Look at Life: Women who Propose

8th February 2019

Why proposing to your man no longer makes you a scarlet woman…

By Heather harris

What a proper proposal needs is breeches and a scarlet petticoat. Well, that’s if you’re a woman proposing to a man. If you’re a man, you just have to make sure you have enough goats to give to her dad in exchange.

According to tradition, back in the 5th century an Irish nun called St Bridget (this would have made an excellent Call the Midwife episode) complained to St Patrick that women had to wait too long for their suitors to propose. So, they struck a deal. St Patrick decreed that every four years, on 29 February, women (in their breeches/scarlet outfit) were allowed to take the initiative. If the gentleman refused, he had to buy his suitably crestfallen girlfriend 12 pairs of new gloves – to hide her embarrassment at not having an engagement ring.

Fast forward to 2019 and ‘marriage proposal planner’ Tiffany Wright’s recent media announcement that more women than ever are employing her services.

Frankly, it’s a leap too far. I’m all for women popping the question, but surely we can plan it ourselves, for the personal touch. I’m thinking of the anonymous caller to a local radio station who explained in great detail how she bought coke cans with different letters on and hid them in their hotel mini bar. When her fiancé opened it, the words ‘will you marry me’ were spelled out. Sadly, the marriage lost its fizz faster than the drinks, but hey, top points for creativity.

There are downsides, though. My friend Megan proposed to her boyfriend over a large plate of spaghetti bolognaise – only to be rejected. He didn’t mince his words, and she still can’t eat the stuff.
Jude was rather more successful. She got together with Mick when she was 23 and he was a divorced 38-year-old, and father of three girls. After a year together it was his 12-year-old daughter who said, “You’re a feminist? Why are you waiting for my dad to ask you to marry him?”

So, fuelled by Dutch courage, she took the plunge. And luckily for him and his daughters, he said yes. Twenty years later, their six grandchildren adore hearing the story.

Similarly, Laura loves regaling people with the tale of how, with her head literally in the clouds, she persuaded the captain of their holiday flight to allow her to propose to her future husband over the tannoy.
In her professional capacity, Tiffany Wright (I assume there’s a Mr Wright?), does, however, warn of the dangers of reversing the roles. “Do you think he will be flattered or threatened?”, she asks. “Is he the sort of man who likes to be in control and take the initiative when it comes to booking dinner? If so, you might find he won’t enjoy having the control taken away from him, so bear that in mind.”

And there’s a ring of truth in what she says. When Suzanne proposed to her future husband – “on the spur of the moment as we walked past McDonalds in Warrington” – they didn’t announce it to friends and family until they’d chosen a ring the following weekend… And after he went down on one knee in their favourite restaurant and proposed in return. Apparently he would have loved to have done it the traditional way but had always thought she didn’t want to get married.

For this very same reason, Jane, who had previously gone through a messy divorce realised that she had to take the initiative. “On our first date I announced to him categorically that I never wanted to get married!”… A year later, and with her body clocking ticking louder than the local church bells, she found a Scottish hilltop and popped the question. Oh, and then they eloped.

A December 2018 report from social media platform Pinterest says that searches for ‘women propose to men ideas’ are up 336 percent year over year. A representative suggested that women proposing to men ‘may just be the next step in female empowerment’.

Or is it simply the fact that these days women are more impatient? In an age when we can’t wait a week for the next instalment of our favourite tv programme and binge-watch box sets instead, when we order clothes from our computer to arrive overnight and instantly text ten friends rather than write a single postcard, perhaps it’s little wonder than we can’t hang around for a man to decide our future.

For a contemporary take on the idea, you could follow the example of one colleague of mine, who successfully proposed by changing her Facebook status to ‘engaged’ and waiting for her boyfriend to notice… And she wasn’t even wearing her scarlet petticoat.

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