From getting married at an older age to signing a prenup, we know that millennials are approaching matrimony differently from previous generations. But when millennials do get married, the vast majority of romantic relationships between men and women still follow traditional gender roles when it comes to the proposal — however, that may slowly starting to change.
A 2017 The Knot survey found that only 61 out of 12,657 brides proposed to their groom — less than 1%. But more recently, in December 2018, Pinterest reported that searches for “women proposing to men” had skyrocketed 336% compared to 2017, leading Vogue to predict that “engagement season could be a bit different this year.”
In fall 2018, The Knot’s sister site about proposals, previously known as How He Asked, changed its name to How They Asked. “We believe proposals are founded in love and that love comes in all shapes and forms; men proposing to women, women proposing to men, same-sex couples proposing to each other, and everyone in between,” says Meghan Brown, site director of How They Asked. “We are strong believers that inclusivity is not optional, and it was about time our name reflected that. How They Asked is a site for everyone."
Lauren Kay, Deputy Editor of The Knot, says that she has noticed an increase in women proposing to male partners, especially through reader submissions to How They Asked. “This uptick in women doing the asking and owning it is not really surprising. More and more couples are twisting or breaking conventional traditions in an effort to showcase their unique love story, values, and personality,” she says.
Offbeat Bride founder Ariel Meadow Stallings agrees that women proposing to men is becoming more common, and she attributes the rise in part to marriage equality. “As a woman, when you see your gay brother get proposed to by his longtime boyfriend, and then your lesbian BFF proposes to her girlfriend, I think it starts to rattle the cage of tradition and gender norms about who's supposed to propose,” she explains. “If your gay bro can be proposed to, and your lesbian BFF can get down on one knee... then why wouldn't you be able to propose to your boyfriend?”
Women who propose to men are, of course, aware that they’re going against traditional gender roles. For some, that’s part of the appeal. “I really wanted to catch him off guard and kind of flip the script on its head, and do something sort of extreme to play with this gender role reversal,” says Gracie Coates, 28, who lives in Brooklyn with her fiancé. She proposed to her partner by closing the street in front of her parents’ house in Berkeley, CA while they were visiting and riding in on a horse before getting down on one knee in front of her and her boyfriend’s friends and family. “I think we know so many men who propose to women in really dramatic and over-the-top ways, and I wanted to just really play with the concept,” she explains.
For some couples, the woman proposing is just what’s best for the individual people and relationship
For others, traditional gender roles don't really factor in. “There’s no reason it has to be the guy who proposes,” says Anna Gruver, 29, an American who lives in Berlin with her Chilean fiancé. “We had talked about marriage before, and I had always been the one who was unsure. When I decided that I was ready, I just went for it!” She casually asked her partner to marry her one day while they were hanging out at home. “He said yes, and immediately started freaking out about all the planning details!”
For some couples, the woman proposing is just what’s best for the individual people and relationship. “We always said we wanted to get married, and the general vibe of our relationship is very playful,” says Daisy Pattinson, 27, of Perth, Australia. “When it came down to it, it really didn’t matter which of us popped the question. But for us and our dynamic, it made sense that I just went for it and asked him.” She proposed to her partner by giving him a puzzle that spelled out “Brett, will you Murray me?” (his name) during a night in. “I love that I proposed, and we both feel stronger than ever as a partnership since we got engaged,” she says.
When women do propose, they often face pushback from others around them. Coates says that she’s been asked if she proposed because she was “tired of waiting.” “I find that so incredibly offensive,” she says. “No, we’re in an equal relationship. The idea that the woman has to be waiting around until the man is going to do a gesture like this is such a problematic thing.” Her fiancé also faces pushback, she says. “My fiancé has to deal with the sexism and judgement involved in people implying that he ‘allowed’ me to propose. I'm fortunate to have an extremely supportive partner who doesn't believe in a man having to ‘allow’ a woman to do anything.”
Coates acknowledges that the woman proposing won’t be right for every person and every relationship, but “there should be a conversation that happens and an understanding.” It's the expectation that the man should propose that's the problem, she says. “I think that’s just inherently a sexist thing in our society where the man has to be the one who’s 'ready.'”