Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Why Don’t More Women Propose?

with one comment

That’s what I found myself wondering after reading this Wall Street Journal article and this response on XX Factor. The WSJ article is an exploration/lament of the different way marriage proposals are negotiated today compared to 50 years ago.

Those romantic tales that get passed among friends and relatives—”One day he just showed up with a ring! I was completely surprised!”—are vestiges of the past. We’ve gone from popping the question to a long conversation, hammering out the details of when and how the engagement will happen.

Amanda Miller, a sociology professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, conducted a study about how proposals are made among cohabiting couples. The result, titled “Waiting to Be Asked,” found that couples not only work together as a team to set the date. Ms. Miller says some women script the proposal first, telling their boyfriend something like: “I’d always wanted to be proposed to on Christmas morning in front of family.”

Obviously, the upside to all this is that it’s a sign of how women now have more agency in deciding when and whom to marry. And perhaps it should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: that surprise proposal of the past that the article nostalgically clamors for is hardly a long-standing “tradition,” at least not when we take the whole of societal marriage negotiations for the past couple centuries into account.

But none of this is what I really want to talk about. What I want to know is, if women obviously have more agency in organizing marriage arrangements these days, and if a particular women (like these mentioned in the article) is comfortable enough in her relationship and desiring enough of and old man* to negotiate a proposal from her significant other …. why doesn’t she just propose herself? Why is that not even mentioned in the article as an option? Is it really that rare? Admittedly, I’ve never known any girl/woman/pick-your-poison who proposed to her man. Is it because most egalitarian-minded women would rather just  discuss the idea of getting married with their partner instead of re-purposing the proposal genre, which could be considered a “tool of the patriarchy?” So many questions! Stephanie Coontz, what say you?

* This is (with its mirror, the “old lady”), I think, the funniest term for a spouse, and one I heard used non-ironically quite a few times more than expected growing up in the Midwest …


Written by Elizabeth

April 27, 2010 at 11:07 am

Posted in Culture, Feminism, Sex/Love

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. This is a good question. I suspect that the general lack of female-initiated proposals has to do with the fact that men don’t want to be proposed to. They propose to women not because they enjoy the stress & forced creativity/surprise/extravagance, but because their girlfriends expect them to. Men actually expect NOT to be proposed to.

    Personally, I was an egalitarian marriage negotiator. I don’t really remember why I didn’t outright propose – surely had some frustratingly lingering desire to go through the ring-on-one-knee script. Now that I think about it, though, the negotiations were initiated by me in such a way that they constituted a de facto proposal – I just wasn’t expecting an answer on the spot, but in the near future.



    April 30, 2010 at 11:47 pm

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