Attitudes Toward Women Proposing Are Shifting—So It’s Time We Start Asking

Gone are the days when women needed to wait around for a ring

Updated 03/19/19

Courtesy of Flytographer

When it comes to who should propose, many people still follow the traditional model where men do all the heavy lifting; surveys have shown that women proposed in only around five percent of heterosexual married couples. And, sure, it’s a tradition—something that is very important to a lot of people. But proposing is a huge decision, one that can shape the rest of your life, so why would 95 percent of women who presumably want to get married just wait around for it to happen? Perhaps it’s because women are still ostracized for breaking free from the traditional relationship norms. Luckily, there are early signs that things are changing, and data from surveys on attitudes toward women proposing bring one clear thing to light: If you want to, go for it.

Women Are More Likely to Be Targets of Criticism

Besides the tradition component, there’s a clear (and worrisome) reason women don’t propose: a societal aversion to assertive women, especially in the romantic sphere. Women are meant to wait, not to try and rush or “trap” men; girls are cautioned against coming off as “bossy”; women even in the highest seats of business and government still have their voices trampled on by their male counterparts. Women are told that being bold is considered a flaw—and when it comes to a relationship, it’s even more frowned upon. “Women don’t want to be seen as less feminine, or too sexual, or coming on too strong,” Beth Montemurro, a professor of sociology at Penn State University, told The New York Times. “And there’s a concern for men about [being publicly emasculated].”

Attitudes Are Changing Faster Than Behaviors

But the times, they are a-changin’. The dating site Match.com recently found that 95 percent of men would be up for women making the first move, like going in for a kiss or asking for a phone number. And we’re seeing a similar attitude shift when it comes to proposals. Surprisingly, in a survey of 500 men, Glamour found that 70 percent (yes, 70 percent!) would be psyched if a woman proposed. So, we’re definitely progressing in our collective view, but obviously, 70 percent of women in heterosexual couples still aren’t doing the asking. But maybe proposing—for many, the ultimate romantic gesture and so long considered a masculine move—is going to be the final hurdle. As it becomes more acceptable and more common for women to make other first moves, proposing might not be far behind.

Some Women Are Leading the Charge

And let’s not forget that some women are already doing it. And though it may not match with society’s expectations, it’s great to see women taking control of huge decisions in their lives. “I realized I was going to ask Pascal to marry me when he was on holiday and I was home alone, looking after the cats, missing him,” says Sophie, who proposed to her boyfriend. “I thought I should probably wait, but I knew I wouldn't. I'm far too impatient. I flew out to meet him at his parents' house in France, and I bit the words back for days. On the last night, I wrote MARRY ME PASCAL in my fanciest, most calligraphic handwriting and gave it to him under the stars in the French countryside. He was totally bewildered, as it was a few years ahead of his schedule...but it made perfect sense to both of us.” If you know what you want, why wait? If you and your partner really have a partnership, you probably know that you’re on the same page. It’s as much your decisions as his.

And for Some Couples, It’s Just Not an Issue

The truth is, no matter how traditional some heterosexual couples want to be, homosexual couples are, by definition, changing the game. While in lesbian couples, one woman will inherently be doing the asking, in male couples, one man will be the one being asked, which means that both women giving proposals and men receiving them is becoming more normalized—making same-sex relationships/proposals the catalysts we need to help society let go of traditional gender roles.

Never wait around for someone else to make decisions for you and your life.

Gone are the days when a woman needed to wait around to be picked by a man to no longer place a burden on her family—so why are we still waiting to do the asking? Attitudes are changing, and it’s time for actions to change with them.

Ready to be inspired? Here are the stories of five women who decided to propose to their partner:

“I had been dating my boyfriend (at the time) for almost eight years. We never talked about getting married but we started dating at age 18 and life was so messy then, between college, graduating, figuring out a postgrad life, etc. When things felt settled and we both had decent jobs and our own place to live, I started hinting at the idea of marriage. He always would smile and laugh but he never like made a move or said he was planning on proposing. On our eight-year anniversary, I got down on one knee, with a ring I bought for $200 for him and said, 'Let’s get married.' I think he was half shocked and half pissed at himself for not doing this first. But he said yes and I forgave him for being dumb and not thinking of proposing first. We’re getting married in April of 2020.” —Claire R., 27

“We were drunk and on a cruise with a bunch of our friends. We’d been dating for what felt like forever (four years), and one night on the cruise I got down on a knee and said, 'Marry me?' All of our friends went crazy. Everyone thought it was a joke. It was—but it also was not. Two weeks post-cruise, he got on one knee and asked me, [too].” —Jackie W., 32

“I’m so against male-oriented traditions. Why should the guy be the one to decide when it’s the right time to get engaged? No thanks. I asked my husband to marry me. He was not shocked. He said yes and our wedding lacked most traditions. I didn’t walk down an aisle, I didn’t wear a white dress, I didn’t toss flowers to single friends. I did things my way and it was the best night of our lives.” —Chantel E., 32

“I’m a lesbian and when it came time to figure out who proposes to whom, we didn’t feel there was any rule book. We talked about marriage for years and without her knowing, I proposed first. She said yes and then proposed to me a week later so that I could have the experience, too!” —Jenna B., 41

“Never wait around for someone else to make decisions for you and your life. Life’s too short. After dating my partner for a year, I asked her to marry me. I was terrified and I always imagined she’d do the asking, but I felt like it was time and I wanted to take a chance and just do it. It worked. She said yes, even though she was shocked that I took the lead and popped the question!” —Tami P., 33

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