If marriage is something a woman wants, why is she waiting for her man to act?
As I approach 15 years of being with my wife, my best friend, my life partner and the mother of my children, I have been thinking about how this all got started.
The truth is I don’t like to tell the story of how I met my wife. That’s because there is not much of a story to tell. Here it is anyway: We went to the same college – Brandeis University. We had friends in common. We saw each other at parties and on campus. We both worked on the school yearbook. We started dating. We’ve never been apart since.
I do like to tell the story of how we became a couple. The year was 1998. We had been hanging out for a couple months. One night, she came to my dorm room and said we had to talk. She didn’t need me to respond. I only had to listen. She told me she “had feelings” for me and wanted to be a couple. And, then she left the room, leaving me to absorb her words.
Wow! Her courage and flipping of the script was sexy, and a relief. There I was, the man, pressure free for the first time in a relationship, and blown away. I took her at her word and did not give her a formal response until we were home in Brooklyn shortly thereafter. We went to the Brooklyn Promenade and I formally accepted her proposal (As an aside, my advice to anyone asked out by an intelligent, beautiful Brooklyn girl: Don’t hesitate!).
A few months ago, I read this Salon article on proposing by Tracy Clark-Flory. I was not surprised to learn that recent surveys show that men are still expected to do the proposing in their relationships. As Clark-Flory explores, certain traditions and roles die hard, or not at all.
From the moment boys really notice girls, we are expected to do all the initiating. This includes saying hello that first time in the school hallway, asking for a phone number, making the phone calls, asking her out on a date, and yes, asking her to dance. This trend continues when deciding to “go steady” or calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend, and culminates in the wedding proposal. It’s a lot of pressure.
And, even though I was well versed in gender roles, having been raised by a mother who was a feminist leader—and though I grew up surrounded by strong, assertive women—I never challenged my role as initiator. There was nothing I could do about it, except fail to attempt initiation, which I occasionally did.
Then along came Shannon.
Whenever my wife complains about me or something I’ve done, I like to tease her, tell her she chose me. But, let me say this now: Honey, thanks for being brave, for taking the initiative, for making us happen.
Perhaps, because of the unique beginning to our relationship, it is hard to imagine that there would ever have been pressure on me to propose marriage. And, in the years following her offer and my acceptance, we were true partners. We made decisions together. We split bills. We shared my car. We communicated openly. We argued as equals.
When I was in law school and living on student loans, she put me on her credit card so I could buy necessities. In more recent years, I have supported us while she stayed home with our children. And, while I initiated and surprised her with certain things such as anniversary and birthday plans, we mostly proposed things together. It was all very romantic.
After college and my completing law school, my wife and I shared an apartment and remained unmarried to each other for years, although we were deeply in love. We knew our commitment was real without a marriage. But when I lost my job and needed health insurance, we made a decision to obtain a marriage license at City Hall. Nobody proposed. There were no rings. We did not become engaged.
Over the course of the next two years, we had many conversations about throwing a large 9th anniversary party and Jewish wedding. Again, nobody proposed. We were both standing (or sitting) throughout these conversations. There were still no rings. And, once we decided to celebrate our relationship publicly, we jointly made all the decisions about how to do so in a feminist, egalitarian way. Our celebration was truly unique.
For most modern couples, some sort of mutual proposal happens at some point before the formal proposal by the man. Only a fool or a bad attorney would ask a question to another if he did not know how the other person would answer. A hint or ultimatum by the woman is also common.
So, why then do women continue to want the surprise or elaborate proposal by the man? Why, if marriage is something that a woman wants, is she still waiting for the man to act? Why do we continue to play these games? Do these type of proposals have any real meaning? Why do we continue to limit our roles and our relationships this way?
In my case, it simply would have made no sense for either one of us to propose. After all the honesty and equality we had experienced, proposing marriage was an unnecessary game to play.
Photo of a view off the Brooklyn Promenade by Kim Carpenter/Flickr