Why Women Still Don't Propose
Seeking a man's hand in marriage makes both sexes uncomfortable, study says
'Tis the season to get engaged apparently. According to a survey by the Fairchild Bridal Group, the months of November and December account for 26 percent of marriage proposals. But that statistic only refers to the 1 in 4 grooms who get down on one knee, not the unconventional women who decide to pop the question themselves.
However, those women may be better off not going through with their gutsy decisions. A recent study by the University of California, Santa Cruz, found that of 277 heterosexual students surveyed, not a single one reported they'd "definitely" want the woman to propose in a relationship. Conversely, two-thirds of those surveyed, both male and female, declared wanting that of men.
So why haven't women been widely accepted yet as the initiator of marriage?
Psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, author of "The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again," believes it still boils down to traditional societal norms, ones taught long before we can even afford an engagement ring.
"No matter how much the social atmosphere changes, we all have to deal with our expectations of how it should be," said Tessina. "And these are formed early in childhood, and then reinforced by images from the media and examples from the society around us, which include the model of the man taking the lead in relationships."
Indeed, never has a Kay's or Jared's jewelry commercial ever featured a woman getting down on one knee. However, there have been a few mainstream maverick women.
In 1993, Halle Berry asked then-Atlanta Braves hitter David Justice to marry her while lying in bed (though we know how that relationship ended); in 2005, singer Pink famously asked her motocross racer husband Carey Hart for his hand in marriage by holding up a pit board during one of his races; and in 2009, after, yes, receiving a traditional proposal, Jennifer Hudson still decided to return the favor to her fiancé David Otunga by presenting him with an inquiry of her own and a 5-carat engagement ring.
(And on the small-screen, Monica proposed to Chandler on "Friends" and Miranda did the same for Steve on "Sex & the City.")
Relationship expert Lori Bizzoco, founder of CupidsPulse, suggests that while it isn't all that uncommon for women to make the first move, due to the "rising equality between women and men," tradition is still upheld more often than not.
"We, as women, have accomplished so much in the ways of independence and equality that many of us don't just desire the same rights as men, we want to dominate them—hence proposing to him," said Bizzoco. "However, regardless of how the times change, the male ego will forever be the same. The proposal has always been the upper hand that men have in the relationship. It is their masculine duty to buy a ring, get down on one knee and tie their woman down before she gets away. Getting engaged should be one of the happiest days of your life; without the romantic proposal from your man, what do you have left?"
Sure enough, about a quarter of the female participants in the UC-Santa Cruz study cited "romance" as the reason why the man should propose, as did 17 percent of men, with one in particular saying he'd feel "emasculated" if he didn't.
But Marta Segal Block, editorial director of online entertainment agency GigMasters, believes that another factor is being overlooked: that the act of proposing, while not "dead," is at least admittedly different than it once was, which may subsequently be influencing the reported instances (or lack thereof) of women who make them.
"Proposing doesn't necessarily mean what it used to," Block explained. "Couples are deciding together that they're ready to get married and when to do so. Sometimes they've been living together for years before the official proposal. Very few people 'pop' the question any more; it's usually an issue that's been debated and discussed for months beforehand."
(To Block's point, writer Christopher Scanlon described his proposal as "a mutual, candid conversation between two adults agreeing to marry one another.")
But despite (or maybe because of) the widespread disapproval, not many women are taking the proposal plunge anyway; iVillage UK reports only 9 percent of proposals come from them. So, commitment-phobic men, no need to get into panic mode come Christmas.