{the life} The Whole Leap Day Proposal Thing

by Rachel on February 29, 2012

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, there is a legend (rule? superstition?) that today is the day that all the ladies are supposed to go out and put a ring on it. On their men, that is.

When I mentioned this to my two male coworkers last week — who are really smart and well-versed in all sorts of random information — I was really surprised when they didn’t believe me that this is, in fact, a thing. This led us to Google, where I was totally validated.

While discussing our thoughts on the idea of women proposing, we ended up on the Wikipedia page on the topic (so you know it’s true), where we discovered these vintage postcards that make pretty clear the artist’s thoughts on the concept. The big metal trap with the money bag in it? Good lord. And the others are less than flattering as well.

While the postcards are more than 100 years old, I have to say…I don’t think we’ve really come that far. We know a lot more women are proposing to men these days (and not waiting to do it based on what the calendar says) and proposing to other women, but I feel like there is still a lot of stigma attached to the women-asking-men thing. People love to presume things about other people’s relationships based on proposals (the magnitude of the hot air balloon spectacle, the size of the ring, whether there even is a ring) and it seems like far too many people still assume that a woman proposing to a man means that, well, she’s dragging him into a huge-ass bear trap (which is a really nice way to think about marriage). I guess I’m not surprised by how many people still act like all women are bound and determined to drag men into marriage (read comments on a popular YouTube video for a few minutes if you think sexism or racism no longer exists), but it’s still a little disheartening to hear. I feel like people aren’t saying, “Oh how silly that you could only propose to a man every four years!” It’s more like “Oh how silly that you’d ever want to propose to a man ever!”

While I’ve said before that proposals aren’t for me because I think proposing is quite often just for show and not really about getting an answer to a question, I do understand the desire to mark the occasion somehow, and proposals are the way a lot of people want to do that. So if proposals are a couple’s thing and a couple is cool with the idea of someone popping the question…then why, exactly, can’t women be the one to pop it? Men are doing more housework and women are making more money than men…so why do both women and men still have hang-ups about this?

Do women not propose to men because they are really that stuck on tradition? I find that hard to believe because many women who are against the idea of proposing to men are so modern in all other aspects of their relationship, from dating to sex to chores. Then again, the stories we’ve been told about the “right” way to decide to get married run deep.

Is it because both women and men are worried about that whole bear trap perception in 2012 and don’t want to be the subject of gossip and judgment? While that sucks, I get it; people get pretty vicious when discussing proposals and I can see how it would be easier to stick to the status quo to avoid feeling shitty about your relationship. Maybe no one wants to be the woman in the postcard.

I really don’t know the answer; it’s just something that’s on my mind today! Really, I’d love to hear your thoughts and discuss in the comments. I know a lot of you have proposed and I’m curious if you took a lot of shit for it. And I’m also wondering…is anyone out there planning to? Does anyone want to but isn’t planning to for some reason? Does being in a same-sex relationship change anything, or does “tradition” still come into play? Are you horrified by the very idea of it?

I don’t care where you stand — I’d just love to hear why you feel that way so I (and, by extension, all of us) can understand this whole thing better!

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dallas February 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm

So, I’m innocently sitting in my office this morning, checking my email (email, you dirty mistress, you take all my time at work) and a co-worker pops her head in. “Happy leap day! You could propose to a man today, you know! It’s legend!”

I look up from my laptop.

“…… Or any other day?” I reply, because OBVIOUSLY it’s 2012 and OBVIOUSLY if I feel like I want to propose, I COULD.

She literally slips into my office, shuts the door, and tries to stage a DAMN INTERVENTION. She proceeds to tell me that I’m never going to find a husband if I don’t learn how to let the man be in charge.

I proceed to give her crazy eyes.

Seriously. What in the hell? My expression was like so:

I don’t even know, Rachel. I just don’t even know how it’s even an issue in 2012, or what world I live in that’s so different from the world other people live in, because I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Do men not ever want to be swept off their feet? Does a man not want to be romanced every so often? Some men are quiet, some men are passive, some men would just like the woman to be in charge and I do not for a second think that’s a BAD THING.

Yes. I’m huffy right now. Huffy, I tell you!


2 Rachel February 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm

“Do men not ever want to be swept off their feet? Does a man not want to be romanced every so often?” Love that!

Also, thank you for embedding that picture. It’s making me LOL.


3 Rachel February 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I have no issue with the idea of a woman proposing to a man (Monica and Chandler, anyone??), but I have already told The BF that I want him to be the one to propose. The main reason? Because it’s really really important to me that he ask my father’s permission. I’m not very old-fashioned, but this is one tradition I can’t leave in the past. I will always be my father’s girl first, and I think it’s a sign of respect towards my dad that my BF ask for permission to take my hand.


4 Lindsay February 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I’m not dating anyone, so marriage is a long way off for me, but I don’t think I’d ever propose to anyone. I don’t think it’s weird or wrong for women to propose, and I’m sure a lot of men like it. I’m just not sure it’s for me.

I guess I’ve dated enough losers to want reassurance by a significant other that they do, in fact, want to marry me as much as I want to marry them. It may be a stereotype, but it seems like guys sometimes take longer to decide to settle down, and I’d want to know he was ready.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with tradition. It doesn’t make you less modern or more old-fashioned. Sure, some traditions may be sexist, but they aren’t automatically so. I also think that there are many ways to take charge in a relationship or romance a man even if you don’t want to propose.


5 Rachel February 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm

“I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with tradition. It doesn’t make you less modern or more old-fashioned. Sure, some traditions may be sexist, but they aren’t automatically so.” That’s a really good point and I hope my post didn’t make it sound like I think anyone who does things the traditional way is sexist, old-fashioned, or wrong! T

he only thing I think is wrong is how openly and shamelessly some people treat those who aren’t traditional. I guess my point is, whether you’re traditional or not, it’s shitty to assume that how traditional or modern people are tells you something about their love. (And I think you get that!)


6 Lindsay March 1, 2012 at 12:00 am

No, no, your post definitely didn’t come across as against tradition. I grew up with a mom who hates tradition (and men, for that matter), so I’m always quick to defend it. I think we’re on the same page that the key is for everyone to be as traditional or nontraditional as they want. There are good and bad parts to each!


7 Anna February 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm

After 5 years of dating, mainly through long distance, there were many times where I was soooo close to proposing to my now-fiance. Not formally, more like an “ok can we please just get married already?????” But I wanted to wait for him to do it, because I felt like I was the one who had pursued him in the beginning and pretty much asked him out (or the college equivalent) and I wanted HIM to make the move this time. Also he is very slow on big life decisions and I knew that it would take him a lot longer to be ready to be engaged, and to top it all off he is a traditionalist. I think it’s perfectly fine for the woman to pop the question though (speaking for heterosexual couples), since most of the time we are first to come around to thinking about marriage and it’s dumb to just wait around for your future to happen. On the other hand, I still am traditional in that I wanted him to give me a ring too, even if it signifies that I am a “taken woman” in a patriarchal society where men aren’t expected to have to even wear wedding bands. Over all, I think that this issue depends on A) your own personal views and B) the type of relationship you are in. Both very personal considerations and as Dallas pointed out, everyone is VERY DIFFERENT in their relationship needs. Above all, I think that a couple should be in communication that they are both ready and willing to get married before anyone proposes. This communication will also spare any awkward surprises or unwanted answers :)


8 Lindsay February 29, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Hmmm…I don’t know if I feel really strongly either way.

I mean, I went to an all women’s college and I’m all for ladies being HBIC’s, and like you said, if a couple is into the proposal idea then who cares who does the actual proposing. But for whatever reason my gut instinct is to say, if you’re thinking about proposing as a last resort because your S.O. doesn’t seem like he going to…well that just seems ridiculous.

Bottom line: I think women and men should be equal opportunity proposers, but I’ve obviously seen this movie too many times http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1216492/


9 Dallas February 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I actually really adore that little movie. Favorite line…?

“Jesus Christ!”
“….Is Lord!”


10 Mel February 29, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I kinda mirror your sentiments so I’ll just mention the pop culture references of the issue that may be an influence on or reflection of the public opinion.

If you look at any modern day match-making show – that are of course not real, but certainly have a wide audience due to the entertainment value – like Millionaire Matchmaker, Bachelor, anything MTV / VH1, etc, the hosts tend to be adamant the male be the pursuer at the start of the relationship. Powerful women (usually portrayed as arrogant or smug) are chastised and warned that their behavior turns off or even castrates the men. Shy or nerdy men are given tricks to become more confident and outgoing. This perpetuates the theme that men are in charge of the relationship. The media likes to reinforce these ideas by referencing our “biological” needs – a woman needing a caretaker and a man needing to be the leader. After all, I believe that the Bachelorette never proposes – she just picks a man and accepts a proposal.

On the flip side, I’ve heard Patti Stranger offer advice that women give ultimatums when her man is not proposing. It seems women are in charge of the ebb-and-flow of the relationship but men get to make the big moves.

This is what I think I notice very very generally, but I’m sure there are exceptions!


11 Rachel February 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Ah, so many great examples here! It’s so true that this gets reinforced over and over again and that could absolutely influence or reflect public opinion.


12 Emily Hassman February 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm

I can’t exactly say that I proposed to my husband, because it wasn’t that formal. We just aren’t that formal, ever. It went more like this:

We had talked extensively about getting married, but I wasn’t ready yet. We were happily living in sin. And getting divorced at 23 makes you think *really* hard before you remarry.

We planned a vacation to Key West for our birthdays, which are back-to-back days. After the vacation was planned, one evening I said, “Honey… don’t you think we should get married while we’re in Key West on our birthdays?” And he said yes!

It’s 2012… this should not be a big deal. We’re not fancy or formal, so a down-on-bended-knee proposal would be have been unnatural for us. And since I was the one dragging my feet for a few years, it was entirely appropriate that I let him know when I was ready. Makes sense to me! I definitely get some weird looks when I explain it to people, though. I also get a lot of “Oh, that’s so cool!” (with a silent, implied “…but I could never do that” at the end).

I knew I was going to get judged over my marriage anyway. 1, because of my divorce (oh no!) and 2, because my husband is 17 years older than me (double oh-no!). My “proposal” is just one tiny part of why my marriage makes some people uncomfortable. I (mostly) don’t care.


13 Summer February 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm

This is awesome! I was divorced at 24 (after getting married at 23, I’ll let you do the math on how long that worked out…) and I find myself somewhat ashamed to even admit it when discussing past relationships with new friends or men I’m interested in. I don’t hide it or lie about it or anything, but it’s really easy to just not mention it unless directly asked, and at 27 there aren’t many folks asking if I’ve been married before. So sorry so awkward…

I love your proposal story though, and I LOVE Key West! I also agree with you that the person who is more reluctant should be the one to eventually indicate when they are ready. And of course, that indication is going to be different for everyone and it sounds like your method was ideal for your relationship!


14 RAIN February 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm

I don’t think it should matter who proposes.

For me it would though. Perhaps because men generally have a harder time making and showing a committment. And a proposal is the ultimate proof/show of wanting that committment.

Call me insecure?


15 Summer February 29, 2012 at 5:55 pm


I don’t like to think of myself as insecure either, but I really would always wonder somewhere in the back of my mind if he was ever going to have proposed to me if I weren’t the one who popped the question…

I guess it can be argued that perhaps men feel the same way sometimes, but for ME specifically, I do want the man to propose if marriage is ever in the cards.


16 Hana February 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm

You totally had me when you said “People love to presume things about other people’s relationships based on proposals (the magnitude of the hot air balloon spectacle, the size of the ring, whether there even is a ring)..”

I was recently engaged in December, and my fiance surprised me by popping the question at home. There were no hot air balloons, no ballpark announcements – it was sweet, private and extremely special. Sure, it wasn’t done with a ton of fanfare, but I couldn’t believe some of the reactions I got from people who described my experience as being “unromantic” and “simple.” Since when is deciding to get married simple? And the key phrase is “my experience.” They weren’t present for the big moment to have those opinions.

If I received that reaction from my proposal story, I really feel for the women who step up to the plate and decide to pop the question. I can’t imagine what kind of reactions they’re faced with. A relationship, and what goes on in it, is only about the couple. No one else’s opinions matter. Now that I’m planning my own wedding, it drives me bonkers when others feel they have a say in something that doesn’t quite fit “tradition.” Guess what? Not everyone’s traditional! There are so many “traditions” and “right ways” with all things wedding and I’m keep discovering so much resistance when trying to do things our way.

Sorry – this post got me all angry (but in a good way). Huge kudos to bringing this up!


17 Dallas February 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Your proposal sounds pretty close to my dream proposal, so… congratulations, Hana!


18 AshinMT March 5, 2012 at 6:38 pm

A little late to the conversation but… your story resonates with me in the best way possible. My fiance and i were engaged in July. We took our dog swimming at a (not particularly beautiful) resavoir near where we live, we were sitting in the dirt and drinking bud lights. It was perfect and it was “us”. We were also blessed to get to use a family ring (my great grandmothers) and i feel that people consistently assume they understand what our relationship is like or who we are as people based on the fact that he didnt make a huge spectacle or spend obcene amounts of money on a ring. I also feel that we are judged on the basis that the family ring comes from the female’s (mine) side, like somehow it is less special because my family offered him this gift instead of his. Its incredibly frustrating and unfortuantely, even though it was pefect I dont even really want to share it with people because the reactions are almost like… they feel sorry for me? Its F’d up.
Planning the wedding is insane and I feel like we are consistently thwarting arguments because there are so many “traditions” that we want nothing to do with (never would have) that we are expected to follow… and he does a great job at accepting there will be judgment from others, but somehow (somehow!) I fall into this trap/rut of thinking i need to make other people happy.

I think its rockin for ladies to propose (in heterosexual relationships) to their men, and for traditions sake i say screw it- though i comepletely agree with you that I’m sure they get really judgmental reactions from people after sharing that they popped the question.


19 Savannah February 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm

I am in a lesbian relationship and am the more femme one of our pair. Our relationship has a LONG history with many twists, turns, and plot twists. Since in the VERY beginning I pursued her relentlessly, when we hooked up again after many years, I let her take the lead. I knew a long time ago that she was the only one that I wanted to be with but I needed to know that she felt the same. We talked about getting married (no real proposal, just a talk that outlined where we wanted our relationship to go), she gave me a ring for Christmas. I lost it (horror!) and bought us matching rings the following Christmas. We were waiting for marriage to be legal in our state (CA) but it’s taking WAAAAAAAAAAAY too long (come on Cali, get it together!!!). Last month she texted me while I was at work and said “Why are we waiting to get married? Let’s just go somewhere and do it”. So we are this Summer.

I think a lot of times women (both hetero & lez) just want to make sure that their partner is on the same page as they are, it’s makes them hesitant. Also society and the media do really give independent women a bad rap. I am all for women proposing (to men and each other) but also couples need to talk and know that they want the same things out of the relationship. I think that most times its less about presumed gender roles and more about uncertainty and the fear of abandonment. Because women are always being schooled on how to “catch” a mate but not that much on open communication once they’ve got them.


20 Lindsay March 1, 2012 at 12:03 am

I agree the communication is important! I’d prefer to have discussed the idea of marriage with a significant other before he proposed. There are certain things that I’d want to make sure we were on the same page about (kids, where to live, etc.) before getting engaged, and I’d also want to make sure that I was going to say yes if he asked.


21 Brian G February 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm

As a gay male, my opinion comes somewhat as an outsider looking in (hell, I’m not even sure who I would want to propose in my relationship), but I think it all comes back to gender roles, some of which are more superficial and some that may be pretty deeply wired into our monkey brains. For example, women making more money than their partners is slowly becoming a more common reality, but many men feel emasculated by the idea that they’re not the breadwinners who are able to take care of the family and/or the wifey.

Straight guys would probably get a lot of “balls in her purse” type of jokes if she was the one to pop the question. Ultimately, proposals have been the dominion of the male because of the original purpose and rules of marriage, but I think we’ve held onto these roles because of a deep-seeded association of not just providing and proposing, but dominance and decision-making to maleness, and being swept off your feet (receptiveness, submissiveness) to femaleness.


22 Taylor March 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm

“I think it all comes back to gender roles” -I completely agree with that and everything else in your comment. From birth we are socialized and taught that girls behave one way, and men another. Men are “supposed” to be the independent ones that take charge, so for a woman to propose to a man would be putting his masculinity into question. A similar issue is with the woman taking her husband’s last name. I don’t judge people who do this, but I plan on keeping my last name if I ever get married. When I’ve shared this with people, they either respond like I just told them a hilarious joke, or like I kicked a puppy or something.


23 Brie @ Brie Fit February 29, 2012 at 7:09 pm

My husband proposed to me, but it was super casual. I was literally laying in bed with a cold. He didn’t have a ring. He did it, and then he was like, “Shit, I fucked up, I should have done something, like, cool.” It was totally awesome because it was private and I knew it was 100% sincere–he decided he wanted to marry me, and couldn’t wait another minute to ask, so he went with it. No bullshit, no roses or champagne or horse-drawn carriages. I loved it.
The reaction I got from people who asked me how he proposed was ridiculous! Everyone laughed at it and basically told him he was a shitty fiance for proposing that way. Seriously, it made me angry.
The whole proposal thing annoys the shit out of me. It’s a question, it’s not an occasion for you to be the biggest attention whore possible.


24 Liz February 29, 2012 at 7:10 pm

My boyfriend of 6 years just proposed and I definitely got antsy waiting around and wasn’t exactly quiet about it. But when people said I could just propose to him, I knew that’s not what I wanted.

But here’s why: I pursued him aggressively TWICE (we got together, broke up for 8 months and then got back together) and I frankly wanted him to make the effort for me. Maybe it sounds silly. Maybe it IS silly.

I have no problem with women proposing to men – I know lots who have successfully done so – and in all honesty, I probably would have if he hadn’t eventually got his shi*t together.

Also, I don’t think HE would have been comfortable with it – which says more about the role of societal pressure. It’s so ingrained that the man proposes. And to be fair, he proposed in an awesome way (including writing a scavenger hunt iPhone app and secretly installing it on my phone) and in discussing it with him, he said “You get to plan a wedding. I want to plan something, too” which I thought was cute.

So that’s my rambling opinion on it!


25 Liz February 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I didn’t read through the comments that other people posted but I have to say that I HATE the reactions other people give to proposal stories.

While other people are getting “how unromantic” (which I think is total BS), my proposal story is pretty over the top and I get a lot of “wow, way to ruin it for all other single women” and “god, I hate my husband now.” Seriously? What kind of reaction is that?! There’s plenty of joy to go around!


26 Rachel February 29, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Ugh, people SAY that to you?! That’s so obnoxious.

Also, can you say “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”?!

Ugh. Now I’m just cranky.


27 Anne Bender February 29, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Well, my first husband proposed to me on my 19th birthday, because “he didn’t know what else to get me”. I laughed.

The second go-round my now-husband & I were together 10 years (9 living in sin) before actually getting married. In 2007 he gave me a ring for Christmas, but didn’t ask me anything. I suppose it was implied. I wasn’t sure I wanted to make things official, so I stalled. Two and half years later, I asked him to marry me. I think I even got down on one knee. :)


28 Sable@SquatLikeALady February 29, 2012 at 9:56 pm

This is SUCH an individual thing, I think. It’s different for every couple.

I proposed to my husband. And I don’t regret that, or getting married by proxy, or not having rings for the first 6 months we were married. Sometimes I do wonder what it would have been like if we’d had a more ‘traditional’ engagement/wedding but honestly to me a wedding – and all of that tradition – is not a big deal. I wanted to be married to him. So that’s what we did.

Do I get flack about being the one to propose? Wellllllll… some nasty things have been said by some people who will remain unnamed about me wanting money and things. (Max has a large trust fund to which he won’t have access for several more years. I grew up poor.) But really, you’ll never please everybody. Had Max proposed to me, those same people would have found something else to say, ya know?


29 Hannah March 1, 2012 at 11:13 am

I can’t believe that no one mentioned woman proposals in TV and movies! First, there’s the Amy Adams and Matthew Good (sooo hot) movie, “Leap Year”, in which she’s going to propose (classic chick flick rom com thing). Sandra Bullock had to fake propose to Ryan Renyolds in “The Proposal”. Then there’s Lorali from “Gilmore Girls”, who proposed to Luke. And in my guilty pleasure “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”, Lois proposes to Clark (after rejecting his proposal a few episodes earlier). Those are the only ones I can think of now, but it’s out there! Hopefully media like that will make it more acceptable and take the stigma out of it.


30 Emily March 1, 2012 at 11:44 am

In general i have a really hard time with people telling me that i cannot do something just because i am a girl. I went to a conservative christian high school and in 11th grade some girl gave their opinion that they didn’t think that a woman should ever be President. My reaction was “ARE YOU SERIOUS? I’ll do it! I’LL DO IT RIGHT NOW!” So could I have proposed and felt solid about it… yes, HOWEVER, Steve had been planning how he was going to propose long before he met me, much like some girls plan their wedding when they’re 12… so it would have been cruel of me to take that away from him. I asked him to marry me yesterday though… i know it doesn’t really count, but i thought that at the very least he should have a special romantic day and the world should know that he deserved to be asked just as much as i did.


31 Rachel March 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I can understand both views on proposals. But, on a related note, one thing I’ve never understood is the need for a diamond engagement ring. I think they’re pretty, but it’s never been something I desired. And it’s always kind of rubbed me the wrong way that in order for two people to get married, the guy has to shell out a lot of cash for a nice ring. I’d much rather use the money for a vacation (where you make memories) or an investment in my actual relationship with my husband (e.g. payment toward a house, education or other expenses). Maybe I feel this way because I’m too much of a pragmatist, or because my own mom doesn’t have a diamond ring, but even with those things aside, I think the real reason why the diamond ring strikes me as odd–and ironic–is because it’s supposed to represent a truly unique relationship–the special bond you share with your “one and only.” And yet, a diamond ring is the type of ring nearly every woman gets who gets married. So, I feel like the ring does little to symbolize a unique relationship, to me it symbolizes that you’ve joined the coupled-up club.


32 Andi March 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm

My husband proposed earlier in our relationship than I was expecting (although we had discussed marriage and were living together, so not that surprising), partly because he knew that I would. I hooked into offbeatbride.com and it definitely reenforced my “anything goes” attitude towards other people’s relationships. There’s no right way to propose or get married, whether you want to have him ask or she does the asking.


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