The politics of proposals

Should he always propose with a ring? Does expecting him to pay for it make you a fair-weather feminist? And what does it mean if it's the girl getting down on one knee instead of the guy? Welcome to the murky world of the 21st-century proposal...
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The politics of proposals
With this ring I thee stress out by invoking the unsolicited opinions of literally everyone

There was a trend that began a few years ago where women were opting to go Dutch on their own engagement ring. The ethos behind it being that, well, if they were a progressive kinda gal, and everything else in their relationship was split pretty fairly, why should it be solely down to the man to shell out for something that marks a life event that’s very much happening to them both? This way, the woman would get to help choose the piece of jewellery she’d – hopefully – be wearing for the rest of her life, while simultaneously patting herself and her husband-to-be on the back for being so irritatingly forward thinking.

“Hooray for equality!” they would (probably) cheer, clinking glasses and gazing into each other’s eyes. “I’m so glad we’ve broken free, darling. Isn’t it wonderful to be so unfettered by the antiquated gender roles of a bygone era?” Clink.

Sigh. It’s the 21st-century fairy tale, right girls? Girls? Er… girls? Ok, fine. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s ever-so-slightly horrifying instead. It’s quite possible that – for better or worse, for richer for poorer – the majority of us are still stuck in 1955, wanting the man to just stick to the script, dammit. But does this belief that some traditions (including opening doors, if you want my opinion. It’s just polite) should remain sacred mean that we’re all actually just fair-weather feminists? Only ripping up the rule book when it suits us? Wanting to have our wedding cake and eat it too?

“Once you get married, it’s both your money anyway,” a very grown-up colleague, two-children deep, under absolutely zero illusions as to the real world and in no mood to entertain my whimsical girlish romanticisms, tells me. She has a solid point.

Like her, there are clearly women out there far more evolved, enlightened and pragmatic than I – and I salute them. I also hope that my opinion on the matter – and on inverted engagements, where the woman proposes to the man – doesn’t expose me as a bit of a fraud. Or at least as a member of the girl-power movement with a bit of homework to do. But what I can’t understand is why, when we’ve worked so hard to move the agenda forward, to shatter glass ceilings and to refuse to accept anything but revolution, that it’s this that we get stuck on. Why is it that despite decades of fighting for equality, we still willingly hand over our future, our journey’s timeline – and potentially even our happiness – to the man? They’re not exactly known for being responsible. Mine can barely remember to close the fridge. And besides, is surrendering that control really romance? No wonder they still think they hold all the power.

Perhaps it’s for this reason that I know quite a few men who would rather cut off their – ahem – masculinity and hand it over in a brown paper bag than to partake in this kind of empowered role reversal. It would be anathema to their sense of self, the poor little guys. But, hey, just because this isn’t necessarily #relationshipgoals for me, I do understand why some girls find it appealing. All that testosterone and alpha chestbeating and put-your-wallet-away-love. Personally, though, I’d just worry that it all meant he thought he was better than me.

My ideal scenario? Probably somewhere in the middle, predictably enough. A man who agrees that very specifically, in this case only, centuries of tradition can’t be wrong. That it’s just intrinsically romantic to plan for months, save up, find the perfect ring and get down on one knee. That it’s symbolic. I, in a fair and reasonable exchange, will work on figuring out why this symbolism shouldn’t change if it was me, and not him, popping the question.

I would start by debunking the horribly judgemental theories that were voiced in my friendship group when two girls we know proposed to their boyfriends; a) he doesn’t love her enough, b) he was too lazy to ask, and c) he secretly doesn’t even want to be in the relationship at all. Incidentally, both couples are still together, five children between them and far happier than others I know who are now divorced. It has had literally zero bearing on their ability to have a wonderful relationship. The problem, as it so often goes, lay far more with other people. Everyone had an opinion and everyone always will. More fool them, that’s what I say. It might not be for me, but I will gladly stand up for any woman taking control of her own destiny. Go on, girl. Your badassery will lift us all.

Photo: Shutterstock