How To Propose (to a Man)

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S1: He is the one who loves to cook most in our relationship, and he’s wonderful at it. And part of me is like, do I propose with a kitchen aid mixer? Like, because he’s wanted one for so long and just, hey, this is really important to me.

S2: You’re as important to me. Will you marry me with the mix?

S3: Welcome to How To. I’m Charles Stewart.

S4: Then you and I, we we’ve been together for a while now and things have been going really well. Right. They’re getting serious. And so I thought it’s about time we talk about making this thing permanent, like for the rest of our lives.

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S5: So I reached out to you all because I am partnered with this really wonderful man. And someday I think I’d like to marry him, but I kind of want to be the one to ask that question. And I just have no idea how to start.

S4: This is Ashley.

S5: I am a wardrobe stylist and copywriter and dog mom and plant mom living in Turin, North Carolina.

S6: Actually met her boyfriend Carter two years ago and their romance has really blossomed since then. They share a home and a dog. They’ve even combined their finances. And so naturally they’ve started talking about where things go from here.

S7: So as we are talking about things like money and future stuff, marriage, kind of inevitably you start to creep its way into that conversation.

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S6: Why is it important to you that you propose rather than him?

S1: I think it’s important to me to be the one to propose or maybe the first one to propose, because men typically get to drive that conversation a lot. And when I was trying to figure out like, okay, like is this a is proposing to him something that I want to do or can do? Like if you Google, like women proposing to men like you don’t get a lot of really helpful information.

S8: Ashley’s right. In fact, one of Google’s top search results for women looking to propose to men is about Leap Day, which is this Irish and Scottish tradition where women and I’m quoting here, have permission to propose to men on February twenty ninth. But come on, Google, it’s 2020. Ashley doesn’t need permission. But Google also says that in heterosexual relationships, ninety seven percent of proposals are still initiated by the man. And regardless of who proposes, getting married is obviously a big deal in how you propose that that can matter a lot because it can exacerbate the existing power dynamics in a relationship.

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S7: There’s a small part of me that worries about that power dynamic because again, like we’ve just thrown so many of them out the window in that like also I make more than he does and I’m younger than he is. And so there are all these weird things where it’s like, well, maybe the rules after all. I think I do worry that people will think that I have done it because I’m sick of waiting for him. And that’s not the case for me at all. And I also worry that I don’t know what am I ready for this sort of thing like. Do I need to not have student loan debt? Like, do I need to be confident in, like buying a house or doing other like stereotypically adult things before I put this person in a position to like maybe say yes or no to something this huge like this is a big deal, which is why I’m just scared out of my mind.

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S9: Ashley has a lot of questions. So we found an expert who knows just how to sweep a guy off his feet. Can she help Ashley find her happily ever after? Don’t run away on us.

S6: We’re back with Ashley. Who wants to propose to her boyfriend and to Ashley? This isn’t such a stretch.

S7: People ask us all the time if we’re already married. Great. But we’re an interracial couple. And so I’m a black first generation criminal American person. And he is North Carolina born and bred white guys.

S6: And their relationship is different in other ways, too.

S7: It’s interesting because I’m the one that comes home after like a brain melting day and he’s like, I have dinner and I’ve done all these things. And like, the dog’s been locked in the house. It’s clean.

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S10: You know, it’s interesting that you had mentioned it mentioned him is like a normal Carolina boy. Right. And when you say that, like, it occurs to me that the stereotype of southern men is that, you know, they have this honor. Right? Right. Are you worried that by proposing to him that he or maybe his parents or his family might not take it? Well, because it seems like the man is supposed to propose to the woman.

S7: It’s interesting because his mom and I have actually had this conversation. So we will often do many Petit Saturdays. And on one of them, I was like, would this be weird? And she’s like, no, just tell us so we can be there to take pictures.

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S10: Do you think he would take it the same way that like like if you asked him to marry you, that he would just be he would be psyched?

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S1: Yeah, I think I would have to do it. And this is part of what makes me nervous. I would have to do it in a really deliberate, maybe public way so that he knows. I’m not kidding because I’ve asked him before, like, what what if I, like, asked you to marry me?

S11: And he’d be like, I think you were joking in. Our expert, it turns out, has some personal experience with just this kind of problem. My boyfriend proposed to me and I did think he was joking. This is Carolyn Kitchener. She writes for the Liley, which is part of The Washington Post. And she’s thought a lot about women and gender and marriage.

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S12: We had been together for six years. And of course, I fully expected to marry him like no doubt in my mind. But he had always said, oh, you know, when we’re 30, 31, that’s the time. And and I was like, all right. And and he was doing that all along to trick me so that I could be fully surprised. But the result of that was that I was just entirely like shocked, really. First thought he was joking.

S11: I was just so out of the blue for Caroline, that feeling of shock. It was worrisome.

S13: Shocked. Just doesn’t feel like the thing I’m supposed to feel more than anything else at this moment. I just can’t believe that this is happening.

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S14: And. And so I I take I don’t know, it felt like an hour, but it was probably only like a minute or two. And I say, like, you know, we need to talk about this more. Like, not right now. You know, I didn’t say no, but I said, not right now. And man, did I hear about that.

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S15: You know, for my friends who are all like, you know, you’re gonna bury Robert, what is going on? Why wouldn’t you just say yes?

S10: What did he look like? Crestfallen. What did he look like?

S16: I mean, of course, we were both. I mean, the first 12 hours after that were awful. I mean, we were both so sad. It was just the worst thing ever.

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S14: I mean, he dealt with it in the best way. Like the next morning we wake up and he’s like, all right, Caroline, I’m either never gonna ask you this again or I’m going to ask you like 10 times a day every day.

S15: So we were at the beginning of a two week vacation and a great way to kick off a vacation. You know, it became like something that we can laugh about and now we laugh about it all the time.

S17: But that whole story to lead into the fact that I ended up proposing to him about seven months later, I wanted him to know that even though I said no in that moment.

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S14: I just wanted him to know that I was all in and I wanted this more than anything like he did Ashley.

S10: Does any of this sound familiar to you? Does it does it kind of line up with how you’re thinking and feeling?

S7: Yeah, I just want to be very methodical and purposeful about it is ringing, especially true for me right now.

S18: And I wonder if if you if you think that this says something about kind of what gender is like today. Like the fact that that that Robert proposed to you, Caroline, and that that you you sort of had an expectation about what the conversation should be like before that happens. And and I guess maybe that didn’t occur to him.

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S19: I mean, I think that everything in our society tells us that the guy should propose. I mean, I think weddings in general, as much as gender roles and gender stereotypes, have started to dissolve around weddings and the beginning of a marriage.

S16: They really haven’t. You know, men making these big grand gestures to women are just all over, you know, movies and TV. You just see it everywhere. And now on social media, I mean, so many people put their proposals on Instagram and Facebook.

S12: And, you know, it’s always the guy making a scavenger hunt or something or or gathering all of the friends and family together.

S6: Why do you think that that’s true? Like, why is this such a taboo for for the woman to pop the question?

S14: So it’s something that I’ve actually I’ve written about this and I’ve talked to a professor at Appalachian State University. Ellen Lamonte. And she talks about something called symbolic gendering, which is this idea that, as you know, women kind of become the equal of men in every other way.

S16: You know, as we yes, we work more. And, you know, we’re graduating from college at a higher rate than than men. There are fewer opportunities for a woman to be pursued as opposed to like do the pursuing. And so she talks about the proposal as this kind of thing that we cling on to, to, you know, enact those traditional gender roles when we don’t see them anywhere else in our lives.

S10: It’s kind of like we get to hold on to the Disney movie by letting men propose and women say, yes, I know exactly.

S16: I think it feels like a you know, in the scheme of all of these antiquated traditions, it feels like a relatively harmless one.

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S11: But Caroline, clean to this tradition seems wrong.

S12: You know, I would love to see men propose 50 percent of the time when women propose 50 percent of the time. Like whoever is feeling it, that moment, a proposal feels really significant to me. It sets the tone for the rest of your life. It’s the beginning of the rest of your life.

S11: So Ashley just has to set the tone for the rest of her life with one perfect marriage proposal.

S20: She can do that right after this break. We’ll figure out how.

S6: We’re back with Ashley and with Caroline, our expert, and Ashley knows she wants to be with her boyfriend Carter for the rest of her life, but she doesn’t know if this is the right time to propose or for that matter, what she ought to be thinking about before they try and make this huge decision.

S1: I think as with anything that I struggle with, it’s how do I get started? Because as I like logically kind of think about it through the rest of what that process could look like. Like, is there homework I need to do ahead of time? Are there questions that I need to ask about like, you know, what are your views on like finances, like Lisa buy or like rent or buy a house? Like, what about the thing? Yeah. Yeah, like things we need to be on the same page about. And many of them we are, like I said, because we share a budget. But am I missing something?

S15: So I before I got married, I felt like we needed to like sit down and go through a checklist. Like I felt that sense very strongly and I didn’t really know exactly what needed to be on the checklist. But like, there were certain things that needed to be discussed, things that we needed to. I don’t know, just like methodically go through.

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S14: And this is something I mean, I have divorced parents and I think this is something that a lot of millennials. Yeah. How old are you again, Ashley? I’m 29. You turn 9. Yeah. Okay. So we’re not too far off. I’m I’m 28. I have parents who don’t have that great of a relationship. Like, how do I do better? Like, how do I do well in marriage? And I actually earlier this year, one of my friends told me that she had made her her partner. They’re not married and had made a relationship contract. And that was something that I hadn’t heard about before that concept. But I really liked it.

S16: It was the idea that they took a weekend and just went through all of the different potential issues, but also just like things that they wanted to make priorities in their lives. And they created this little 20 page document that had a table of contents.

S15: And they would like they they would pull that document up.

S16: You know, when things came up, they would consult the contract. And and the purpose of the contract was not so much like here is the document that I’m gonna sign and you’re gonna sign. It was more like this is a way to make sure that we have these conversations.

S21: I think it’s a great idea. My wife and I actually we write up contracts pretty regularly. You know? Yeah.

S10: Like like what we expect from the other person and what we promise we’ll do. And honestly, I mean, I’ve been married for I guess it’s 15 years. This this year. And it’s really useful. And this interesting thing has happened, which which is have also happened to a lot of my friends who have been married for a while, which is it felt like we had fallen into these gender roles and and we hated it. I remember talking to one of my friends again, Greg, and he was he’s married to this woman named Caitlin. And he said, you know, Keeling comes home and she puts the dishes in the dishwasher and she doesn’t mind putting the dishes in the dishwasher. But she hates the fact that she puts the dishes in the dishwasher without us agreeing to it. And so they sat down and they said, okay, Greg is going to take out the trash and Caitlin is going to put the dishes in the dishwasher. Right. And we’re both deciding that that’s okay. And as soon as they decided that it was fine, but just recognizing it and saying like, oh, this is actually equal like on this contract, this is something we can both sign and feel great about with clear hearts. Does that make sense?

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S7: And I love that because like as we talk about marriage and proposals and this like fairy tale wedding, like you say, the word contract and contract is not sexy, but it makes things work.

S22: This is our first rule. When you’re thinking of getting married, what you should do is order your favorite takeout, open a bottle of wine, and then sit down and write a relationship contract.

S11: And the goal of this contract is to set clear expectations about things like finances and kids in whose family you’re going to celebrate holidays with. And most important, how you want to divvy up the responsibilities in your relationship rather than just falling into traditional gender roles.

S23: So let’s let’s imagine you’ve had the conversation. You guys have written up a contract. It’s 37 pages of small type. You’ve dotted all the I’s and crossing the T’s. You know, there’s been a little bit of like wine in there and you’re ready to sign. Now we’re onto the next big problem, which is how do you propose? Carolyn, tell me, like, how did you propose?

S14: So I had like 100 candles all out and I had the. Fine. And I actually had the ring that I stole from his underwear drawer where he had been keeping it. And that was how I asked. And then I had all of our friends together waiting to celebrate with us.

S23: So you planned a big thing.

S6: And I did. I ended up marrying the fact that you were a woman proposing to a man. Did that did that change, you think, how you thought about it at all? I don’t.

S16: I mean, the only big logistical thing is like, what do you give him like?

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S13: Like there is there is an item that is exchanged in a traditional like male proposes to female proposal.

S15: And I asked a couple of people about that. And no one really had a good answer. And Google had no good answers. And so what I ended up doing was just giving him the ring back. And he put it on me.

S16: So I’m curious, Ashley, what are you thinking you’ll do? Like, what do you want to give him something or.

S1: Yeah. I’m like, well, why do the women just have get to have this flashy, sparkly thing? Like, why can’t he have sparkly things, too? And so, like, it’s important for me to, you know, kind of gauge if he would want that. But he is the one who loves to cook most in our relationship. And he’s wonderful at it. And part of me is like, do I propose with a kitchen aid mixer?

S2: Like, because he’s wanted one for so long. And this is really important to me. You’re as important to me. You really want to KitchenAid stand mixer.

S23: What I love about this is that if if I was making a movie about like 1950s gender relations and I wanted to show that a man was clueless, definitely the scene would include him proposing to his wife by women, kids with a kitchen aid mixer, rather.

S21: Right.

S23: But on the other hand, if you give it to if you give it to Carter, you know, maybe that works.

S21: Yeah, it might work.

S24: At the end of the day, a proposal is an offering, right? So put a ring on it or give your man a watch or a KitchenAid mixer for this rule. Anything goes. Still, how will Carter feel if Ashley is the one who proposes?

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S1: I don’t think it’ll be necessarily stealing his thunder. And I don’t know. And again, I think this is the thing that we’ll learn as we do our contract is I don’t think he didn’t dream of like getting down on one knee and proposing to anyone like I’m not going to ruin like this childhood fantasy of his.

S16: And I think he’ll enjoy it totally. The experts that I’ve talked to about this, Ellen Lamott from her study, she said that while the women felt it was very important for them to be asked, it actually the men were far less bothered by the idea of the woman asking the men than the women were, you know, actually living in in North Carolina.

S6: How do you think your town will react if you propose? Because you had said that you were kind of worried about how your friends might react and just sort of folks in the world might react.

S7: Yeah, and I’ve been thinking about that as I’ve been talking. And I love Durham. It’s a wonderful place for so many reasons. And it’s a very progressive place. And so I don’t think, you know, I’ll be kicked out if people are like, oh, my God, what have you done? The people who are important to me are super supportive and the ones who aren’t, I probably don’t like them a whole lot.

S25: Anyway, that’s how I felt there.

S22: Here’s another raw. And it might be the most important one. You can’t care about what other people think. You’re not marrying any of them. Which brings us to our final question. How to actually plan the proposal itself. So walk me through this. So, OK, so. So you know that you want to do something big. You don’t want him to think that it’s a joke. So let’s workshop leg like take me through the. Take me through the event.

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S5: So I thought about inviting a bunch of folks over for dinner, because it’s a thing that we have talked about is just doing like a massive like five course dinner for friends and letting him kind of go nuts in the kitchen with flavors and different combinations and stuff that he’s never tried before.

S7: And that feels more right to me is doing something like that versus like, you know, the town square with like fireworks and things like that. But as much as I want it to be kind of a small, close, quiet, intimate moment, I think there’s also something really neat to having our friends there and they’re all kind of in on it.

S26: Ty, that’s exactly how I feel.

S14: There’s a great marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, who I’ve talked to quite a bit.

S17: And, you know, the marriage proposal is something that.

S16: Hasn’t really changed a whole lot. What has changed is that they are getting bigger and more extravagant because of social media.

S14: You know something that means something to the couple, that story that, you know, maybe surprise party with all the friends and family, it’s like that is much more desired now because it is something to share in a way that, you know, it never was before.

S6: You feel like doing fireworks and organizing a flashmob for your proposal. You should go for it. But but when I propose it was just me and the woman who became my wife in the desert. And all that really mattered was that she said yes.

S27: And then once you get that out of the way, then you can get on to the fun stuff like planning the actual wedding.

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S2: You know, I’ve seen folks who will have, like their parents, walk them halfway down the aisle and then they, you know, go the rest themselves. Right. That’s what I do. And yeah, that’s really neat. And if it does turn out that, like, he doesn’t beat me to it and I get to be the one to propose to him, that that would give us even more license to kind of flip things on their heads. Like I said, I never wanted to do the garter toss because wow. There is a lot to unpack there. Yeah. Like there’s so many things that we can just take early. You.

S6: So Louis is so. So we’ve we’ve talked about a lot of aspects of this. Sort of what you should think about before, before. Popping the question and how do you write this contract? There’s a clarified for you how to do this thing.

S7: It does. And it tells me that I am more ready than I thought. And I really love the tool of the contract because it helps things feel very equal, which is how I would want this whole experience to feel like from the proposal to the wedding. I want us to make these decisions together. And I don’t want to feel like one person has more power over the other as to how this thing is going to go. And that’s how I would want our marriage to go. That feels very right to me. And that is something that I did not have before we sat down.

S14: I’m curious actually about like if you’ve thought about what you want to say.

S7: I have. And I kind of want to keep it short because I know I’m just going to panic and forget it all. You know, the thing to think about is, like, I’ve called you many things. I’ve called you babe. I’ve called you a jerk. I’ve called you like all these different things. But like, the thing that I actually want to call you is my husband. Will you marry me like I need to keep. That’s nice.

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S6: That’s really nice. I would I would say yes.

S15: So affirming. Thank you.

S28: Thank you to Ashley for sharing her story with us. We hope everything works out with Ghadar and we’ll look forward to getting the wedding invitation in the mail. And thanks to Carolyn Kitchener for sharing her research and her own story of proposing to her husband. Do you have something we can help you with? Send us an e-mail and how to add Slate.com. And we might have you on the show. And finally, please give us a five star rating and a review on Apple podcasts or anywhere else. You listen to podcasts. More people find the podcast that way, and that means we can help more people. Thanks. How does executive producer is Derek John? Rachel Allen is our production assistant in. Jacob is our engineer. Our theme music is by Hannah Brown.

S29: June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. And Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for Audio. Special thanks to Asha Soldier and Sung Park. I’m Charles Duhigg. Thanks for listening.