Last September, my boyfriend of six years proposed to me. I’d never been obsessed with the idea of getting married, but in the year or two before we got engaged, something strange happened. I started feeling a bit, well, desperate for him to pop the question and would get genuine pangs of envy when I saw yet another engagement post on Facebook. There were a few times where we went on holiday or for a weekend away, and I thought it might happen, and when it didn’t the disappointment levels were high.
This was quite off-brand for me, and I only told a couple of my mates about how I felt. I knew it was because my now fiancé and I had been together a long time and that I was feeling this way because I was ready to make the commitment to take our relationship to the next level, but it was a bit uncool and embarrassing to be that desperate, right? Especially as, according to recent statistics from the Marriage Foundation, half of millennials will never get married and only 14% of people in the UK are married before the age of 25. Could it be that marriage is now seen as an outdated social construct by my peers?
‘I absolutely think that there’s a pressure on millennial women to not seem like they overtly want to get married,’ 24-year-old Stephanie tells me. ‘I think it’s sad because we're concerned about looking desperate or appearing old-fashioned in our values.’
She’s been with her boyfriend for 7 years and says she’s wanted him to propose to her for the past six months, after they moved in together. ‘I definitely don't broadcast my desire to get married as loud as I could because I’ve had scoffs of disapproval from friends. Some people have also said we’re too young,’ she adds.
Rachel, a 27-year-old who lives in Cheshire, agrees with Stephanie. ‘A lot of people think wanting to get married is desperate, and that a woman shouldn't measure her worth on being with a man,’ she says. ‘I also think a lot of people judge younger couples who want to marry due to high divorce rates, but I don’t think this fair. I know couples in their 20s who’ve been together for 8 years – longer than a lot of marriages last.’
She’s been with her partner for a year, but she says that when she’s brought up the fact she wants to get married to her friends, some of them have said ‘it’s too soon’. ‘We live together and have 2 dogs and a caravan so it would be the next logical step,’ she adds.
Rebecca, who is 28 and has been with her boyfriend for two years on and off, says she’s been very open about her feelings. ‘Since we got back together, I’ve been a total fiend about wanting to get married,’ she says. ‘Ready to go all in – let’s do this. I talk about marriage with him constantly. However, I only reveal this dark side of me to the people I know are becoming similarly hysterical about it. Luckily in my age group it is increasingly common and most women I know are pretty flagrant about it but in a sort of wry, self-aware way.’
Speaking to the different women for this piece, I wondered if any of them had considered proposing to their boyfriends themselves. Obviously women can propose whenever they want, but there’s an old tradition that 29 Feb – Leap Year day – is the date women can propose. In the run up to last year’s day, I joked with my boyfriend that I was going to ask him to marry me on that date, and crowd-sourced with a handful of friends about whether I should do it or not. Some of them thought it was pretty right on, and I was actually tempted, then bottled it. Honestly, I felt I’d possibly be coming on too strong and was worried about being turned down, or taking away his opportunity to do it.
There is still a bit of a stigma around women proposing, and though it’s slowly becoming more common, getting down on one knee is still primarily viewed as being the ‘man’s job’. A survey from 2011 found one in 10 women had proposed to their male partner, but three quarters of them wished their boyfriend had beaten them to it.
‘I think it literally just is the man's job to do it,’ Rebecca says. ‘You're already buying into this archaic, bourgeois institution for whatever it is that you want to get out of it so you have to do the archaic, bourgeois dance. It's just the deal.’
‘I’m very traditional and believe the man should propose,’ Rachel admits. ‘I also would like my dad’s permission to be asked before my boyfriend asks me. I’ve gone so far as telling my best friend exactly what ring I would like, and he’s ready to show my other half as soon as he knows he’s planning to propose.’
‘I have joked with friends that the only way me and my boyfriend would ever get married is if I proposed,’ Steph explains. ‘However, I never would because we are on different "life" schedules. I don't think he is in a place where he is ready for marriage so I wouldn't want to pressure him into it by proposing to him.’
However, Harriet, 25, says she’s been very open about the fact that she doesn’t want to be proposed to, and says some friends have thought this is ‘unromantic’. ‘I’ve since decided neither of us should propose. My view is that if someone's going to be your life partner you should be able to jointly decide to get married, not have it thrust upon you in a grand gesture. However, if people would like the proposition, there's no reason a woman couldn't do it too.’
Harriet does admit that society places the onus on the man to propose, however. ‘I think this is because proposing is tied up images of grand romantic gestures and, crucially, a big old diamond ring,’ She says. ‘Both things are associated with old-fashioned, patriarchal notions of women being property that have to be wooed away from their fathers. It's only natural that women wouldn't see it as natural for them to do that to a man because the whole procedure is so dated and based on stereotypical gender roles.’
Now that I’ve begun to plan my wedding, I can see things I find outdated and problematic with certain aspects of the traditional parts of it, which I believe is another reason why there is an assumption that young women don’t think this way anymore and if you are excited about it it’s a bit embarrassing. Though I don’t judge women for their own choices, there are things I have personally decided I don’t want to do, for example changing my surname to my fiancé’s.
Ultimately, I do think getting married is a really nice way to show commitment to one another, especially now more than ever young couples are able to subvert tradition and pick and choose elements of the wedding rituals to suit their beliefs. I also feel that it’s not wrong to be excited about planning your wedding or wanting to get married, and it doesn’t make you less of a feminist.
‘The marriage itself is much more important than the party to me,’ Stephanie says. ‘However, I think a lot of people are foregoing marriage because they don’t see it as necessary anymore. My parents were married for 30 years, so for me I see it is an important commitment to make to each other.’
Rachel agrees. ‘I don’t necessarily think it has the religious aspect it used to, but I think it’s still important in this day and age,’ she says. ‘It’s become more about making a public commitment to each other, which is why I want to do it so much.’
**Liked this? You might also be interested in: **
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.