It’s Time to Change the Way We Get Engaged

It’s the 21st century, y’all. Why are we still acting like it’s 1917?

woman in yellow sweater and grey dress wearing an engagement ring holds hands with man in grey striped sweater and jeans, in a green field with golden light

Think about how much has changed in the last hundred years, especially for women. While we take it for granted now, a hundred years ago, none of us could even vote. Now we can have careers, live on our own, conduct our finances without a man’s permission, and even wear pants. Yet when it comes to heterosexual relationships—the ones that have the most cultural expectations attached to them—the standard method for getting engaged is not changing at the same pace.

it gets better…ish

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the man asks the woman to marry him. It’s probably a surprise, and there’s likely a shiny diamond involved.

Or, at least, that’s how it seems a lot of the time.

When I was getting engaged in 2014, I couldn’t fathom any other way of becoming engaged. Instinctually, I wanted another way, but I couldn’t find any examples of what that would look like. I’ve known no other couples before or since that have become engaged by any other method than the man proposing to the woman.

Then a few months into being engaged, I happened upon a post from the blog Cup of Jo about a “new way to get engaged.” The author writes about how a friend of hers—Nora—recently became engaged in a way that is “revolutionary.” On a trip to Vermont, Nora and her boyfriend organically but beautifully stumbled into a conversation about getting married. Nora writes:

So, one afternoon, we were lying around and I said, “You know what I’ve been thinking about?” And he said, “Tell me.” And I said, “I’d really like to get engaged, I love you and want to spend my life with you.” And he said, “Me, too!” And we started kissing and crying, and it was so romantic. And the whole rest of the weekend turned into a very chatty weekend. We talked about what marriage meant to us, the religion of our future children, when we would want to have kids…

Nobody proposed; not Nora or her boyfriend. They became engaged through conversation. What could be more relevant to the beginning of a marriage than a conversation? If there’s one thing I’ve learned from a year and a half of being married, it’s that a thriving marriage requires willingness to learn how to communicate well. And clearly this conversation was still very romantic.

After Nora and her partner got back from Vermont, they had dinner with their loved ones and announced their intentions to wed. They designed a ring together. “There was never any moment where I was waiting or wondering or anxious or analyzing,” Nora said, “I was never in the dark. I was just happy and calm every single step… We decided together, and we moved through it together.”

Should this be a revolutionary act? Not even a little bit.

the revolution will not be proposed to

The tradition of the man proposing to the woman comes from a time when women had practically no autonomy. Which, thankfully, isn’t the case anymore. Now, we support ourselves. Yet so many of us still wait for men to ask, dropping hints and saving engagement ring photos. And it seems that many men still assume it is their job to steer the engagement ship without any further navigational input from their lady beyond timing and the type of ring she’d like have. Why do we do this, when so often it is neither fair to either party, nor is it a reflection of how many of us want our marriages to look?

It should similarly not be revolutionary for a woman to ask a man for his hand in marriage. Maybe for some couples that is the best fit. And maybe for others “deciding together,” or “conversation-based engagement” like Nora’s is a way that levels the playing field. Maybe in an ideal world, no one person has more control over the situation than the other and a decision is made in a moment of calm, intimate clarity.

i don’t need no permission, did i mention?

So where does this leave other outdated traditions like asking your father or male guardian for your hand in marriage? Is there a way to still ask for support from your elders, without buying into more traditions that treat women like property? After all, marriage isn’t easy; it can be good to have a couple who knows what it’s like support you in that new chapter.

If you want your parents involved, or your partner’s parents, or an older couple that is not your relation but important in your life, then there are ways to ask for support that are beneficial to your relationship and don’t undermine your autonomy. Maybe calling it a blessing is more fitting than permission. It also doesn’t necessarily have to happen before you become engaged. But mothers need to be brought into this conversation. (Why should the father get preferential treatment?) In fact, a friend of mine asked his now-wife’s entire family and friend group for their support.

This is the beginning of the rest of your life

Becoming engaged can push you deeper into commitment and intimacy with another human. That is the most important thing about it. Period. Full stop. For couples choosing to become engaged, know where your heart is. Are you pursuing your engagement with the same intention, groundedness and equality with which you hope to see in your marriage?

An engagement is the beginning of a new chapter in the wild, wonderful story of your life. Live it accordingly.

Ema Hegberg

Ema Hegberg is, by nature and training, an anthropologist: a studier of people, collecting perspectives and stories. She works in a public library and has received several awards for her pieces of fiction. Ema lives in southern Pennsylvania with her husband and twin sister kittens.

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  • Yael

    I proposed to A in the back of a cab. There was no permission, there was no ring, there was no kneeling, just the realization that there was no one else I’d rather spend the end of the world with (this was a few days after the 2016 election) and as we were headed to the airport for me to return to Germany, there was no more time to say it in person. We didn’t actually get engaged that day – he didn’t say yes for a month, because he was stuck in the mindset of what an engagement “should” look/be like, but that was how we did it. He really wanted to get me a ring, so I picked one out from Etsy, and I bought him a nice hat. We told our families over dinner when I was back for a visit. I still tease him about taking a month to answer, but there isn’t anything about the process that I would change.

  • sahara

    This is how we decided to get married! I wonder if a conversation is a more common method of engagement than is readily apparent – we faced a lot of pressure to come up with a better story than “we were talking on a weeknight in my apartment and we decided to get married (no ring involved)” and we almost succumbed.

    • Sonnie

      I think you’re right that conversation engagements are more common than people realize. My parents don’t have a “down on one knee” story, they were flipping through the newspaper and saw that rings were on sale so they went and bought one.

      These stories aren’t as “flashy” as some big proposal so it makes sense that they settle at the back of our minds when we think of engagements.

      • sahara

        I also think that proposals have gotten bigger recently – people in our parents’ generation and older didn’t seem to have any issue that we didn’t have a proposal (they *did* look askance at our lack of a ring), while younger people seemed to care less about the ring, more about the proposal.

        • Cathi

          Agreed. Nearly everyone I know over the age of 60 has an engagement story that goes something like “what do you mean? He got a job offer out of state so he looked at me and said ‘I guess we should get married, huh?’ and that was that.”

          Some more romantic than others, but by and large the older generations just came to a mutual conclusion that marriage was the next thing to do.

          • sahara

            Maybe it’s because marriage is more of an option than a default these days?

          • Cathi

            I think that’s probably a very likely reason. Getting married is much more of an active choice today, and therefore it’s a much bigger emotional deal to come to terms (with yourself and your partner) with really choosing this huge, legal, quasi-permanent life path.

            There’s still an element of “of COURSE you’ll get married” (anyone else get the “well, finally!” reaction?) but it’s definitely not a requisite part of (North?) American life these days.

          • quiet000001

            Yup. My parents got married when they did because my dad had an opportunity to go to Greece for a few weeks and my mom wouldn’t go unless they got married first. So they did. No big proposal story.

        • penguin

          Yeah a lot of people asked for our proposal “story” and we both just looked at each other confused. Some people thought it was less romantic that we’d discussed it ahead of time, but I think getting a big life decision sprung on me would be pretty unromantic.

    • Amy March

      I also think loads and loads of people do both. They have many conversations in which they decide to get married, and one moment of Asking The Question.

      • Yael

        Yes, that’s how we did it.

      • Violet

        Exactly. Just because there was a proposal doesn’t mean the woman had no idea it was coming. My spouse and I had this conversation when we were WAY too young to be actually planning a wedding, or for any friends or family to take our commitment to one another as seriously as we did. So yeah, we had many, many conversations over our 7-year relationship before the proposal. Which then sealed that we were ready to actually, you know, do it.

      • sahara

        Absolutely! We talked about whether we wanted to have a proposal after deciding, as I’m sure most people do. I love a good proposal, we just didn’t want one for ourselves! The problem for us was that when we decided “no thank you, we aren’t going to have a proposal” it seemed like *that* rubbed other people the wrong way.

      • Bethany

        This is how we did it too. Many many many conversations about our future and what that looked like to each of us happened before the actual proposal. The proposal in general wasn’t a surprise (I knew we were “officially” getting engaged the night it happened) but how/where was a surprise, which I think was a nice balance for us.

      • L.

        Yes, this. My ring is being custom-made as we speak, so I know we’ll be getting engaged soon. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the ring/getting engaged/getting married, we went together to the jeweler, etc., but it still seems to be very important to my boyfriend that he be the one to propose. I don’t think he necessarily wants it to be anything super fancy or whatever, but he wants to propose, the one to ask. I even suggested these very same ideas – we mutually get engaged, where we both ask each other; we take a romantic weekend getaway to get mutually engaged; we just have a conversation about it; etc. He didn’t like those ideas and said he wants to do it, so…okay! After almost six years, like you said, this isn’t going to be the hill I die on. I’m just ready to get engaged and move our relationship to the next step.

      • K. is skittish about disqus

        I always say that our proposal was a surprise, but it wasn’t at all a shock.

        We lived together for three years before getting engaged and had already joined our finances. We were raising a dog together and knew it was just a matter of time. We had been talking about having a wedding for months, in detail. I had shown him the ring designer I liked and we had selected where we were going to get married. My husband would have been happy with the mutually agreed upon conversation, but I wanted the old-school romance moment (and he pulled it off in Paris, no less; I’ve never claimed to be anything but cliche).

        We’re still 100% dedicated to an equal partnership.

        Different strokes. *shrug*

        • savannnah

          We also did a many conversations about marriage leading up to a proposal (also in Paris!) and from the outside I’m sure it looked like a romantic surprise proposal. But we also already had our date and I had gone myself to get my grandmothers ring appraised because my parents would not let us take it to Paris without insurance. Each couple is going to have different priorities and situation and it might look different on the inside than it appears on the outside.

      • penguin

        Yep this is what we did. Lots of conversations and we both agreed we’d wanted to get married, but we both still wanted a proposal (it was important to him to propose to me, so that’s what we did). We agreed on a timeline (by the end of that year) and did some ring shopping. The exact ring was a surprise (partly because I’m indecisive and just could not pick a ring, and he wanted to pick it out). This was the best of both worlds for us – and the proposal was still private (just the two of us).

  • PW

    Oh man a MILLION hell yeses to this.

    I think I’ve talked about my engagement before, but my SO and I talked about it in advance, and then I proposed to him when I was ready (knowing that he also was).

    Questions people ask me to this day include, but wouldn’t you have rathered a surprised? NOPE it was much nicer to feel comfortable and confident than nervous and anxious. Wasn’t it less romantic? NOPE it was the most romantic day of my life. Didn’t he want to propose? NOPE men are not all one cookie-cutter shape, and they do not all want to be the master of ceremonies.

    To any and all thinking of breaking the engagement mould – DO IT. You will never regret doing things in a way that’s right for you.

    • Yael

      What is the big deal with being surprised? I hate surprises (all of this comes with the caveat that I surprised both A and myself by proposing, but I prefer to think of it as “well-thought out but spontaneous in the moment” to a “surprise”).

      • SarahRose472

        Me and partner have opposite feelings on surprises — I hate them, he loves them. So we had conversations deciding to get married, which included the decision that I would do the Asking of the Question in a Romantic/Surprising way, because it just made sense for our preferences.

      • Amy March

        I think part of it may be about wanting to feel desired. There’s something really flattering, in the abstract, about someone being so sure they want you that they are going to go out on a limb and ask without knowing the answer ahead of time. It’s a fantasy, but it’s a nice one.

        • Yael

          That is a lovely point.

        • I surprised proposed (like surprise surprise, he’d wanted to get married for a while and I hadn’t, and we hadn’t talked a lot about that) to my husband, and I think the feeling wanted piece was really big deal for him.

          If we were getting engaged now – having read so many APW articles on the subject – I’d probably do things differently, but the fantasy *is* a nice one.

          • Guesting

            I think this is actually really it! If one person (A) hadn’t been as sure as the other (B), then A doing a surprise proposal can really mean that they have come to a final decision and are taking the initiative towards the next step, rather than simply going along with their partner’s wishes.

      • Another Meg

        I think it’s kind of like a surprise party. For some people, it’s exactly what they want and they’re clear about it. For others, it would be the worst. Regular parties are also awesome! But some people want that surprise.
        The main difference to me is that unlike with surprise parties, there is intense social pressure for men to surprise women with proposals and for women to love it. It’s so ingrained that even when you don’t want the surprise, you feel like you should have the surprise. Like it’s a tick box you have to check for the engagement to feel “real” which is bullshit.

    • marissafletch

      Agreed! We still had a “proposal moment” that came several months after about a year of discussing marriage and several months after a conversation in which we both decided we were ready to get engaged (which honestly felt more emotional and romantic that the “real” proposal despite being at our home, in sweatpants, and having this discussion the day after a fight). The proposal itself was beautiful and amazing but definitely not a surprise, it was an event we planned together.

      But what really bugs me is that lots of people ask if I “saw it coming” and when I answer yes, I feel like I get some judgement. But I can NOT imagine staying out of this giant decision that will stick with me for life. And you better believe I was going to have a say in what my ring looked like, it has to live on my finger for eternity…

  • LisaG

    WHITE women could vote starting in 1920. Women of color didn’t have their voting rights fully protected until 1965.

    My parents got engaged by the “discuss it and decide to get married” method back in the early 80s. There was no proposal and no engagement ring. While there is certainly a very strong cultural narrative around getting engaged, there have always been at least some people doing it their own way. My husband and I also had a lot of conversations about marriage before getting engaged. I agree that couples should be talking more about marriage and what they want from their relationship before one person “pops the question”. You should both be on the same page about marriage, even if there is a surprise proposal at some point.

    • Ema Hegberg

      That’s an excellent point, LisaG! There’s so much to be said on this subject.

    • Lorri Lewis

      I’m probably around your parents age. I can confirm that lots of people decided to get married by discussing it. There were semi-surprise engagements maybe involving proposing over dinner, and of course some surprise engagements, but getting engaged was quieter and always private. And don’t forget that couples started living together in earnest in the seventies, often getting married much later. I was one of those couples and I knew others.

      Engagements have become showy, even public affairs. From my point of view in my generation, the culture has become very “Look At Me!” with the advent of Facebook, You Tube, etc…

      My family and friends who are my age are more likely to talk about how they met, how their relationship developed, and how they decided to get married. The story is more holistic. We never ask, “Tell me your engagement story” because it wouldn’t occur to us that any story was required about such an isolated incident. I get a chuckle out of a “story” being an expectation and guys being expected to put on huge productions. I understand there is a business in New York that will charge thousands to help men plan ginormous engagement plans. That business could only have been conceived of in these times.

      • PAJane

        Sounds like a footnote to Meg’s piece a couple weeks back about weddings becoming a capital-I Industry.

    • Fiona

      Thank you for saying this! Let’s not forget other intersections – many disabled folks still don’t have that right. In 2017.

      • penguin

        Wait really? ETA: I believe you, I just wasn’t aware of this.

        • Fiona

          Unfortunately, we have very few solid protections for our civil rights because the ADA has no real enforcement structure. Our rights can be taken away very easily and are extremely difficult to restore (right to vote, to parent, to marry, to live on our own, etc.)

    • Lexipedia

      Erp. This is why FI’s parents were confused as to whether we were engaged or not. He told them that we had gone ring shopping, which they assumed meant that we had followed their early 80s tradition of discuss and decide, buy ring, announce together. They were highly confused about the ring shopping as a precursor to an “official proposal” model.

      • Thriftypenny

        My parents did this too! (1988) My mom was very against the idea of my dad getting down on one knee (she wanted them to be equals) though he did offer at the time ;)

  • PeaceIsTheWay

    I guess “If you like it then you should’ve participated in the marriage conversation I initiated” had too many syllables.

    • I had to read this five times and then I couldn’t stop laughing.

  • Amy March

    I’m always torn on this. On the one hand yes absolutely obviously I agree. But on the other, men are expected to do vanishingly little emotional work. It’s like paying for a first date, or making the first move. Society’s expectations for men are so minimal, getting it together to do the work of thinking about whether you want to get married to someone, and then taking an affirmative step to actually say those words out loud, seems in some ways like the least men can do. I know I have a strong preference for a guy to make a plan for and pay for a first date, because if he isn’t going to meet those minimal societal expectations he’s more likely lazy than feminist.

    • Yael

      But I don’t think the solution is to keep the engagement/proposal as the sole role of men. Men should definitely do more emotional work in relationships, but women should also be able to take an active role in planning and/or proposing. I’m glad that I was the one proposing, but I definitely expect A to step up and do emotional work too.

      • Amy March

        Yeah, but does that happen, on a large scale? I just think about more and more women working outside the home at demanding jobs- great! But men haven’t, collectively, stepped up at home.

        • Yael

          No, and it doesn’t even always happen on the small scale – A and I have had loads of conversations about emotional work and if he’s doing his fair share. Part of the problem is we (society) haven’t really had the conversations before this moment and so boys/men don’t know HOW to do the work. Rather than being taught by their parents/previous relationships, they have to be taught by their current partners. And that is a whole other form of emotional labor. But at the same time, if they aren’t taught, how can they know? I don’t think we consciously realize all the different ways girls/women are socialized/taught to do emotional work, and how different it is for guys. It’s much the same way with consent/safety. It absolutely is a pain in the ass to have to take on the teaching of a grown adult on how to be a full partner in a relationship, but that doesn’t negate the need to actually teach them. I think the next generation of boys will be better taught, in part because we’re finally having the conversation, and this generation of men is finally learning and setting an example.

          • Ema Hegberg

            Amen, Yael.

          • YummieYummie

            “…boys/men don’t know HOW to do the work. Rather than being taught by
            their parents/previous relationships, they have to be taught by their
            current partners.”

            I personally don’t think that’s a valid excuse. Sure, my parents showed me how to cook food, do laundry, and properly clean a house, but it was up to me to learn how to grocery shop and plan meals for my household, separate clothing by wash needs and make a laundry schedule so we always have clean underwear, and decide when a part of the house needs to be cleaned/ how much cleaning is necessary. Most of that was observing my parents (who showed me the importance of sharing physical and emotional labor) and a good bit of trial and error on my part. Do some men just choose not to do that or are they actually that oblivious?

            I love my fiance to pieces, but the difference between the house with my previous stationary job and my current “away all the damn time” job is astonishing. I remember the first time I came home after a month on travel: No food in the fridge (beer doesn’t count as a food group), cat hair EVERYWHERE, super stinky sports equipment covering every couch/chair/surface in the living room, etc… It was pathetic. The worst part was he acted like he didn’t even notice these things! We sat down and had a good long talk about how to move forward from this since I can’t be there every waking second to tell him what to do. Maybe his parents weren’t as good role models for task-sharing as mine were, but at some point, the onus falls on him to learn how to do things.

          • Yael

            I feel like I’ve read some research that said that men don’t see clutter/dirt the same way that women do, but I can’t be bothered to google it, so will just go with anecdotes. A wasn’t taken grocery shopping by his parents. I was taken all the time. He didn’t really start going grocery shopping until college, when he had to. I was regularly sent on grocery runs, mostly to practice driving. I think that if we’re not actively taught how to do these things, then unless we’re really observant, we don’t figure them out until it’s a problem. Not having clean underwear or food to eat is a problem. Emotional labor isn’t necessarily one outside of a relationship. I know I didn’t learn how to do some emotional labor until I was forced to because I was failing the relationship. A didn’t learn how to do some of it because for the same reason, except it wasn’t a problem for any of his partners before me. Men don’t face the same social/emotional expectations that women do. This is not a good thing, but it is undeniable. They simply don’t have to notice, or care, so it’s not a problem, until it is.

          • YummieYummie

            I agree with what you’re saying, but I guess I’m frustrated because it just doesn’t make sense in the context of my life. I was blessed with several positive male role models in my life, especially my dad and my grandad. Despite growing up in the deep south, my parents and my grandparents didn’t really ascribe to traditional gender roles when it came to running the household. My dad did a majority of the cooking and cleaning at home and my grandad did my and all my cousins’ hair. I grew up learning that everyone in the house is supposed to do equal work, and it didn’t matter what kind of work it was. I don’t know too many specifics about the household dynamics of my fiance’s childhood, but he was the firstborn of four with parents who both had extremely demanding jobs, so he HAD to have been required to do something. He was also in the army, and they definitely don’t baby you when it comes to meeting standards. He knows how to do house things; he just…doesn’t. It’s confusing.

          • Yael

            I’m sorry, that sucks.

          • quiet000001

            Also with the internet now, it isn’t hard to find out how to do many basic life skills like meal planning. You just have to bother to look.

            My SO has a son and we’re doing our best to teach him to do all this stuff because they are just skills he should have. (I admit some of it we are not all that good at ourselves, but we do make an effort to be better. We also talk honestly with kiddo about having trouble with these things. I think it’s important for him to know that some adulting stuff is an ongoing process even once you are an adult.)

            (Example is we both like the kitchen to be tidied up before bed, but we both also tend to be wiped out and distracted after dinner, so it’s really easy to let that task slip. We’ve made it a joint task – it’s easier to do things together – and set a reminder alarm, and no one is supposed to do anything fun until the kitchen looks less like a bomb went off. We had some of the ‘how do we deal with this problem?’ conversations with kiddo present and contributing, and don’t try to hide from him when we aren’t quite managing as well as we’d like. This is entirely intentional so he understands that these things can be work and something you should work with your loved one/SO/roommates/whatever to deal with.)

    • ssha

      I’m sort of torn too. (Taking away grand gestures of love? What’s left for them to do?) But I think alternative ways of getting engaged often still require emotional work from both partners, and possibly even more emotional work in terms of communication and listening. Maybe if the traditional proposal ever dies, there will be a way for a new path forward.

    • Kate

      Gotta disagree there. For me, going Dutch on a first date was a solid test for “how fragile is your masculinity.” Ditto for making the first move/asking someone out. Hopefully the emotional work you’re talking about comes into play in the conversations that I hope any couple has before engagement. If not and it’s a truly “surprise” proposal, they’ve likely skipped the emotional work of considering what their partner wants.

      • Zoya

        I agree with this. In my experience (sample size of one, admittedly), having lots of macro- and micro-conversations about marriage over the course of years was a time for my now-spouse to demonstrate and perform lots of emotional labor. He was ready to commit long before I was, so he actually had to pay attention to what I wanted and needed, and adjust his plans accordingly.

        As you say, Kate, it seems like in a lot of cases the surprise proposal is an opportunity to skip the emotional work of what the partner wants, in favor of what the proposer wants and what culture says is right.

    • Man, I’m exactly not proud of this but men making the first move is *thing* for me for similar reasons… I think the emotional labor thing can cut both ways though, in that a lot of men use the fact that they are “in charge” of engagements to drag their feet.

      But yeah, I’m 60000% for deconstructing gender roles AND, there is for sure a type of dude that enjoys the removal of gender pressures while still taking full advantage of their privilege and acting fully entitled to women’s emotional labor. Lazy AF.

  • Ella

    Does the end of Nora’s story (in the link) read as a little judgey, or is it just me being sensitive for being the person she’s describing? We’ve had the conversations, I’m totally open about how I feel about things.. he’s just not ready. Reading the story made me feel like I should be worried that we’re not on the same page yet..

    • Laura C

      That’s not how I read it at all — I didn’t read it as being about readiness (where a couple is in the process, because for every couple there’s a time when one or both isn’t ready to get married) but about the process (how the communication is happening and who has the authority to raise the topic of marriage at all). But hey, I may be reading my own past onto that paragraph.

      • Ella

        Thank you :) I do feel good about the process.

    • Yael

      I think it’s probably more unusual for both partners to finally be ready at the same time. We had had the conversations and knew we wanted to stay together, but the exact timing of initiating the engagement/marriage process took some negotiating. It took A a while to decide he was ready to start it, mostly because he had a set idea of how an engagement should be (lots of parties and obligations) and he didn’t want that (he actually said to me, “I want to marry you, I just don’t want to get engaged”). When I reminded him that getting engaged was (at least to me) just the announcement that we were going to be together permanently (and maybe we’d start planning a wedding), he immediately said yes.

      I also agree with Laura C’s reading below – I think it could go either way, so pick the way that’s most generous to you/your partner!

      • PAJane

        Good point! Once we were engaged, I started looking into venue options. PADude was really taken aback, and told me that he didn’t think getting engaged would mean planning a wedding right away. To him it was a way of telling the world he wanted to marry me, and then we would just be engaged for a while. The planning process was some other thing to deal with sometime indefinitely in the future. Which, hey, fine with me, but it was definitely helpful to have a conversation about our expectations. We ended up putting planning a wedding generally on hold for about a year, and then having another conversation about, “Hey, I’ve hit the point where I really want to be married to you for XYZ reasons, not just engaged, so we should talk about what kind of wedding we want to have.”

        • Amy March

          Oh yeah that’s a biggie. I am reminded of The Bachelorette this summer.

          • PAJane

            (What happened on The Bachelorette this summer?)

          • Amy March

            Well, the clearly vastly superior option, Peter, wasn’t ready to commit to proposing to Rachel at the final rose ceremony (love him but srsly that is the entire point of the show) because he believed that engagement is a thing you to once, before you get married. Rachel, and her ultimate selection, were more of the view that engagement is a signal of your relationship moving in a serious direction, but were coy about whether they believed that direction was marriage or a lucrative year of being Instagram influencers.

          • flashphase

            Which begs the question of why you’d go on a show where the final episode is always about getting engaged if you don’t want to get engaged at the end but I still love it

          • The first time I heard about getting engagement without a plan to actually get married was several years ago here in Quebec. Though I agree that it’s something couples do here in order to show their relationship is more serious than dating or living together, I find it odd here since there is even a term for the person you live with (conjoint/conjointe), and it’s accepted and has the same status as spouse/husband/wife (aside from legal implications in divorce/breaking up). But I can see why a couple might do it…almost like being married without the scary aspect of potential divorce thrown into the equation. But it was such a surprise to me when I heard about this approach to engagement for the first time since it was very different from what I was used to…

          • Ella

            I know two couples who’ve done this and it basically functions as saying “yes, mum/dad/society, we are really serious about this being a forever thing, we’re just not interested in having a wedding.”

        • Yael

          Yeah, I said – during the same conversation about the meaning of engagement – that I didn’t want have to plan a wedding during graduate school, or at least if I did, it would be over the course of several years. But I was ready for the declaration that we were doing this. Of course, we then decided in May to get legalled in August, but we’re still doing the “wedding” in 2019.

    • Jess

      Please don’t be worried, or feel like you’re being pushy for being ready. That’s a narrative I’m not down with that has painted women in a bad light for years.

      Tons and tons and tons of couples have been ready at different times, leaving one person waiting for the other to catch up. That is SO normal.

      • penguin

        Yep I was ready first, and it took my husband a bit longer to be ready. It’s normal!

    • ssha

      It’s a lovely story, but I think the “I was calm every step of the way!” is certainly not a blueprint. I wouldn’t worry. It’s pretty common for one partner to be ready first. Please don’t feel bad. My husband told me he wanted to marry me less than a year into dating, but I wasn’t ready or sure until we had been together three years. It’s not a relationship flaw not to have the same exact timeline in mind. <3

    • Zoya

      Adding to the chorus of responses here, my husband was ready to commit (i.e. move in together) *long* before I was. But once we moved in together, I was ready to start talking marriage and he took a while to be ready for that. So people can be on entirely different timelines and still make it work. (It just takes a lot a lot a lot of talking and listening.)

    • L.

      It’s normal to not feel ready at the same time. My relationship progressed in a lot of “unconventional” ways early on – we met through eHarmony, we moved in together after only six months of dating (made the decision to do so at four months), went on our first vacation together at four months, moved across the country together almost 2.5 years in, bought a house together four years in…and we’re just now coming up on getting engaged, with our six-year anniversary looming ahead in February. Honestly, I’ve been ready for years now, but my BF hasn’t. But we’ve had a lot of conversations about it, we know we’re committed to one another, we know we want to get married (to each other), so I’ve waited, because he’s my person.

  • Staria

    We did have a lot of conversations… at home, at relationship counselling, a lot of arguments, a lot of crying. I wanted to get married, had always been clear on that, he’d never wanted to marry anyone. After a lot of this, and a comment one time that we would ‘ask each other’ and an offhand directive from him to ’email him some dates’, I was annoyed he wanted to downplay it and I decided to take back the romance. So I made him a video of myself reading out ‘betrothal customs’ (I get nervous and also he’s a film buff/makes short films) with auspicious dates to get engaged and two auspicious wedding dates. He got very pink and blushy and happy when I showed it to him… then proceeded to think about it all for another seven months… and then finally asked for a one week extension so he could take me, it turned out, to a national park where my grandmother’s ashes were scattered. He did have to ask me as a sign he was a full participant and had equal control, had made a decision, since I had already asked him a gajillion times. I shared this for the others out there who may not have had as smooth a path to engagement and marriage!!

  • Ella

    I don’t think a mutual decision is actually that revolutionary.. I actually think the big showy surprise proposal is a newer idea.
    Separately I think it’s good to distinguish between “surprise that this particular proposal is happening at this particular time and place” and “surprise that this is happening.” The first is a thing a lot of people want and I think that’s fine. The second is very strange..

    • Alyse Manning

      Totally agree! Both sets of our parents got engaged after relatively unromantic “Do you want to get married?” discussions in the car. We also got engaged through conversation and designed the ring together. We chose together not to have a surprise moment…but we still planned an “engagement vacation” and took a ton of pictures to post when we announced our engagement on social media. Like we had the “nontraditional” proposal and we still wanted a big showy facebook post to go along with it! Total eye roll, but like it definitely reduced the number of “how did he propose?!?!?!?” questions I knew we’d have to answer regardless.

      • Ella

        An engagement vacation sounds so fun!

  • ssha

    My husband and I had a mutual proposal, but at first I wanted a traditional surprise one. He was really surprised at this because he didn’t think it fit with my feminist values. Which is true- it didn’t- but he has no idea how much this stuff is INGRAINED in us from childhood to want.
    I just watched the Parks and Recs ep (yeah I know, 5 years late to the party as usual) where Ben proposes to Leslie. She’s all for empowering women, but does she have any say in her engagement? Nope, he just shows up and asks, and she’s over the moon. No previous conversations. No talking about marriage. This is the narrative we were fed. It’s not bad- I loved the way we got engaged, but sometimes I’m still wistful for a dramatic, demonstrative act of love that never happened the way I had always pictured- but pop culture does make it seem like the ONLY way.

    • Annie Lord

      I just watched that episode, and while you may be right, the episodes leading up to the proposal gave us some sense that they had talked about their future together, but the audience wasn’t privy to those discussions… there was hand-wringing about “what this means for our future” when Ben was offered the job in DC (we hadn’t seen any convos between them about what those specific plans were that would be derailed by a long-distance relationship, but it seemed implied to me); they picked out a house to rent together (we hadn’t seen anything about that until Leslie was signing the papers, but they must have planned it ahead of time, no?), etc.

      So, you may be right in general about pop culture, but idk that Parks and Rec is the perfect example of the problem, haha. B&L seem to have followed the typical modern trajectory, but we just weren’t privy to the actual discussions because that might be boring TV. Also, I’m thinking that the writers wanted to keep the proposal secret from the audience, moreso than from Leslie :)

      • ssha

        Really good thoughts, thanks for pointing those out!

        • Annie Lord

          The “makes good TV” thing is actually really interesting – you want a TV proposal to be unexpected because without some kind of drama or suspense, it would be rather anticlimactic. So yeah, if you’re evaluating your own proposal based on what would make good TV, you’re probably going to be disappointed. But then again, I don’t really find myself wanting any other parts of my life to be like TV… so it’s totally a misleading hope! haha. (Ftr my proposal was a surprise, but was also a result of lots of discussions and definitely not TV-worthy, and for that I am thankful! haha)

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  • Katie

    Who are all those mysterious women who have no idea what’s coming and are not ready for a proposal and a are pressured into getting engaged? Seriously. It just seems like people like writing about it, but does it actually happen? Yes, public showy proposals are a thing, and in some cases women are not ecstatic about them. But hey, sometimes women are not ecstatic about being proposed to in private, either. And sometimes men are not into marriage, while the woman is just sitting and waiting and annoyingly hinting. Why everything has to be about some *culture* and not actual relationships? I literally know zero people who were actually SURPRISED by being proposed to, because hey, after 1-3 years of cool dates/living together/adopting animals together it’s pretty much apparent if you plan to get married, or maybe you’re not into legal things and just want to be together (or not… and then it becomes apparent too, and people just go separate ways).

    • Laura C

      What I see less of than actual surprise proposals in the sense that the woman has no idea that marriage is on the table at all are ones where they’re generally agreed that they’re going to get married, but then in the name of the proposal being a “surprise,” a ton of emotional power gets handed to the man. Like “if I just proposed now it wouldn’t be a surprise, so even though we both know we’re planning on getting married, you’re just going to have to wait until I decide it’s now a surprise.” And I’ve seen several cases where that turned — usually but not always unintentionally — into a process of jerking the woman around and keeping her off balance. Is this special-feeling night out going to be the proposal? Psych! Nope!

      And some of the time I think the men do want to create a special moment and are doing this out of love, but I also think it’s deeply misguided in many cases because they aren’t fully thinking about what it means that they’re keeping someone’s future waiting for a surprise. And in some cases I do think it’s a warning sign about how big decisions are going to go in their marriage.

      • Amy March

        Ohhhhh yes this is such a good point.

      • Ema Hegberg

        Exactly, Laura!

      • Katie

        Forgive me if I did no understand this correctly, but basically, the problem is that the woman knows they’re getting married but doesn’t know when they get *engaged* with a ring and stuff? But why does it mean putting your life on hold and anxiously suspecting a surprise and then being disappointed it didn’t happen on that special-feeling night? I know this goes contrary to what most women here think and say, but in most cases what I see is that the power is not “taken away by”, but rather “handed down to” the man. You agreed on marriage? Perfect! Maybe the woman can surprise him with a ring! (and some women do, they kick ass). Don’t want to *propose* to the man? Well, then it should be fine just keep living together, letting it go and let wedding planning happen organically. And in many cases, women DO still want a surprise, a special moment, a butterfly feeling. So it’s a lose-lose situation: you either talk about marriage and then get upset about not getting the moment (or waiting for it frustratingly), or you… um… don’t talk about the marriage and get blind-sided by a jewelry box?

        • Laura C

          Not sure what you mean by or who you are quoting when you say “taken away by” and “handed down to,” but beyond that what I’d say is that everyone isn’t a woman who’s here, taking power. A lot of women, even ones who’ve had serious conversations about the future with their boyfriends and have agreed in principle that they’ll be getting formally engaged soon, do feel like they have to wait for that “surprise” proposal, and the wait can be brutal. Gender norms and traditional sexism remain a thing for many women (all of us, even, in one way or another). And during that waiting time, they’re fielding questions from family and friends about when it’s going to happen already, and every time they go on a date night they wonder (and their friends and family wonder) if this is going to be the time. And they’re waiting to start actually being socially allowed to plan for both the wedding and the marriage. This is not something I dreamed up. This is something I’ve watched happen to a number of women I know, in some cases causing a kind of anguish at the time (as expressed to their friends and, yes, to their boyfriends) that I personally would have had trouble getting past as a thing that happened in my relationship. Obviously they did, but it sure influenced my thinking on proposals.

          My husband and I didn’t do a proposal — we decided in the middle of one of a series of conversations about marriage that it was time to start planning a wedding. That was the plan all along, but I still heard things like, when I said something about our informal plans to a coworker, “you have to wait for him to propose!” Social pressure and norms are real things, you know? No woman entirely gets to just think her way out of them, especially if her boyfriend is on board with them.

          But I don’t see why it has to be a lose-lose. You can’t have a big romantic butterflies moment as a non-surprise? Or, to put it another way, the surprise can’t be how it happens and what’s said, it has to be that it only comes after a wait?

        • Zoya

          If you search the “pre-engaged” tag on this here site, you’ll find lots of very smart writing on exactly this topic. Just because the emotions around it aren’t logical doesn’t mean they aren’t real. (And I say this as someone who doesn’t really believe in “pre-engagement,” but a lot of folks do!)

      • Mrrpaderp

        Yeah this is the problem; all the power (and pressure!) is with the man. Sometimes the guy will even say, go ahead and start wedding planning! Let’s look at venues! Order a dress! But you can’t tell people we’re “engaged” yet because I haven’t found the Perfect Moment and you’ll just have to trust me that we’ll actually be engaged sometime before we walk down the aisle. Never you mind the side eye you get from your friends, family, and vendors that “we’re” (you’re) planning a wedding but not engaged yet. Or the fancy dinners and vacations that become an emotional rollercoaster of anticipation and disappointment.

        True story: I know one couple who spent 2 years planning their Very Fancy Wedding but weren’t “engaged” until 3 months before because, in the guy’s words, “It just never felt right.” They’d been on at least two romantic vacations in that time, both of which were basically ruined for her.

    • Cathi

      I know four women who have been genuinely surprised by proposals. Unsurprisingly, they’ve all been surprise!proposed to by men in my husband’s family, though thankfully he’s a bit of a black sheep.

      1 – 21 year old little brother proposed to his 18 year old girlfriend on their one month anniversary [they wed on their one year anniversary and have been married for two years now so… I guess it’s working?]
      2 – My FIL proposed to his now-wife five months after dating. One of those whirlwind, later-in-life finding love after major heartbreak sort of things. They’ve been married three years now and are still in that gross, smoopy in love stage.
      3 & 4 – Husband’s older brother proposed to two different girlfriends after a couple months of dating (~age 30+). They broke up not too long after.

      All parties involved are the impulsive, idealistic type who very much live in the moment and trend toward being optimistic about their ill defined futures.

      • Ella

        In a way, being that sure so early on in a relationship is kind of romantic.. as long as it’s tempered by “I know this is really soon and I totally understand if you say no or need more time,” with a heavy awareness that social narratives put pressure on women to love their proposal + effort to actively counter that pressure.

    • Ema Hegberg

      Just about all of the women of my generation that I’ve seen get engaged have been surprised by the proposal itself, not that they’d probably marry the fella they’d been dating. They all waited for their man to ask. I live in a particular conservative area, so perhaps that it part of it.

    • Hmm, yeah most of the people I knew who got proposed knew they were getting married, had had many conversations about it and even had rough timelines for when they were going to get married before (if) they had a formal engagement period. Some people had surprises as to the specific time and way that they were getting engaged while some people arranged a date where they sat down together and proposed to each other. But I do tend to run in fairly liberal/well-educated circles. I don’t know anyone who was actually surprised by a proposal (usually they knew it was going to happen within the month, too).

    • BD

      I think this is true for the most part. I wrote above that my husband really wanted to perform the traditional proposal, and that included an element of surprise, but was I really surprised that he proposed to me? Of course not. Between him asking my ring size and what kind of rings I like, and us, you know, actually talking about getting married in the near future, I knew it was going to happen. And I would have had plenty of opportunities to say hey! maybe we should slow down (if I felt that way, which I didn’t). I imagine it’s actually like this for a lot of couples.

  • Cathi

    Per the permission/blessing item:

    In 2011 when we were beginning the motions of getting officially engaged (we’d talked about it, I was sure, he was nearly sure, I suggested that when he was sure he should propose) my husband met up with my little sister to get her blessing. Her approval means the world to me and I think he needed a bit of a pep-talk that taking this big step was a great idea.

    I thought it was wonderful. Others might bristle at the notion of seeking approval from ANYONE for such an intensely personal decision, but it was perfect to me. It showed that my husband really knew me, knew who is important to me, and that while he knew I’d say yes (since we’d already pretty much agreed to get married) that my yes would be backed by the full love and support of my other most important person.

    For my part, his mom had been calling me her “favorite daughter” for years so I figured I had his family on lockdown.

    • I like the idea of reframing it as a pep talk rather than permission. Because really, I think the emotional point of it is to get that reassurance you’re doing the right thing.

    • Ema Hegberg

      That’s really lovely, Cathi.

    • theteenygirl

      I was a firm believer of “you don’t need my parents’ approval” but in the end he did call them and “ask”. It was more of a conversation from what I gather. In our case, we’d only been together a year and a half, and it was 90% long distance. He’d only met my parents three or four times. And I’m the youngest daughter and was the first to get married. My parents really appreciated the heads up because while he and I were on the same page, it would have come as a total shock to my parents.

    • Lexipedia

      Yeah – my parents REALLY aren’t the “ask us for permission/blessing” people, but it meant a lot to FI to talk to them first so he had some sort of heads-up conversation with each of them the week before. I’m not sure what he said, but they both said after that they were touched that he wanted to include them.

  • Pannorama

    This is a really timely article for me, since my boyfriend and I are getting engaged in just under 6 weeks. But I could definitely use some APW help on ideas for my half of the proposal.

    We both don’t like the idea of the pressure falling unevenly on one partner, and we’ve had many conversations about when we want to get engaged and then married. So we’ve decided on a mutual proposal on a small, local trip to do some of our favorite things (wineries, nice dinner, hiking). Originally, I was hoping to get the guy who puts together the crosswords we do every week to do a special crossword that would ask for me, but it is definitely a no-go. And now my boyfriend is saying that he has A Plan for his part that’s more than just saying nice things about our relationship. My tried-and-true method of scouring the internet isn’t helping (every proposal suggestion seems to be for men planning to surprise propose to women). Any ideas on how to propose to a man while at a winery and some ruins? Brainstorming would be much appreciated!

    • How do you feel about getting the winery involved? Get the staff to hide a ring for him inside a bottle or glass of wine for him to find – if you want to avoid it being a public thing, get them to do it with a bottle of wine you’re buying at the end of the tour, so you have control over the timing of when he opens it.

      Alternately, plenty of options to design your own crossword online! Paste it over the usual crossword :) He’ll clock immediately, but you can still make him solve it first.

      • Pannorama

        Probably I shouldn’t have spilled the beans to him about my plan that didn’t work out xP But that’s a good idea! Though if I made it, I wouldn’t be able to help him solve it (which is something we usually do together).

        • PAJane

          If he’d written one for you, you’d have been solving it on your own as well.

    • PAJane

      Order cheese, and quietly arrange for it to be delivered with an engagement ring (or whatever token) sunk into the block? Because then you get to get engaged, and you get to eat cheese.

      • Pannorama

        One of the difficulties with (awesome) plans like this is that there isn’t a ring for him. He hates wearing jewelry, so we’re drawing a ring on his finger in sharpie for the engagement. I do think it would be hilarious to have cheese delivered with a sharpie stuck into it, though.

        • Rose_C

          Silly for sure, but it could be sweet to do a custom temporary tattoo instead of the sharpie? It would have to be your style of thing. Otherwise if you’ve already decided to sharpie, why not have the marker itself be a surprise? With a sweet note maybe?

        • penguin

          Maybe get a big ring-shaped cheese delivered?

        • Jess

          Please stick the sharpie in it. That’s so great, and I love it, and it’s just the right amount of sweet and thoughtful but hilarious for me.

        • quiet000001

          Customize the Sharpie – I’m sure you can get it engraved or stamped or labeled in some way – so you have a ring and he has an Official Engagement Sharpie? :D

          • Pannorama

            I LOVE this idea! I didn’t even know this was a thing!

    • sage

      You can totally steal this idea!…

      I knew that my boyfriend was going to propose to me on a trip to NYC (we had picked out the weekend ahead of time and the timing was not a surprise). To make the weekend more special, he bought a package of blank cards from the Papyrus store and wrote sweet notes in about a dozen of them, which he then sealed up in envelopes and handed out to me (or set them in places I would find… on the nightstand before I woke up, hidden in my purse, etc.) throughout the weekend. Each card had a little math-based riddle on the left-hand side and a statement of something he loves about me on the right-hand side, and the answer to the riddle was somehow linked to the statement about what he loves about me (I didn’t get all of them right without his help Lol)

      The last card he handed me just said “will you marry me?”

      The pack of cards came in a cute box, so I kept the notes and have them stored in the box. Every so often I pull them out and read them all and it makes me so happy.

      • Zoya

        This is freaking adorable.

      • PAJane

        Aww. I would be tempted to frame them in one of those multi-photo frames, but that might make it hard to read them. Maybe something double-glass?

  • Alysssa

    100% agree! And sadly I think social media is making it even worse. Everyone wants to be the next of their friends to post the photo of the ring (it’s often literally just the ring – not even the happy couple together! Ugh!) and post “I said yes!!!”

    And hey, I can’t begrudge anyone the enjoyment of seeing all the likes and comments that an engagement post brings (although i’ll be honest, it felt weird to be “congratulated” for something like that). But you can incorporate a social media post into your new, feminist, rule-breaking engagement too! My husband and I took a selfie of us holding up a sign that said “we’re getting married!” …a very rough, hand-written sign, originally done just to text to our families because we couldn’t get them on skype or the phone the whole week that we were trying to tell them about our plan to get married haha… but take our idea and improve upon it! ;)

    • marissafletch

      I agree, the social media aspect can get weird. I ended up sharing on social media after we told all our closer friends and family since it was the easiest way to share our news with everyone. But I was very careful with my wording when I did post to make it clear that this was a decision that WE made together. No “he asked,” no “I said yes.” Also no ring close-up pics, I don’t think the general internet really wants to see that. I had a few friends ask over text and I happily shared then.

      • penguin

        We posted something similar but I also included a close-up (ish) picture of both our engagement rings. I personally love ring pictures, and I wanted it to be obvious that we BOTH had engagement rings.

        • marissafletch

          I totally didn’t mean to offend any who felt that was right for them! I love that you both had a ring and wanted to show it off- anything that helps fight gender norms should be shared wide for all to see!

    • L.

      I’ve thought a lot about this now that I know we’re getting engaged in the near future. I don’t think I want to post a photo of the ring like so many do, even as part of a collage or group of photos. I’d rather post a picture of the two of us somehow signifying we’re engaged, but I’m hoping we can agree to not share about it at all on social media until at least a couple of days after we get engaged. (I don’t know that BF will have strong opinions on this one way or the other.) I’m hoping for those first couple of days to celebrate just the two of us knowing and then letting immediate family and very close friends know. We haven’t done anything else in our relationship according to anyone else’s rules or expectations, so I feel justified in taking a few days to let our wider social circle know we got engaged. :)

      • CW

        My fiancé and I decided to get engaged through conversation. We both picked out engagement rings (his will also be his wedding ring) together afterwards. We held on to the news for two weeks during which we told our immediate families and put together a little slideshow of some pictures of throughout our relationship with a slide of “We’re engaged!” included. I got a little pushback when people found out we decided and didn’t tell the world immediately. But it was good for us to decide when we wanted to get married, our wedding priorities and even a draft guest list without any outside input. I’ve also had a few friends say that while unusual for my social circle, it seemed “very you”/in-line with who my fiancé and I both are. So do what works for both of you!

      • ssha

        Taking a few days to tell people is a great idea. You get to be giddy all by yourselves or with your chosen folk and no one asking intrusive wedding questions yet!

      • Jess

        We were in an area of questionable cell service and more questionable internet availability. It was great to have those few days, call some people, and then make a post when we got back.

        Like, we just had our little engaged bubble. It was wonderful.

    • Rachel

      We got engaged a little over four months ago and neither one of us has posted anything about social media. There were a few people who caught a tangential reference I made in a Facebook comment about “my fiance” but for the most part we’ve just been letting people find out in real life, and it’s actually really fun. It wasn’t really something I planned or a conscious decision (I say “I” because I’m a way more obnoxious Facebook/Instagram user than he is, so if one of us was going to do it, it was going to be me) but more like, I don’t know, we couldn’t post it RIGHT away because my family was coming to visit in a week and I wanted to surprise them, and then after that I just couldn’t think of a way to do it that didn’t feel weird/narcissistic/annoying, and I LOVE my ring (it is way more traditional and diamond-y than I thought I wanted, but it’s what he wanted, and turned out to be vintage and really unique and I really really love it) but to post a picture of that just seemed materialistic and awkward to me. Which is NOT to say that I find other people’s engagement posts narcissistic or annoying or materialistic… but something about the way I judge myself compared to other people… I don’t know!

      Anyway, in the end it was kinda fun not posting it. I texted a few close out-of-town friends, our moms told our families and everyone in town got to find out in person. Eventually we’ll change our Facebook status to married and then there ya go.

  • Rose_C

    Engagement feels like another place where it makes sense to take what works for you as a couple from the proscribed tradition and leave the rest. For a lot of people I know there is a person who really strongly wants that surprise- to make or receive a grand gesture. And whether that’s coming from a fully egalitarian/enlightened/feminist place or not isn’t really the point. When we started talking about marriage, I wasn’t totally sure I wanted a proposal, but ultimately decided I did. In retrospect we could have talked more about my expectations about timing (there was a literal sobbing fight about it the very night before the big gesture happened) but I know that my person was trying to honor my wishes. I think it’s absolutely important though to share the different ways that engagements can begin and for each couple to be having the conversations described in the post even if there’s still a ring moment or a bent knee or whatever tickles your romantic funny bone.

    • lildutchgrrl

      Ooh, the “grand gesture” language speaks to me. My wife and I had an engagement conversation (along with several other relationship conversations) a few months before she proposed in public. It wasn’t a surprise — I knew it was coming and she knew what my response would be — but it was a lovely gesture that made both of us very happy.

  • Another Meg

    For me, it was a desire to have one traditionally romantic moment. My husband doesn’t get me flowers, he rarely remembers to tell me I look nice if we’re dressed up for something, and he just generally doesn’t do that kind of thing. I pick out my own gifts most of the time because he’s “not good” at it. Which is fine for me, most of the time. Every once in a while, I really need to feel cherished in a hearts and flowers sort of way and I’m up front about it. He does what he can and is amazing in many other ways.

    We decided to get engaged and planned a timeline. I wanted a ring and asked him to come ring shopping with me, he declined. I picked something out online and sent him a link. He gave it to me the day it arrived so we could make sure it fit. There really wasn’t the surprise I asked for, but it’s not a hill I was about to die on.

    Did I want the big “pop the question” moment? Yes. Did I get it? Nope. But it’s ok because now that I’ve had some years to think on it, that is so far from the most romantic moment we’ll ever have. My husband slow dancing with me while I’m in labor kicks it out of the park.

    I think I wanted it because I wanted something that felt like a movie romance, but life is so much better than a movie. These days, romance looks so much different for us. But that’s because there are so many other ways to express love now that our life is more complicated.

    • sophia.s

      I totally get this! Over the years I’ve been the one who has made suggestions that moved our relationship forward, and the one who has made the romantic gestures. And I want it to not be me, sometimes.

    • e.e.hersh

      Thanks for saying this. I felt similarly about wanting SOME kind of “romantic-feeling” moment, because my husband is, similarly, pretty prosaic most of the time. And also because I was carrying baggage from a previous relationship where there were no loving declarations or romance of any kind. So part of me wanted a romantic gesture, even though that kind of proposal felt dated to me in other ways. Sigh… so hard to reconcile these things sometimes.

    • ssha

      This is such a beautiful comment!

  • theteenygirl

    It was interesting for me during the engagement process, because I was the one who brought up the idea of marriage first. We sat on it. We talked about it a lot for a long time. I didn’t really care about a proposal, but I realized that as much as i had dreamed about wearing a white dress and walking down the aisle.. my husband had dreamed about proposing. It was something he had been looking forward to doing since before we even met, and I was not about to take that away from him. So when people asked me if I was surprised by the proposal I said no – I knew it was coming, I knew when it was coming (within a few days at least), I had an idea of what the ring looked like, and I knew he had called my parents to ask (another thing that was important to him and given the nature of our relationship it was really well received by my parents).. but he still got to “surprise” me with a proposal. On the couch. In our living room. It was perfect.

  • Zoya

    Identifying myself as a real person here, but I wrote about my engagement experience for Bustle a while back:

    The big takeaway as I was writing that essay was that engagement traditions persist for a reason. Getting engaged can be a big, emotional, intimidating step, one that brings you full into contact/conflict with a lot of other people’s expectations. Given that, having a clear roadmap of “surprise proposal by the man, diamond ring for the woman” can be comforting–even if it rarely works that smoothly in real life. (And yes, these traditions are heteronormative, but we’re a straight cis couple so it felt relevant.) When we decided to veer off the roadmap, it meant a whole lot more emotional work and conversation for both of us, as well as enough confidence and stubbornness to push back against the cultural expectations we kept running into. It was great that we leaned into it, and we got a lot of practice for how the rest of our actual lives together will look, but I can understand (if not identify) with someone getting intimidated and deciding to stick with tradition for the sake of what’s easy and familiar.

    • Awe, that’s a great article!

    • PAJane

      Truuuuuuuue story re: blazing new trails. It’s always active work to do anything other than the traditional norm.

    • penguin

      I gave my husband an engagement ring too! I loved that we both had rings.

  • Katharine Parker

    My husband and I had talked about marriage a lot, and last fall we were ring shopping but without a set timeline. Then I realized if we didn’t start planning our wedding for summer 2017 we would have to wait until summer 2018, and I didn’t want to wait that long. I told my husband that, and he agreed that summer 2017 was the best time to get married. So we started planning our wedding without a proposal. No one said, “will you marry me?” We had been talking about marriage since like month four of our relationship, so it felt natural.

    But my husband wanted a romantic moment of some kind, which ended up being really sweet and lovely. He wanted to propose, and so he did after my ring was ready. I feel like we had the best of both worlds.

  • Mrrpaderp

    Male emotion seems to be the main reason this tradition persists. We have this cultural narrative that the wedding is all about the bride. The proposal is the groom’s, though. In fact it’s kind of the only wedding-oriented thing that’s his. He’ll get a bachelor party, but that’s more about celebrating friendship than celebrating your commitment to your partner. Asking a man to give up the only piece of the wedding that’s traditionally been his is a big, big deal for a lot of men. It takes a leap of faith and a lot of discussion to make him feel like he has a stake in the wedding even if he doesn’t get some elaborate proposal. I think you’d see more men become more willing to let go of a traditional proposal if the WIC were more inclusive of them.

    • PAJane

      Ye gods, that’s sad.

    • K. is skittish about disqus

      Oh yeah, this is big time true.

      My husband didn’t really care much about the proposal (I had to explicitly ask him to do the whole ring and knee thing because I would have been disappointed otherwise). But he HATED the way he was treated throughout the wedding planing process.

      As an example, he’s much more detail-oriented than I am so when we met with our florist/linen provider, the woman kept showing me samples of table cloths and napkins to go together. I would shrug and say, “That looks nice!” to pretty much all of them, and I liked one with sequins well enough. But when I asked my husband what he thought, he said that sequins aren’t really his thing and then he took the samples and put together his own idea for which two went best together. It looked great.

      The cricket sounds from the frozen smiles of the florists nervously glancing at me were DEAFENING. Like they thought I was going to blow a gasket and/or that my husband was some kind of controlling freak. Nope, he’s just better at that kind of thing than me!

      It was in a pretty conservative area (Florida) but still. It wasn’t the first or last time people treated him like either strange anthropomorphized creature (“Aww, it thinks its people/a bride!”) or like he was being a controlling jerk for expressing an opinion counter to mine.

      • penguin

        Ooh yeah this was a gross surprise of wedding planning for us. Some venues were shocked that he did the site visits with me. Some prospective vendors refused to address him at all and would only speak to me (they didn’t get our business). I would sign an email from both of us (using our joint account), and emails back would be addressed just to me. I flat out told any vendors we were thinking about hiring that we were equal partners in this and either one of us was available to discuss/make any decisions.

    • savannnah

      On the other hand, I’ve spoken to a few men who would be very very glad to get rid of the whole male driven proposal as it was quite nerve-racking and they felt unnecessarily built up.

    • BD

      Yep. I’ve talked to my husband on this subject, and he said that he would have felt cheated if he didn’t get to propose to me in a traditional manner… at least in terms of him popping the question on one knee with a ring. He never even considered asking my father for permission, probably because he knew I’d be totally uncool with that but I think he might have done it if I were more conservative. But the proposal was something he genuinely looked forward to, and personally it didn’t matter to me much so I was fine with letting him do it mostly his way as long as there weren’t a lot of people present (rubs up against my social anxiety too hard) and he accommodated me on that.

    • suchbrightlights

      Thanks for this perspective- I haven’t heard it put this way.

    • Caroline Mays

      Great perspective, Mrrpaderp, thank you. I have never thought of it that way before.

  • savannnah

    It seems to me almost every woman I know proposed marriage to her partner first- by bringing it up first in the relationship and all the subsequent conversations, women in my life tend to lead those discussions with their partners. I’m perfectly happy to have a guy plan and execute one life event in a meaningful and personal way. My husband and I talked about marriage and a timeline and we said ok, sometime before fall 2016 and that was it.
    I do think that women have to be careful about throwing everything in a box labeled the patriarchy and throwing it out- in the sense that men are often not also making that trade, which is how we wind up working full time jobs, wearing pants, voting and also performing all of the traditional jobs at home (and all the emotional labor) even with a ‘supportive’ husband/father of our kids. I think its fine to feel like you want a gesture from your male partner especially if you are normally making all the other gestures. I can feel a tinge of ‘cool girl’ ness from these types of discussions sometime that are like ‘well I don’t even need a proposal’ ‘well I don’t even need a ring’ If that’s truly the case, great. Nothing should be needed for a marriage except two people who want to get married. But if you want a ring, or a surprise proposal then that should be ok too and you should not feel bad about your wants and needs, even if they are more traditional than you think you are.

    • littleinfinity

      “It seems to me almost every woman I know proposed marriage to her partner first- by bringing it up first in the relationship and all the subsequent conversations, women in my life tend to lead those discussions with their partners.” <– THIS. Because I was the one who was leading the conversations and bringing it up over and over, I really wanted some sort of proposal "moment" so he would also make an effort to show that he was excited and invested in the decision. If I had proposed to him as well as starting all the discussions, then I think I would feel like I was just dragging him along for the ride. And I think some women can really be into that idea of themselves as "the one who wears the pants and gets shit done", but let's face it, it gets TIRING to perform all the labor and it can be very isolating too.

      • Jan

        Oh hey, you said what I was trying to say above much better! This is exactly how I felt.

    • Jan

      Yeah, I brought it up first but more in an, “I’ve decided I need to decide if I’d like to get married, so I just want to let you know that’s something I’ll be thinking about”. And then we had many conversations over the next 8-9 months before decided that, yes, we’d both like to get married. I asked him to ask me down the line, but that was because I’d instigated all our other big relationship moves, and it was important to me that we do this only when he was absolutely ready to move forward.

      Also, yes to the rest of your post. The “cool girl bride” pressure is, IMO, one of the most obnoxious (and harmful) parts of being a woman who is getting married.

  • Ella Mae

    I have to say, my proposal was a huge surprise. He bought a ring, he talked to my parents, he surprised me at a beautiful botanical garden. I had no part in it. But there are several important caveats. We had been together for seven years. We were buying a house and moving in together. We shared a pet. We had many conversations over many years about what we wanted our future to look like, which included marriage by a certain life stage for both of us. So yes it was a surprise, but it wasn’t a shock. It was something we both knew would be happening in the next year or two if we were going to continue our relationship. I think a lot of people these days, especially those who get together when they are young, tend to be in relationships a lot longer before getting married. These are relationships of intention, where both parties know they are in it for the long haul, but are waiting to achieve certain markers of stability before getting married. And then we plan and pay for those weddings ourselves. It’s all very responsible. So having the proposal be a romantic surprise was such a wonderful moment of joy in our lives. The idea of that man covertly saving up money (at a time when neither of us had much), and picking out a ring and planning a special day just for us still makes me a little misty. We now have been in a very equal marriage for five years where we make our big decisions jointly, including job changes, financial decisions, baby making/fertility treatments and home decor choices. And I’m currently planning a huge 30th birthday surprise for him! Who doesn’t like a surprise?

  • EllieS

    My theory is that whoever needs to be ready is the one who should propose. It is highly unlikely that both parties will be on the same page at the exact same time, at least in my experience. My husband knew I wanted to be married to him, but he moves incredibly slowly with decisions and he needed time and to be the one to propose. I have other sets of friends (both same and opposite sex couples) who did the same thing. I think it maintains the surprise/joy, but it’s also not coming out of nowhere.

  • bananafanafofana

    I find this very weird. Maybe it’s because of the area where I’ve mostly lived (NYC metro area), or the group of people I mostly know (highly educated) but the “proposal on one knee by man” is very much NOT the norm for my friend group or anybody I know. I (a woman) proposed to my (male) fiancee. The same is true of my college roommate. Most of my other friends had some version of the “chatting and then mutually announcing engagement” thing. My view (which explains my own acts) is that whomever is less committed/ready whatever (and usually both people know who that is) should propose so that the other party always knows that person wasn’t responding trapped on the spot but really came to that decision. But dear god even if you have a formal moment of proposal it should never be an actual SURPRISE but rather a fun way to celebrate a mutual decision you have talked about and already know you both find agreeable.

  • LadyPanda

    My partner and I discussed marriage from the very beginning of our relationship. After we had been living together for a year we started researching jewelers and designed our rings together. We were both part of the whole process and our families and close friends knew that we were doing this. Both of us got one single ring made, both with a stone and a unique pattern.
    When we finally got the finished rings, I proposed to him, (on a day that we had scheduled on our shared google calendar no less!) so it wasn’t really a surprise, just an evening that we set aside to make it ‘official’ and get to say some mushy stuff to each other and go have a nice dinner. Both of our moms asked our dads, so we wanted to continue that tradition, and since we were both in on the rings/marriage/engagement from the start we got to discuss and plan the engagement together to make it something we could both look forward to and enjoy! Just like the wedding, and the marriage too.

  • ManderGimlet

    As The Planner in our relationship, it was really sweet and meaningful for my partner to plan this one special thing. We had discussed it previously so it wasn’t a complete surprise or anything, but it was very romantic to have my sweet and silly but not overly mushy partner tell me why he wanted to be with me for the rest of his life, what I meant to him and what his dreams for our future are. It wasn’t over the top or public or planned to the tiniest detail, but it was intimate and wonderful and a story that we share and laugh over. I also like the anticipation! I am not big into surprises while my partner definitely does, so this was a thing I was excited about, knew was happening eventually, but didn’t know that exact when/where and that added a bit of fun tension around the house for a while.

    That said, there was no asking of hands or any of that business (at our age it would seem absurd). I think our engagement experience met both of our desires and expectations, which to me is the goal. Also there was cheesecake involved soooooo, hard to beat that!

  • uggggh

    Pretty sure the strongest cultural expectation is attached to homosexual couples, and it’s that we should not exist at all. Call me when cultural expectataions leave you unable to get married at all or adopt children or visit your partner in the hospital because you didn’t have a traditional proposal.

    Straight people are wild and have an oppression fetish.

    • just sayin

      Wow, you are complaining about getting married when like a BILLION people lack access to clean water and basic sanitation? What an oppression fetish you must have.

      But seriously, discussing an issue that impacts you on a personal level is not an “oppression fetish”. It’s not a competition of who suffers the most or has the most “cultural expectations” attached to them. And if it was a competition, I’m pretty sure every single American/citizen of a first world country would need to sort of zip their lips for a while.

  • Jenna

    For my fiancé and I, our engagement was mutual. We had talked about it loooong before the actual proposal. He got down on one knee and asked because he really wanted the tradition of it. I, on the other hand, was open to “alternative” ways to get engaged (me proposing, no rings, etc.). I had been proposed to in a previous relationship, so didn’t feel like it HAD to go that way and was beginning to realize how unfair that particular situation can be (not being a downer to the “traditional” way, by any means here). To make it more fair in my mind, after he proposed, I bought him an “engagement coin” (he’s a coin collector) similar in value to the ring he bought me and asked if he would “marry me back”. He liked the idea of being the traditional man, but also that I wasn’t expecting him to drop a bunch of cash with no reciprocation. Now we both have cool heirlooms to pass on to any potential, future offspring!

  • Hope

    I needed a proposal, because my now-husband was ALWAYS the one who felt ready to move the relationship more serious before I did, and even though this was the best decision I ever made, I needed this big, weighty proposal moment to finally make the leap (even for myself) to say the words “Yes, I will marry marry you.” It was just too complex of a decision for me to continue thinking through for another 4 years. Of course we had been discussing the idea of getting married for a long time, but the moment itself was a surprise, and it was good to be put on the spot. It helped me make the jump to officially commit, when I had cold feet despite loving him and knowing we were a good match. It it had been just another conversation, I would have never decided.

    As an aside, something feels good to me about a man getting down on a knee as an act of deference in world where women are so often put in a deferential role. Not necessary, of course, unless you want it, but interesting symbolism to me. Also, the man asking the question, when too often there are depictions of women “trapping” men into marriage, as though marriage was “for” women. Show us the men want it at least as bad! :)

  • CNY Bride

    This is how we got engaged, but we already live + parent together. My parents got engaged in the parking lot of a Bloomingdale’s in 1980, my father proposed to my mother after they had each bought drinking glasses for their respective apartments and he realized that he didn’t want them to keep having separate apartments. The two sets of drinking glasses lived side-by-side in our cabinet throughout my childhood.