WASHINGTON – Steve Paska waited two weeks for Washington’s famously fickle cherry blossoms to emerge, then spent two hours searching for the perfect spot beneath the canopy of fluff. He lured his girlfriend there on the pretext of buying a painting of the blooms. Then he surprised her by dropping to one knee and proposing.
She said yes so fast, he forgot to pull out the ring.
Go to any wedding celebration this nuptial season, whether in a ballroom or backyard or church basement, and it’s a good bet you can trace the big day to a similar start, with different flourishes.
If a man is marrying a woman somewhere in America, odds are that he proposed to her.
That may seem obvious, but consider this: Three-fourths of Americans say it would be fine for the woman to do the proposing, in theory.
In practice, only about 5 percent of those currently married say the woman proposed, and the figure is no higher among couples wed within the past 10 years. Attitudes actually seem to be trending the other way, an Associated Press-WE tv poll shows.
Young adults are more likely than their elders to consider it unacceptable for a woman to do the asking. More than one-third of those under age 30 disapprove.
In the survey, nearly half of single women who hope to get married someday say they would consider proposing. Paska and his fiancée, Jessica Deegan, who both live in Arlington, Virginia, already had decided together that they wanted to marry, she said. Still, Deegan was thrilled that he made it official with a grand romantic gesture April 10.
It’s kind of like the moment you imagine your whole life, she said. I’ve seen that in movies. I’ve read that in books. You don’t want to miss out on that moment.
That traditional moment has survived radical changes in U.S. marriages over the past half-century. People are marrying older; brides are more likely to be already supporting themselves. It’s become commonplace to live together first, even to have children before marriage. Some men are proposing to men and women to women, now that one-third of U.S. states allow gay marriage.
But the boy-asks-girl proposal still reigns, updated to a public art form in Facebook and YouTube videos that feature flash mobs or scavenger hunts or proposals while swimming with dolphins.
There are even proposal planners who can help arrange flowers, musicians and a videographer. Ellie Pitts, a planner who works in Dallas for The Yes Girls, said the group has handled more than 350 proposals around the country and abroad, nearly all by men.
A woman who proposes also risks criticism for her boldness, said Katherine Parkin, an associate professor of history at Monmouth University in New Jersey.
Parkin researched the folk tradition that claimed women could propose only during a leap year. She found that the idea triggered mockery every four years for much of the 20th century. Postcards, ads and articles portrayed women who would propose as desperate, aggressive and unattractive. The leap year joke has faded, she said.
In the AP-WE tv poll, recently married couples were less likely to say they got engaged by mutual agreement, instead of through one partner’s proposal, than were people married longer. About one-quarter of those married at least 30 years say it was a mutual decision; that drops below one-tenth of those wed in the past decade.