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Why I am meh on marriage proposals
Tired of thinking up a away to make your marriage proposal idea romantic and unique? Maybe it just can't be done..
The worst of the consummerist and sexist American culture notions have merged in the act of a marriage proposal.
Full disclosure before I start writing on this topic: I have never been on the receiving end of a successful marriage proposal. My first boyfriend proposed to me with what he told me was the cheapest available ring at a well-advertised local retailer, which he, to his what I can only imagine being his complete embarassment, had to return. It wasn't the ring. We were having problems. But I also didnt like it that he was trying to force our unique story, me, into the mold of some hackneyed and stale cultural fantasy of female bliss. Maybe this has affected my perspective.
Meanwhile, in a different country in the former Soviet Union and at a different time, my mother proposed to my dad. Which, if you know my parents, makes absolute sense because, my mother always proposes everything: restaurants, vacations, shopping trips and interior decorating ideas. Accepting this proposal set up my dad for a life where my mother largely determines where they are going and with whom and set up my mother for a life where she has to drag my dad out if she wants to go and usually advises him on what to wear. This has worked out for both of them.
My mom's proposal was simple: she asked my dad if he was thinking about getting married to her in the very near future. He responded that he wasn't. She then proposed that he seriously think about it, and informed him that, in the meantime, she was going to move on with her life. (My mother is very direct. Trust me, I know.) My dad soon relented and they lived kinda happily ever after.
This is not your fairytale love story, but that is my point. Love stories are not fairy tales. Real relationshipships and real love are not the stuff of children's stories where a damsel in distress is rescued when a prince discovers that the shoe fits only her uniquely small and feminine foot. While marriage is clearly an important commitment in a relationship, it is one of a series of steps. Putting such extreme emphasis on this step by adding a performance, an element of surprise and very expensive jewelry trivializes the emotional element instead of underscoring it. With so much money on the line, it makes proposing marriage more akin to a buiness transaction like closing a real estate deal than to a more organic experience like, say, a first kiss.
Another thing is this element of surprise. For a woman, being surprised by a marriage proposal should not be aspired to. Very few good things in life come as a complete surprise. Surprises come at the tail end of a job interview process or, if you are very lucky, after buying a lottery ticket. Americans also like surprise birthday parties and giftwrapped presents. Hopefully, your sweetheart is not considering additional candidates for the position shortly before he proposes to you. Also, ideally, you should both be equally happy to commit to each other, which makes the process of getting engaged unlike being thrown a party or winning the lottery. And that really gets to the root of why I don't like the idea of emphasizing marriage proposals: the presumption that a woman should be moved to tears by her commitment-phobe partner finally deciding to s*** rather than to get off the pot. Excuse my french.
"Oh my God! No way! You actually want to marry me? Why I as a woman would be so honored that any man would actually say that to me! While I see myself as your social and economic equal and our relationship as being based on mutual love and respect and not money, I still needed validation in the form of something akin to a downpayment. Thank you for such a beautiful ring!"
My point is not that men and women need to always assert their social equality. My point is that by selling the fantasy of this tradition - some skeptics point the finger here to jewelry stores - our culture is setting unhealthy expectations. It is unhealthy to teach women to be so unaware of their partner's level of commitment to them in their relationship that they are in shock and awe when -or if- the man proposes. It is also unhealthy to teach men to invest so much of their self-esteem into whether their partner accepts. Rejecting a proposal may mean that the two people are not compatible or that the relationship is not yet on the right level or that the woman just wants to wait. It is not a personal insult to the man, as it can be seen by popular culture. To quote Sophia Loren, love is a wild flower and not a garden rose. American ideas of marriage proposals is decidedly not the right way of tending to it.