Can a Woman Propose to a Man? Of Course She Can — Here’s How
Generations have basically carved the tradition in stone: In heterosexual couples, it’s the guy who proposes marriage. But ever since the feminist revolution of the ’70s, cracks have been appearing in that monolith, and the 2020s may be the decade in which that outdated supposition finally falls. Women proposing to their male partners is nothing new, if still rare — recent surveys show that in straight married couples, only 5 percent of women proposed. But attitudes are changing, and pretty soon, women may claim equal access to the uniquely heart-fluttering, mouth-drying experience also known as popping the question.
A full 70 percent of men would welcome their female partner proposing marriage, a 2015 survey by Glamour found. A mansplainer might point out that 70 percent is a significant majority — particularly when it comes to such deeply ingrained social customs. As further evidence that the proposal is becoming less male dominated, more couples are shopping for the engagement ring together, and even splitting the expense.
So if you’re a woman who’d like to propose, you should absolutely go for it. “Of course a woman can propose to a man,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist in Long Beach, California, who has been counseling couples for four decades. But how? We asked experts for their advice.
If it’s right, you’ll know
As law professors tell aspiring attorneys: It’s best not to ask a question you don’t already know the answer to. “Contrary to how marriage proposals are presented in movies, rarely does
anyone propose without feeling certain their mate will likely say yes,” says Kevin Darné, a dating/relationship expert and author of My Cat Won’t Bark (A Relationship Epiphany). “Generally speaking, most couples have already had casual discussions around getting married and building a future together prior to a proposal. It’s not about if but rather when they will get married. You shouldn’t be in a position where you’re nervous, sweating bullets, and praying the person who is in love with you wants to marry you.”
The male ego is a real thing. But you probably have a sense of how much your partner cares about tradition. “Before proposing to your boyfriend, ask yourself if he’s open to the idea,” says relationship expert Adina Mahalli, MSW. “If your boyfriend is more traditional, your proposal might throw him off guard — not in a cute way — and step on his toes a little. What if he’s been dreaming up the perfect proposal since he met you, and you stole his thunder? At the end of the day, you need to know your boyfriend to know if your proposal will be romantic or not.”
Don’t propose because of insecurity or fear of loss.
Both men and women fall into this age-old trap. “It’s not uncommon for someone to propose marriage because they suspect their mate is losing interest, cheating, or is on the verge of cheating,” says Darné. “In some instances, a military deployment, relocating for a job, or attending college out of state prompts proposals. A marriage based upon circumstances rather than love is likely to fail. Getting married for the wrong reasons is just as bad as getting married to the wrong person.”
Keep it simple
There’s no right or wrong way to propose. But don’t pressure yourself to create an Instagrammable spectacular. “Make it a private moment, between just you two,” advises Tessina. “You can save the big splash for the engagement announcement.”
“Most men have no interest in drawing a lot of attention to themselves in some public forum,” concurs Darné. “There’s no need for a woman to get down on one knee or have ‘Will you marry me?’ written across the sky. You also don’t need to purchase a ring in advance. Assuming you’ve had a long-term loving committed relationship and have talked about building a life together on multiple occasions, your proposal can be casual.”
But how casual is “casual”? Says Darné: “Maybe over breakfast, while walking and holding hands, or after making love, a woman could say something along the lines of, ‘I know we’ve talked a little bit about this in the past and I’ve given this a lot of thought — you’re the man of my dreams, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?'”
Choose a setting with personal significance
“For the actual proposal, find a setting that has meaning for you as a couple,” says Tessina. “If you have had a great time at the zoo, take your intended there to propose. If you both like rock climbing, climb your favorite rock, and when you get to the top, pop the question. If you have a favorite restaurant or even a bowling alley, that’s the place to use. The local park where you jog, or always go to talk is great. It’s more important that the place be meaningful, memorable and relatively private, than that it be elaborate or expensive.”
Just be you
You might be contravening centuries of tradition, but some rules are begging to be broken. Remember: Your proposal is about you two as a couple. Don’t let the sociology psych you out. “Your proposal doesn’t differ from a standard male-initiated proposal any more than male-initiated proposals differ from each other,” says Mahalli. “Authenticity, creativity, and a show of love are the basic requirements for a proposal. Where you go from there is up to you — regardless of your gender.”