Updated date:

Women Who Propose to Men

Back in the early 1960s, FlourishAnyway's mother-in-law was one of those rare, bold women who bucked tradition and proposed to her beau.

Women Who Flip the Script on Their Man

In currently married couples, only 5% involved the woman doing the proposing.

In currently married couples, only 5% involved the woman doing the proposing.

When a Girl Knows Exactly What She Wants

My mother-in-law, Ruth, was always a bit of a rebel, particularly for the early 1960s. An unhesitating woman, she was boisterous and direct—a middle child who sought the spotlight all her life.

By the time Ruth was a young woman, she had already turned down wedding proposals from at least two crestfallen suitors. Then Ruth met Hal, the quiet engineer she was determined to marry, and she decided not to wait for him to propose marriage, as engineers are known for being more prone to deliberation than to decision making.

Within six months of their meeting, Ruth took charge of their relationship and asked Hal to marry. It was a preposterous move that went against all convention. (It still does.) However, she didn't care. All he had to do was agree. The groom-to-be even converted to Catholicism so that Ruth's reluctant parents would approve. Over the next 40 years, they had three kids and led a charmed suburban life before cancer finally stole her.

My mother-in-law, Ruth, popped the question, he said yes, and they were married for 40 years.  She was always a take charge gal.

My mother-in-law, Ruth, popped the question, he said yes, and they were married for 40 years. She was always a take charge gal.

Famous Women Who Proposed to Men

Actress Elizabeth Taylor asked second husband, actor Michael Wilding, to marry her

Singer Pink proposed to professional motocross competitor Carey Hart

Television personality Judge Judy (Judy Sheindlin) proposed to her second husband, Jerry Sheindlin. She once said, "[H]e tried to weasel out of it.... I told him to pick a date. He picked Flag Day.”

Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg proposed to businessman Barry Diller

Singer Jennifer Hudson proposed to WWE wrestler David Otunga

Actress Kristen Bell proposed to actor Dax Shepard

Glamour girl Zsa Zsa Gabor proposed to all nine husbands

Queen Victoria proposed to Prince Albert

Singer Britney Spears proposed to back up dancer Kevin Federline

Rapper and actress Joseline Hernandez proposed to musician Stevie J

A couple is more likely to have the groom take the bride's name than reverse the traditional roles of who gets down on bended knee and does the proposing.

A couple is more likely to have the groom take the bride's name than reverse the traditional roles of who gets down on bended knee and does the proposing.

It's Still a Boy-Asks-Girl World

When it comes to careers, women have made significant inroads while men have stepped up their game in the areas of child rearing and housework. However, proposing marriage is still largely a man's prerogative. It's still a boy-asks-girl world.

According to an AP poll, three-quarters of Americans contend that in theory it's acceptable for the woman to get down on one knee. However, when it comes to actually putting a ring on it, only 5 percent of currently married couples involved the woman proposing to the man. (The figure is no higher among couples married within the last decade.)1 A couple is more likely to have the groom take the bride's name than reverse the traditional roles of who does the asking.

So what's the deal with that?

Reader Poll

Long standing issues involving power and control are at the core of the boy-asks-girl marriage tradition. Ask yourself what traditions you want to keep.

Long standing issues involving power and control are at the core of the boy-asks-girl marriage tradition. Ask yourself what traditions you want to keep.

Reasons Why Women Don't Ask Men to Marry

Why don't more women ask their dudes for their hands in marriage?

1. Tradition

Who does the asking is a deeply held tradition. For centuries, men have been the initiating parties to marriage because engagements were at their heart business deals between families.2

Traditionally, women were deemed men's property. (I can see you rolling your eyes.) Engagements were a step in transferring that property from father to husband, hence the tradition of asking the bride's father for her hand in marriage. A young woman was married off

  • to create strategic alliances
  • to secure her family's social standing
  • in exchange for land
  • for offers of protection for her family, or
  • as a way of settling a family's debt.

The modern engagement ring, presented as a gesture of sincere intent, is based on the traditional bride price.3 The opposite of a dowry, the bride price was a token amount of land or money given by a prospective groom to a woman's father.

While traditions might seem comforting and cozy at face value, it's important to understand that power and control are at the core of the boy-asks-girl engagement standard. Ask yourself what traditions you wish to keep and what traditions aren't worth passing down.

Women were once believed incapable of selecting their own life partner because they were too emotionally volatile, thus they relied on men to do the choosing for them.

Women were once believed incapable of selecting their own life partner because they were too emotionally volatile, thus they relied on men to do the choosing for them.

2. An Assault on Masculinity

Ladies, how emotionally stable are you? Do you need a man to make your decisions for you?

In the 17th and 18th centuries, when people began to marry more for love than wealth or status, women were considered too emotionally fragile to select their own life partners. This doctrine advocated that women, being such irrational and emotionally volatile creatures, had to rely on rational, logical men to provide them with leadership and key decision making. That meant that men retained the choice of how, when, and whether to propose marriage.

Today we still struggle with the implicit assumption that males are the leaders in our love relationships. This is particularly the case in many religious and cultural communities where it would be an assault on the man's masculinity for the woman to do the asking.

But is this fair? Why should the man be the decision maker in moving a relationship forward?

3. We All Love a Romantic Fairy Tale

If you grew up on stories of Cinderella and Snow White like I did, then as an adult watched season after season of The Bachelor, there are romantic notions deeply ingrained in your psyche about the way engagements are "supposed" to go down. The knight in shining armor rides in on a white horse to rescue the fair maiden.

As society gradually saw women more as people than property, strongly ensconced gender roles were at play. These gender roles encouraged men to be providers and women to be nurturers and the beneficiaries of all that men could bestow upon them. Marriage was a precious "gift" that a man provided a woman.

Males typically had the decision-making power when it came to timing the engagement. Men were expected to be the sole breadwinners, thus they timed their marriage proposals according to when they could financially assume that role.

Fast forward to today. Women have their own careers, and they are waiting longer to marry. The average age of first marriage is 27 for American women and 29 for men, compared to 23 and 26 in 1990.4

Although that long ago childhood fantasy is nice, speaking up for yourself and getting what you want is even better. Do you truly want to wait for someone to rescue you? Come on, now. You're not that helpless.

4. Reactions From Others

What will others think if the woman in the relationship does the asking? Many people prescribe to the notion that if you're in a long-term dating relationship and he hasn't asked, then one of three things is "wrong":

  • you're not "the one"
  • he's not ready (think finances or career), or
  • he doesn't see the need to move the relationship to the next level.

Women take it upon themselves to propose marriage are assumed to be desperate or pushy rather than in love and decisive. While he may get high fives by the guys for your bravado, you may get expressions of mixed awe, bemusement, and pity that you had to step up to the plate.

But seriously. How much do you care what others think? You do "you" and don't let others shame you for advocating for yourself and your relationship. If asking your guy to marry you is the right decision, then go ahead and move that relationship forward!

This man gets a surprise proposal.

This man gets a surprise proposal.

Sadie Hawkins Day

One common exception to the boy-asks-girl tradition of proposing marriage resides with Sadie Hawkins Day, an American pseudo-holiday created by Al Capp, a character in the comic strip Li'l Abner. Sadie was described as "the homeliest gal in the hills" and unable to land a date.5

Her father was a wealthy and prominent citizen in the town of Dogpatch, and he feared that Sadie would be single and live at home forever. He therefore devised a plan involving a footrace. All of the unmarried women pursued the town's bachelors with the prize being marriage for those bachelors who were caught.

Although it wasn't the intent of the comic strip to start a movement, it did just that. Each November there are still Sadie Hawkins dances in which women turn the tables on the men, inviting them to the dance. (There is no particular day in November designated as Sadie Hawkins Day.) In addition, women who propose marriage to their men are sometimes referred to as "Sadie Hawkins girls."

Folk Tradition: Women Proposing During Leap Year

A second exception to the boy-asks-girl tradition is leap year marriage proposals. According to legend, a 5th century Irish nun named St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick that single women ought to be able to propose marriage to their suitors who were too shy to ask.6 (We all know couples who date for 5 or more years and she's just pining away for that engagement ring!)

St. Patrick thus proclaimed that every four years, on leap year, ladies could have this one day to flip the script on their socially awkward suitors and propose marriage. Any man refusing such a proposal must give the dejected lady a silk gown, a sum of money, or twelve pair of gloves (to hide the shame of no engagement ring). It's unfortunate that the folk tradition labelled women as desperate and pushy when its origins center on the men's shyness in asking.

Orango women propose marriage by entering the grass-covered hut of the man they are proposing to and setting down before him a specially prepared meal of fish, cooked in red palm oil.  He cannot resist.

Orango women propose marriage by entering the grass-covered hut of the man they are proposing to and setting down before him a specially prepared meal of fish, cooked in red palm oil. He cannot resist.

African Island Where Women Propose to Men

A third exception to the traditional boy-asks-girl prosal is Orango Island (Guinea-Bissau), an archipelago of 50 islands off the western coast of Africa. Honoring their matriarchal culture, the Orango women propose marriage by entering the grass-covered hut of the man they select for lifetime partnership.7 They place in front of the groom-to-be a meal of fish, marinated in red palm oil. Declining is not an appropriate option, as it brings dishonor upon the man's family. In recent years, Protestant missionaries have made begun to change the cultural practices of the islanders by teaching them that men should propose to women.


1Cass, C. (2016, May 3). AP-WE tv Poll: Americans say it’s OK for women to propose, but few marriages started that way, poll shows | Associated Press GfK Poll. Retrieved from http://ap-gfkpoll.com/uncategorized/our-latest-poll-3.

2McTernan, L. (2016, December 14). Why men historically propose to women. Retrieved from http://www.thelist.com/34169/men-historically-propose-women/.

3Thompson, J. C. (2010). Dowry and Bride Price in the Ancient World. Retrieved from http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/dowry%20and%20bride%20price.htm.

4Barkhorn, E. (2013, March 15). Getting Married Later Is Great for College-Educated Women. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/getting-married-later-is-great-for-college-educated-women/274040/.

5Capp Enterprises. (2013, December 11). Sadie Hawkins Day. Retrieved from http://lil-abner.com/sadie-hawkins-day/.

6Lynch, A. (2016, February 29). This is why women traditionally propose on a leap day. Retrieved from http://metro.co.uk/2016/02/25/this-is-why-women-traditionally-propose-on-a-leap-day-5718135/.

7 Clark, A. (2007, February 1). Where Women Propose And Men Can't Say No. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/where-women-propose-and-men-cant-say-no/.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 FlourishAnyway


FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on June 27, 2018:

Peggy - I'm so glad you enjoyed this. It would be quite a shame if their culture was changed by the outside. Thank you for stopping by!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 26, 2018:

That is interesting that women usually propose to men on Orango Island in that methodology. I had not known of that custom but then I am also not familiar with Orango Island. You always come up with intriguing facts.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 22, 2018:

LimeyFeline - How awesome that you would have done so! Seems like more and more women are open to it.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 08, 2018:

Larry - Thanks for weighing in. I suspect the coming years will see some changes.

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on March 08, 2018:

I imagine that in America it will be mostly tradition that the man does the asking, however there are exceptions. I know in some other countries it seems more commonplace that the woman asks. Even though I am from the old school, I see no problem with a woman asking. If there is strong love between the two it should not make a bit of difference.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 21, 2018:

Cynthia - Yes, I agree on the boo to the prosthelytizing gone amok. Leave the locals alone! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on February 21, 2018:

Such a fun and informative read! Boo to the Protestant ministers in Orango for attempting to change a wonderful matriarchal rite.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 13, 2018:

Nikki - Thanks for stopping by and providing your opinion. It would be nice if we were not caught up in so many rules.

Nikki Khan from London on February 13, 2018:

Good idea FlourishAnyway,, I feel in love no matter whoever proposes,,ending should be nice and happy always.Though it doesn't happen in most cases.

Traditions are changing now and women are more liberal and have guts to propose first.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 08, 2018:

Nell - It's odd they are such a rarity. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

Nell Rose from England on February 08, 2018:

I love the idea of the Guinea tribe, got ya! lol! I do think women these days may propose to the guy, not sure to be honest, great thing to think of though, and very interesting.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 07, 2018:

Peg - You've got an excellent point. This is too important a question to formally ask without already knowing the answer!

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on February 07, 2018:

Traditions are truly changing. I believe that marriage is something that should be discussed at length before someone commits to it. It should never come as a surprise to the other party no matter who does the asking. Sometimes women (or men) might need to initiate the discussion to get where they want it to go.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 06, 2018:

Larry - I like your perspective. I wish more men understood it. Thanks for sharing it.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on February 05, 2018:

You always find the most engaging topics:-)

I can't think of a single problem with women asking the question. I will say that the asker is much more vulnerable than the askee.

Traditionally speaking, not that I care about tradition, women do most of the hard stuff. One could think of men having to ask as them carrying the weight for once.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 04, 2018:

Heidi - We all do the steering in ways either subtle or less so. Women who do the asking are just right out there rather than being vague about it. Love the culture references. Have a great Superbowl Sunday!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 04, 2018:

I say more power to HER! I don't think it matters who proposes. But I do think the one who asks, "Where is this relationship going?" usually is the take charge partner who's doing, what they call in sales, a trial close.

And I'm reminded of two particular Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes where women were in charge of relationships or ruling (Code of Honor and Angel One).

Happy Sunday!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 04, 2018:

Yves - I like your comment. It's too bad that we'd seek to change what is working well for native people in order to fit our own value system. Some say that marriage is an outdated institution, but I hope not. I have found value in it. Thank you for sharing your perspective. Have a wonderful week ahead!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 03, 2018:

Devika - Thanks for weighing in on the subject. I appreciate your comment.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 03, 2018:

Kallini - I like that someone proposes so that both partners know there was actually a decision, but I can understand how so many people just step into it naturally with no formal proposal. I'm sorry if this triggered some bittersweet memories, being your 25th anniversary.

I really feel badly for people who propose in a very public way then suffer the humiliation of a rejection on the spot. Then again, I guess they should know where they stand in the relationship before they ask that big question in such a public way.

Hope you are doing well.

kallini2010 from Toronto, Canada on February 03, 2018:

Hello Flourish:

That's a complicated question - who should propose? I think there is no "should" any more in modern society. Marriages have changed so have proposals. It was easier when there were clear rules. Now, everything has shifted.

I had almost wanted to say that I would never propose to a man. I won't. Not to mention, I'm not too eager to have another marriage (for some reasons you mentioned).

Now the irony. First of all, I was never proposed for the only marriage that I had. It was decided and I don't remember when and how. My ex was not much into appearances and ceremonies and I was more or less "no nonsense" woman.

I thought that if we had no "propositons", it could be a modern option. And I would happily conclude, that I lived without any marriage proposals, which actually is not true. They were not conventional and I all but forgot.

I saw a note in my calendar that February 6th is around a corner, but forgot that it was my marriage day. I start remembering only around St. Valentine's day (for a reason). And this year it will 25 years since the wedding. We are divorced now, so it is a weird anniversary.

What I also forgot - I wrote in 2011 a hub "42 Marriage Proposals" (you don't have to read), but I did and it felt so... gone and forgotten as if I was writing about someone else.

Of course, the question who should propose is valid, but how many of us do remember? Yes, if someone embarrassed me with kneeling in a public place, I would have, but where is the guarantee that it would not be a painful memory for life? Which will only cause not wanting any formal proposals at all.

Yves on February 03, 2018:

I am saddened that the missionaries, no matter how well-meaning, have chosen to interfere in the Orango tradition. What the African natives have, clearly works for them.

On the other hand, in the U.S., most men are not shy about asking for marriage, engineer types aside. Mostly, they're just happy with the benefits of long-term relationships or cohabitation without the risk of losing half their assets if the relationship goes south one day.

I think when two people really love each other, there's a mutual understanding that marriage is the next logical step. Then it's just a matter of the proposal, no matter who makes it first. That being said, I'm a happy dinosaur. I'll let him buy the ring. Has nothing to do with property in my mind. ;)

A truly interesting hub!

DDE on February 03, 2018:

Any gender can propose but I prefer the man to do what he really wants for himself. Thank you for this interesting hub.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 02, 2018:

Linda - It really is an antiquated notion that we don't often consider changing. Thanks for your comment.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 01, 2018:

I'm glad that you wrote this article, Flourish. I hope it encourages more women to propose to men when they feel the time is right. I think that each gender has an equal right to propose marriage.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 01, 2018:

Dora - Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective. It's not for everyone but more power to those ladies who decide to do the asking themselves.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 01, 2018:

Kari - Thanks for weighing in. I've always wanted to go to one.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 01, 2018:

I think that many women who propose to men have good reasons for doing so. I admire them. Thanks for sharing these insights.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on February 01, 2018:

I have heard of Sadie Hawkins Day, but never realized it originated in the Lil' Abner comic strip, lol. I do not see any problem with women proposing marriage.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 01, 2018:

dashingscorpio - It's much better to feel the sting of rejection now than suffer years of regret. Loved your comment.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 01, 2018:

MizBejabbers - Since the missionaries started tinkering with the island's customs and belief systems, advocating that this matriarchal society should switch to a boy-asks-girl standard, divorce has reportedly gone up. One place that we know of on the planet where reverse proposals are the custom and outsiders have to set about trying to "fix" it! Huh. I look forward to reading your future article.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 01, 2018:

Frances - I sure wish I could find that! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Frances Metcalfe from The Limousin, France on February 01, 2018:

What a great angle for a hub! I've actually seen footage of the Orango women where the men line up to be chosen - or not! How nerve wracking that must be.

dashingscorpio from Chicago on January 31, 2018:

Another reason why many women will not propose is because they fear rejection. Silently going along in a relationship waiting to be proposed to at least gives them hope. Where as if they propose they'll find out right away if he feels she is "the one".

Women also don't want seem "desperate".

However if the guy says "yes" she'll have what she wants!

If he says "no" she can save herself some time by moving on. Truthfully it's a no lose situation.

One old adage is: "If it's not worth asking for it's not worth having.

There's always been a little bit of irony for women see other women proposing as being "desperate" while giving a man an "ultimatum" is not. An ultimatum is nothing more than twisting someone's arm to get them to do something. Essentially it's a wedding proposal in reverse. Sure (he) is doing the "proposing" but you will always know it's only because you threaten to leave him!

All marriages will have their share of challenges but at the very least they should start off with (both) people wanting to get married.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on January 31, 2018:

Flourish, this is a great article, and here's hope it will inspire more women to pop the question to shy suitors. I was wondering about the subject of my next hub, and you've just inspired me to write about a couple of unusual situations in my family, my grandparents and my own second marriage. (Watch for it.) In the meantime, lets tell those darn Christians to quit fooling around with perfectly good marriage customs of the people of Orango Island.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 31, 2018:

Linda - Those science and engineering guys often need a push (or shove) in the right direction to make a decisive move. Mine did a nice formal proposal finally, and I knew something was up because he took me to downtown Cinncinnati to see the holiday lights at night, and he actually paid for parking instead of driving about and finding a free parking space.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 31, 2018:

Bill - Some of us have longer discussions than others. I'm glad that one or both of you was action-oriented enough to make it actually happen.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 31, 2018:

Mary - High five to you, Mary. I love knowing that about you.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on January 31, 2018:

I proposed to both my husbands. Although, the first was more of a joint decision just to elope.

I see no reason why women shouldn't take charge of a situation.

LimeyFeline on January 31, 2018:

Love this so much and I think it's such a great idea. My husband and I didn't have any proposal but we did have a conversation where we decided together, but I would have loved to propose to him.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on January 31, 2018:

I see nothing wrong with the woman proposing, but it isn't what we are accustomed to. Honestly, I don't think my husband ever really proposed to me (he certainly didn't do the 'down on one knee' thing). I think we just always knew we were meant to be together. And I guess that's the key, isn't it? Thanks for a sweet article.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 31, 2018:

I think Bev and I just asked each other at the same time. A long discussion turned into "YES" and the rest is history. :)

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 31, 2018:

Mary - Especially as women become more economically powerful, I can see the balance evening out. I love Judge Judy's approach.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 31, 2018:

Frank - Oh, that's a good story. Love it!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 31, 2018:

What a great idea and as you've mentioned in your hub, not new at all. Why not? I think tradition will change in the near future around this.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on January 31, 2018:

I really thought about this hub.. and thought about it some more.. A woman proposed to me once.. and I said Hell no.. 36 years later we are still together.. in other words she chose wisely..LOL.. Love the hub Flourish

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 31, 2018:

Chitrangada - I hope my daughter is able to advocate for herself in her future love relationships as an adult and make it very clear what she wants and when she wants it rather than wait around for the man to make the decision. If that means telling him to go buy her an engagement ring because she's ready to get married when he is, then that's fine. If it means turning the tables on him like her grandmother did, that's ok too. She's just a teenager right now and has already expressed that in the future, any man who asks her dad for her hand in marriage evidently doesn't know her and should therefore receive an adamant "no." (My husband and I laughed over such a strong opinion for a teenager when marriage is years away, but she's headstrong and knows who she is.)

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 31, 2018:

Shyron - As a young woman, I wouldn't have done it either. Instead of propose, I broke up with my long-term boyfriend (now husband) because I was frustrated with four years of long distance dating with no end in sight, only to have him accept a job assignment where I didn't want to move. After not being able to be without one another, he proposed and we moved to his new job area, however years later he fulfilled his promise and moved me to within spitting distance of my mother where I am now (one mile away). Couldn't be happier.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 30, 2018:

What a wonderful article! I truly enjoyed reading it.

Appreciations and kudos for your mother in law.

I agree that it is still a boy ask girl, in majority of proposals everywhere around the World. But I feel happy to see that girls do choose their life partners, and also decide, when they are ready for marriage. Education, career, financial independence is priority for them, and not just Marriage. They also decide when to marry and who to marry.

Who knows, a time may come in future, when more and more girls propose the relationship, and the boys happily agree to that.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful article!

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on January 30, 2018:

Flourish, I see nothing wrong with the woman asking for the man's hand in marriage, that is if the man is to shy or unsure, but I am old fashioned and would not be the one to propose.

Blessings my friend

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 30, 2018:

Clive - It's probably the most fretted about question about there.

Clive Williams from Jamaica on January 30, 2018:

I do!

Related Articles