The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
~ Christopher Marlowe, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
On Bended Knee, and Otherwise
There are as many different styles of proposing marriage as there are weddings, as discussed in last week’s entry. Let’s take a look at some of them.Some historians believe that the custom of a man proposing marriage to a woman on bended knee originated during medieval times with knights kneeling before a maiden to ask for her hand in marriage. Perhaps the custom grew out of the customs of knights kneeling in religious ceremonies, before kings and queens and before the victors in battle. Thus, the symbolism involved a knight’s expression of gratitude that the woman he loves and desires has deigned to listen to his proposal, his utter respect for and devotion to her, his humility because he is unworthy of her, and his total surrender to her as the most important person in his life for the remainder of his being.
Men have observed this custom for many centuries beyond the era of knights in shining armor. [The next paragraph contains a spoiler for those who are not current with Downton Abbey.]
If fans of the TV megahit, Downton Abbey, need reminding of the exquisitely romantic — if not bumpy — steps leading up to Matthew Crawley’s second proposal of marriage to Lady Mary in 1920 (Matthew withdrew his previous proposal to Mary made six years earlier due to a misunderstanding) — here they are, ending with Matthew on bended knee (although it wasn’t exactly his idea).
Of course, a man need not always bend his knee to be devastatingly romantic when proposing marriage, as demonstrated in this scene from a movie version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which shows a standing-up — as well as stand-up — proposal from Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth Bennett, and this scene in which Harry Burns proposes to Sally Albright in the movie When Harry Met Sally. And, then there’s Brian Cruikshank’s sitting-down proposal to Regina Lampert in Charade.
The Engagement Ring
While an engagement ring has typically been present at proposals of marriage, it is not necessary to have a ring when you propose. A recent survey revealed that less than a third of women feel that the absence of a ring during a proposal is a mistake. After all, a ring is only a symbol — albeit a lovely and meaningful one — and a couple does not need a ring to become officially engaged. One reason is that many women prefer to select their own rings, and two, some men might not have the funds to afford a decent ring at the time, and it might be wise to wait a bit until a proper ring can be purchased comfortably. I’ll be writing more on engagement rings next week.
From the Sublime to the Ridiculous
In past decades the formal approach to proposing has relaxed and today proposals can be presented in many ways, including private and intimate conversations over a candlelit dinner, next to a roaring fire or during a romantic walk along the beach or in the woods. Decisions to marry can occur through discussion over time, leading up to laying serious plans.
Some proposals are meticulously planned by one partner, usually the man, to surprise the other. Such occasions could involve recording a customized video or audio proposal planted in just the right scenario, or renting the Goodyear Blimp or a billboard to post a “Will you marry me?” sign.”
Clever ways of popping the question sometimes involve the presentation of the engagement ring; here are two clever methods I’ve come across: hiding it in a custom hollowed-out book or in a fairly new product, the very cool pop-up engagement ring box. If you’re planning to go shopping for an engagement ring after popping the question, giving her a fine chocolate temporary engagement ring at the time of your proposal is a cute idea for a chocolate lover!
If you and your true love are Scrabble players, spelling out “Will you marry me,” on the board and having a chilled bottle of champagne ready, or if you both like Chinese take-out, custom fortune cookies that contain the message, “Will you marry me?” inside can be fun and light-hearted. For a more sophisticated, as well as more public, question-popping occasion, take your lover to a piano bar where you have already arranged to have the piano player/crooner play and sing your song, and as he finishes, and while still tickling the ivories, recites the words you gave him, for example, “Here’s a little message to Barbara from Peter; I hope you know how much I love you. You had me at hello, and I’ve never wanted to say good-bye. Will you marry me?”
But there are some methods to avoid, such as hiding the ring in champagne, baking it into a cake and hiding it in a box of Crackerjacks. Injuries to your intended and losing or misplacing the ring won’t advance your cause. Also to be avoided are those over-the-top, very public, expensive extravaganzas, many of which are pretentious, embarrassing, and often in poor taste. While good intentions might be involved, good judgment frequently is not. Proposals of marriage are best kept to private moments between the couple in love. The good news of the engagement can be shared with family and friends afterward, with both bride-and-groom-to-be on equal footing.
The Millennials’ Approach
While the very large and influential Boomer Generation (1946-1964) redefined relationships via the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and relaxed the formal social customs of courting, proposing and wedding observed by both The Greatest (1901-1924) and Silent (1925-1945) Generations, and the even more independent but smaller Generation X (1965-1980) rewriting their own rules, the Millennials (Generation Y, 1980-2000, and Generation Z, 2000-Present) have created their own hybrid practice of proposing marriage. This involves a couple reaching the decision to marry and picking out the engagement ring, followed by the official proposal (getting down on bended knee optional). This approach might seem a bit contrived to older members of society, but upon reflection it makes perfect sense for our modern times. What the Millennials have done is taken control of a serious practice while retaining the romance, tradition and an element of suspense.
In keeping with the Millennials’ desire to merge tradition with modern practicalities, the previously cited survey revealed that 80 percent of men believe that prior to proposing a man should ask his intended’s parents’ permission, and more than 75% said a man should drop to one knee before popping the question. But although more than half the women surveyed agreed that at least one of their parents should be asked for her hand in marriage, less than half said the surprise factor is important and less than a third said that not having a ring is a problem.
When Women Propose
Although marriage proposals most often have been initiated by men, women themselves have also taken the lead throughout the ages. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) proposed to her cousin, Prince Albert, because, as she was the queen, no one was permitted to propose to her. Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) proposed to the second of her seven husbands. More recently, pop rock star Pink proposed to her husband, Carey Hart. And while before the women’s movement of the 1960s and ’79s it was not very common for women formally to propose marriage to men, they surely orchestrated many a proposal, subtly or otherwise. Then, there’s February 29, Leap Year Day, when women have long been encouraged to take charge of their conjugal futures. A century ago this day was referred to as Ladies’ Privilege Day, and more recently as Sadie Hawkins Day, the day when women do the asking and men are expected to say, “Yes.” Or else. At least that’s the way the legend goes.
In our modern times, women should not feel that they have to wait for a proposal. If you are a woman in a relationship that is solid and you know your man, proceed to the proposal! Women today can be straightforward in this regard, or if in your case reverting to old-fashioned game-playing works better, so be it. The point is, whether you are a female or a male and want to marry the person you love, then proceed with plans to propose.
The Three Ps Etiquette – Parents, Preparation and Proposal
Having a plan is important. You not only want the proposal to go smoothly and meet both your expectations, but the result of that proposal will affect many other lives.
Parents: Most important are the parents of both parties. It’s easier if both the man and woman have become well acquainted with the other’s parents. But if that’s not the case, it’s important to at least introduce each other to your respective parents. If you are young, still in school and one of both of you are still technically living at home, it’s a very smart move, politically and emotionally, for the man to ask the woman’s permission to marry her. As you are both legal adults, this is largely symbolic, but it will go a long way to solidifying relationships for these very important people who will be part of your lives — your parents and your future parents-in-law. If you are an older couple (late 20s, early 30s or older) and are self-sufficient, instead of asking parental permission, you should plan to ask the blessing of both sets of parents either before or after the proposal. While this might seem to be old-fashioned, it’s really not. Consideration of others and doing the right thing are never out of style.
Preparation and Proposal:
The Proposer – If you and your significant other have not decided in principle to marry but have discussed the possibility, determine if this is the right time to propose. Are there other things going on in either of your lives to which a marriage proposal might add stress? If not, wait for the right, or at least better, moment in consideration of both of you and anyone else involved. If it is the right time, proceed to decide the type of proposal you desire and that you are certain your beloved will love and be entirely comfortable with. You want to pleasantly surprise, not embarrass the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life, and who will remember this moment forever! Once you have decided how you want to approach your proposal, think about whether you want to present a ring when you propose or go together afterward to select one. (See next week’s entry for more on rings.) Once you have decided on how to handle the ring issue, plan the timing, romantic or meaningful setting and the words you will use to pop the question (you are the greatest love of my life and I want to share it with you always, marry me…I can’t imagine you not being part of my life, please make it permanent by doing me the great honor of marrying me…or words that have great meaning to the both of you).
The Proposed To – The ideal situation is one in which you are in love and want to marry the man — or woman — who proposes to you. You need only accept. If you have an inkling that a proposal is coming your way, plan the words you will say. You don’t need to recite them; you want to be spontaneous. But, if there are particular words or a phrase that is especially meaningful to you both you might want to include them in your acceptance. Or a simple, “Yes” will do and is always correct.
When The Answer is “No”
In most cases, by the time a couple gets to the point of a proposal it’s pretty certain that the outcome will be a positive one. But, all things in life are not certain, which is another reason that proposals should be kept between two people and not a crowd. Neither the person proposing nor the person being proposed to should be put in an awkward position in front of others. On the off-chance that the answer is “no,” both parties must keep the other person’s feelings upper most in their minds.
If you are the one saying, “No,” it’s possible that you have sent the wrong signals to the person proposing to you. Perhaps you are not interested in the person enough to continue dating or being involved and have not had the courage to say so. In that case, the relationship surely will be over now, and not without some humiliation and hurt feelings. Try to mitigate the damage by being as kind and considerate as possible, and that includes being honest but firm; remember that in dealing with broken bones or broken hearts, a clean break heals better than a jagged one with a lot of fragments. If it’s a case of your being in love but just not ready to commit to — or a believer in — marriage, you will either have to hope that you can continue in the relationship without marriage as an option or be prepared for the relationship to end. Again, don’t lead anyone on; consider and respect the other person. And, whatever the outcome, accept the consequences gracefully and with understanding.
If you are the one whose proposal has been rejected, don’t ask why in the heat of the moment. There could be a number of reasons that have little to do with her or his feelings for you. Or you could have misread the relationship or just don’t know the person you love as you thought you did. Accept the rejection with poise and composure. Some people have proposed multiple times to the same person before they received a “Yes”; on the other hand, be realistic about the direction of the relationship. And, even though you are hurting, (and disappointed and probably angry), behave in a civil manner and leave with your dignity intact. If you feel the urge, talk to a trusted friend or family member, but avoid spilling your guts on social media. Remain cool and collected, at least on the outside. There might be time later on to discuss the situation with your love to see if either of you wish to continue being together without being married, or if it’s time to move on.
A Special Moment
Whether you’re the one proposing or the one accepting, make it a special moment as you transition to fiancée and fiancé. You both have a responsibility to do your parts to make the occasion memorable, and one you will tell others about for the rest of your lives.
Until next time,