergasted’. At no point does this couple seem to display any sort of awareness beyond themselves. The friend is too accommodating and agrees to stop recording for a second to take a few more of the same constructed photos the couple were already taking themselves.
I wish I was more shocked by this behavior but honestly, it is a true sign of the times. The ‘oversharing’ generation. Aren’t we at least in part responsible for this? We put ‘like’ buttons on too many aspects of our life. This kind of behavior is lauded. Anything in pursuit of the perfect shot. There has to be a moment wherein any responsible social media user really has to stop and ask internally, ‘do I need to share this’ or ‘is this worth sharing’. And I still also maintain that your good story is worth more to me than your semi-constructed photo.
Event 3: Couple 2 eventually takes their leave and we are now left with just couple 1. My ‘real’ couple. The simple, understated ones who have more pressing matters to attend to than their social media feed. Wait what’s this…oh no…no…don’t…come on man…I vouched for you… Goddamnit. Displeased with the shocking (though to me also humorous and humanizing) interruption of couple 2, the man in couple 1 asks his friend to re-record the whole thing so they can ‘get the right video’. They reset to their positions, and I have to watch as he once again gets down on one knee. Once again delivers the same speech (although, is it my imagination or are there more sobs and half tears and dramatic fluff in this version) and the woman once again feigns surprise, shock, delight, and delivers that oh-so-real-and-honest reaction of ‘oh my god, you’re so awkward’. Real life take 2, the realler life.
I’ve lost faith in humanity at this point. I feel betrayed by my ‘real’ couple. I know right now it must seem like such an inconvenience and taint on an otherwise perfect proposal, but in the long run I think I and any couple would appreciate that little humanizing part of the story. The part you can’t make up.
My parents didn’t have a picture perfect proposal. My father basically asked my mother over the phone if she’d want to join him in the US and get married. Their wedding reception took place at a Chinese restaurant, and not the gourmet kind. The Christmas Story ‘deck the harrs with bars of forry’ kind. It was ‘general Tso’s chicken or sesame beef’. Everyone got a fortune cookie. They’ve come a very long way since then. Both had long and successful careers in their respective fields and now they’re business owners. I asked them, if they had the chance, would they redo their wedding, or maybe do it over now that they’re much more comfortable and established. You know, they really honestly wouldn’t want either. They said how it happened is how it was supposed to happen, and it’s a funny story and a reminder of what they’ve been through. They want to remember it exactly as it was.
Nowadays it seems like if it isn’t manufactured, it isn’t real. People are so obsessed with presenting only the best and most perfect versions of themselves. You can’t possibly fool yourself into thinking that is the truest and most natural state of things, so either it’s a shared delusion or we’ve all just accepted that we are almost always lying to each other. Results are faked. Progress is quickened. Opinions are constructed. I was a bit disappointed that the first couple felt so imperfect in their real and honest lives that they had to redo the whole proposal. I know which memory they shared. But I wonder which one they’ll eventually keep. I hope most people aren’t afraid to share the less than perfect sides of themselves or their lives. If it helps, I’ll always encourage, welcome, and embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly. Just, no selfies, please.
Man: 202 Loneliness: 33