As we phase out the garter toss, face-concealing veils, and the dollar dance, one tradition remains as strong as ever: men are the ones to pop the question. The stereotype endures that women want marriage more than anything, while men avoid getting tied down, are emotionally unavailable, and are un-hampered by the biological clock that drives women to madness. “So, the trope goes, she drops hints, nags, and tries to convince him to propose,” Lillian McTernan writes. This storyline is pervasive.
But what happens when there is no man in the relationship? The standard proposal formula is opened up for interpretation. Audrey and Melanie of Ohio met five years ago at a gay bar. Melanie says, “We had each gone out with close friends, and it just so happened that my best friend was teaching Audrey’s roommates’ Women’s Studies class. They saw each other and started talking, and then I was introduced to Audrey.” Melanie and Audrey hit it off immediately. They exchanged numbers that first night, saw each other again the next night, and about a week later they started spending most of their free time together, “cooking, eating, going out, going to the pool, and just having fun.” Melanie says, “We call the summer we met our ‘Summer of Love.’” A few months later, they moved in together “and have lived together ever since, our relationship growing and changing through all the events and transitions over the next five years.”
For the first few years of their relationship, marriage wasn’t something they discussed. “Both of us felt that we were in the relationship we wanted to be in and that we were committed to each other.” But then, marriage equality passed, which shifted their perspective. Melanie says, “The knowledge that we could get married made us truly consider the possibility of it,” and so they started discussing the topic more seriously. Even though they had lived together for years and were obviously committed partners, “getting married seemed like this important privilege—that we could say out loud in front of our families and friends and in the eyes of the law—that we are committed to each other for life, and we are a family.”
Once they decided that marriage was right for them, they had to decide how to approach the marriage proposal. “Being a same-sex couple, there isn’t the same pressure or expectation that one of us fill a certain role,” Melanie says. Rather than wait for one person to surprise the other with a proposal, they agreed that they would both propose, and they wouldn’t tell anyone until both proposals had happened. “It was the perfect mix of feeling on the same page with Audrey, while also leaving some room for romance and surprise.”
Melanie planned to propose to Audrey during PRIDE weekend. The following weekend was their five year anniversary, but Melanie had plans to travel, so they would not be together. “I told Audrey I was making it up to her by giving her a gift each day of PRIDE.” The theme of Melanie’s proposal incorporated travel because the two plan to travel more together in the future. First she gave Audrey a map with a note: “A map to keep track of our adventures.” The next day she gifted a pair of boots with the message, “You might want some new shoes for our travels.” And lastly, “Audrey opened a box with a note inside that said, ‘You might want a wife to go on these travels with,’” and then Melanie proposed with a ring.
A week later, Audrey proposed to Melanie by putting an engagement ring and a fortune that said “Marry me?” inside a fortune cookie that Melanie opened during dinner. “It was perfect,” Melanie says. “I think it was the right proposal for us: simple and cute and at home. I feel warm and fuzzy now when I think about it.”
David and Jeff of New Mexico took the opposite approach; one decided to maintain the element of surprise in the a proposal. They met through mutual friends, beginning a long-distance friendship while one of them “worked through coming out to friends and family.” Once their relationship turned romantic, they dated long-distance for two years, trying to see each other as often as possible. David says, “We’d buy flights three or four months in advance for cheap and work to stay available those weekends. We’d sometimes only be able to see each other for 36 hours, and although they were brief visits, we would look forward to the weekends even more and cherish the time together.”
A few years into their relationship, David flew from New York to New Mexico for a trial run of living together. “As I hoped, it worked out great, and I made the full move out to him over the next six months as we looked for a house together.” Before they knew it, they purchased a home together, adopted a neurotic dog (“more of a furry daughter”), and their lives started to feel intertwined. “We were talking about five year plans, and in our talks, we both kind of assumed we’d be married down the road.” At that point, David started making a plan to propose: “I wanted to make it fun and a surprise.”
First things first: the ring. David says, “I purchased about seven rings in each 1⁄2 size I thought would fit him (making sure they had a good return policy).” Then he had to get creative. “One night while he was sleeping, I carefully tried the largest two on his ring finger, and they were too big. I narrowed it down to four sizes and decided I would bring all four as options.”
Then David made a plan to propose. Jeff loves to mountain bike, so David decided he would propose during a ride. He made a customized bike part that said, “Marry me?” On the ride, David “kept trying to find a good secluded romantic spot, but the trails were really busy.” He tried to figure out a plan to replace Jeff’s bike part with the customized one. “At one point he parked his bike and went over to some bushes to pee. I thought that would be the moment I’d switch the bike part, but I hesitated and missed my chance.” About 30 minutes later, they came up on a private spot on the trail, and David held out the customized bike part saying, “Hey, I think this came off your bike.” At that moment, he got down on one knee and proposed with the largest ring. Jeff was totally surprised, and he said, “yes.” The ring didn’t fit, but the second one did. David put the third on his own ring finger, “and we’ve worn matching rings ever since—just one size different.”
Without the gendered script, two people have room to navigate the proposal in whatever way is most natural to their relationship and personalities. Maybe they choose to marry through a mutual decision, a planned surprise, or the whole down-on-one-knee fairytale kit and caboodle.