(See introduction and disclaimer to this series here, and other posts in the series here.)
What is the tradition?
It is the role of the man to propose to the woman and create a formal engagement - the woman must wait on the man to do so, not initiate it herself. The time, place, and manner of the proposal are kept secret from the woman, even if she knows in a general sense that it is coming soon. In more recent conventions, this proposal is supposed to be a huge, public, production.
In various times and cultures, however, woman were allowed to propose to men on February 29 in leap years.
What is the origin of the tradition?
Men had the economic and social power. Most cultures and religions put the husband in charge of the household, including his wife (in fact, under coverture laws, the wife's legal identity was literally merged into her husband's), so of course he would be the one initiating the formation of the household.
Why do people still follow it?
It seems to be primarily tradition and cliches. For example, men are expected to be commitment-phobic and have to be talked into marriage, so waiting for the man to initiate the proposal helps ensure he's actually ready and wasn't just convinced by a nagging woman. Or perhaps because the wedding is often a big event planned by the woman to represent their relationship, a grand proposal allows the man a similar opportunity.
Even though it's becoming common for the couple to have discussed marriage and even set a timeline for becoming engaged, they still leave the "official" proposal up to the man.
Why is that crap?
People are not cliches. Is it possible that, in general, women are ready for marriage earlier than men? Maybe. That doesn't mean the woman can't propose, it just means she need to communicate with her partner and propose when they both know they're ready.
Why are women still in charge of planning the wedding? Let the guy to take an equal role, and he'll no longer feel like he lost out on something by not planning a huge proposal.
And the play acting of a proposal when the couple has already discussed and privately agreed to get married is just that, acting. It's just pretending, and attributing this huge emotional meaning to it is silly.
What am I doing with this tradition?
I actually am not in favor of switching up the traditional by encouraging woman to propose to the man instead of waiting on him. I don't like the concept of a proposal at all: a proposal is inherently Partner A asking Partner B to marry Partner A. That's not what an engagement is. An engagement is Partner A and B both agreeing to marry each other.
We didn't have any proposal. Over time we discussed that we were heading towards marriage, and eventually decided we were ready to set a date. We then ordered engagement rings (plural - see next Wedding Crap post!). We did sort of do a little of the pretending, in that we had decided, ordered rings, and even started planning the wedding itself before we publicly announced that we were engaged. But it was pretending only to others, not to each other.
How did/will you handle this tradition?
I would love to have a lively debate and conversation in the comments! Please join in!
Dissenting opinions (from the post itself or other commenters) are welcome, but I reserve the right to delete any comments that personally attack me or any other commenter.