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Liz Taylor, Judge Judy, Diane Von Furstenburg…what do these ladies have in common? Hint: it’s not that they’re inspirational figures, though this is certainly true as well!
Taylor proposed to Wilding, a British actor, while working on a film in England in 1952
All three of these successful ladies actually decided to pop the question—yes, the marriage question—to their male partners, and not when it was in fashion to do so. Even within the past decade, it’s been extremely uncommon for women to propose to men. According to a 2017 survey, only 61 out of 12,657 brides proposed to their groom—that’s less than 1% (The Knot).
But why is this the case? Same-sex marriage has been federally legal since 2015. Since founding Holden in 2018, we’ve helped thousands of couples who don’t fit heteronormative marriage traditions down the aisle. And yet, we have to admit: we’ve rarely encountered heterosexual couples where a woman proposed to their partner.
Same-sex marriage has been federally legal since 2015.
We suppose we aren’t surprised that a double standard still exists when it comes to women proposing to men—but that definitely doesn’t mean we agree with it! And these days, it seems that most men tend not to agree either. In a survey of 500 men, Glamour says they found that 70% would be “psyched” if a woman proposed, and the dating site Match.com found that 95% of men would be up for women making the first move (like going in for a kiss or asking for a phone number). So…are these men lying, or is there more to the story?
Tradition can be such a silent yet powerful predictor of our behavior in relationships—so much so that we aren’t even questioning it much of the time. According to a recent Zola survey, 77% of straight-identified women reported that they never even thought about planning to propose, even though 98% view themselves as completely equal to their partner. 16% felt a proposal might wound the ego of their male partner, and 36% said the man is just “supposed to propose.” 14% said they were ready to commit yet still seeking confirmation in the form of a proposal.
When the modern institution of marriage began, men were typically the sole financial provider. In this way, a proposal was also an economic proposition. It makes sense that studies have suggested that across different cultures, women value partners who are providers more than men do. But today, more women than ever are earning money of their own, so they don’t need a husband in the same way they used to (let’s not forget that it was less than 50 years ago that they needed one to get a credit card in the U.S.).
Rosemary Hopcroft, professor emeritus of sociology at University of North Carolina, Charlotte, suggests that women’s behavior is a result of the male proposal becoming deeply embedded into society over millennia. "There's a psychological and emotional reason why women still want their husbands to provide and that doesn't seem to have changed," she said to Time. "It's obviously not rational. There is no need for it. But we're not just rational actors. We're emotional."
There definitely seems to be some truth in Hopcroft’s statement, but we shouldn’t take it out of context, either. We can’t forget that the society we live in is still a patriarchal one—and even though many things have changed, there are definitely still real consequences for some women when they’re deemed to be “too assertive, unfeminine, [or] bossy,” as they may be perceived for proposing to their cisgender male partners (The Knot).
Though proposing may not yet be a reality for many heterosexual women, there’s a lot of promise for how things have been changing! We owe many thanks to none other than LGBTQ+ couples for paving the way and challenging heteronormative notions. As Offbeat Bride founder Ariel Meadow Stallings told Refinery29, “…when you see your gay brother get proposed to by his longtime boyfriend, and then your lesbian BFF proposes to her girlfriend, I think it starts to rattle the cage of tradition and gender norms about who's supposed to propose.”
Photo courtesy of Jessie & Flor, Photographed by @abiclarice.photos
If you’re still reading this and wondering why a woman might want to propose to her man or asking, “Should women propose to men?” we encourage you to spend time thinking about the role gender plays in your relationship in the first place. Because it’s so different for each individual couple, there’s nothing we dislike more than an outdated and arbitrary rule surrounding love and marriage.
In most other areas, a majority of young people today indicate that they want an equal relationship with shared responsibilities. So why should the huge responsibility (and power) of taking the relationship to the next level fall solely to men? Is it only the man’s timeline that determines the seriousness of the relationship?
If your answer is “yes,” please know that we don’t judge: every relationship is different, and the expectations should ultimately be decided by the partners involved. But if you’re a woman who wants to step outside of traditional gender roles and propose—because you love a grand romantic gesture, or you can’t wait, or maybe you were the partner who was skeptical about marriage in the first place—we encourage you not to stress about any preconceived notions regarding what’s expected or “right.”
Other women propose because their boyfriends are dragging their feet, because they identify as feminists and don’t feel comfortable with the gender roles involved in the tradition, or even as jokes that aren’t really jokes! And guess what? None of these reasons make them pushy or controlling. Why passively aggressively drop hints and wait for the guy to propose when you can just do it yourself?
Photo courtesy of Alex & Kole
If you aren’t sure if your partner will feel ready, honest conversations are always advisable. Surprises can be great, but they aren’t for everyone! If your partner were buying a home, you’d probably want to be consulted.
Though discussing marriage can feel un-sexy or not spontaneous enough, remember that you aren’t living in a rom-com (sadly…sorry to burst any bubbles). Talks about the future aren’t glitz and glamour, but they are necessary!
You don’t have to get your man an engagement ring if he doesn’t want to wear one, either. And yes, you can absolutely still get your own! (A winning method? Propose by taking him to an engagement ring appointment.) You can also get him a different piece of jewelry like a watch, or even a coveted comic book: when shirking tradition, the sky’s your limit.
We sincerely hope you don’t ever feel the need to wonder how to get a man to propose after reading this. If you don’t want to wait for your boyfriend to propose, then don’t! When you’ve got a man to marry, the best thing to do is drop to one knee—but only if you want to.
Questions? Give us a shout at email@example.com or a ring (pun intended) at .