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If it's OK for women to propose, why don't they?

WASHINGTON (AP) - Steve Paska waited two weeks for Washington's famously fickle cherry blossoms to emerge, then spent two hours searching for the perfect spot beneath the canopy of fluff. He lured his girlfriend there on the pretext of buying a painting of the blooms. Then he surprised her by dropping to one knee and proposing.

She said "yes" so fast he forgot to pull out the ring.

Go to any wedding celebration this nuptial season, whether in a ballroom or backyard or church basement, and it's a good bet you can trace the big day to a similar start, with different flourishes.

If a man is marrying a woman somewhere in America, odds are that he proposed to her.

That may seem obvious, but consider this: Three-fourths of Americans say it would be fine for the woman to do the proposing, in theory.

In practice, only about 5 percent of those currently married say the woman proposed, and the figure is no higher among couples wed within the past 10 years. Attitudes actually seem to be trending the other way, an Associated Press-WE tv poll shows.

Young adults are more likely than their elders to consider it "unacceptable" for a woman to do the asking. More than one-third of those under age 30 disapprove.

While Paska, 26, believes female proposals are OK - after all, one of his sisters proposed to her boyfriend - he wanted to declare his love and dedication the traditional way.

"I think If she'd gotten down on one knee and asked me the question," Paska said, "I would have called for a timeout."

In the survey, nearly half of single women who hope to get married someday say they would consider proposing. Paska and his fiancee, Jessica Deegan, who both live in Arlington, Virginia, already had decided together that they wanted to marry, she said. Still, Deegan was thrilled that he made it official with a grand romantic gesture on April 10.

"It's kind of like the moment you imagine your whole life," she said. "I've seen that in movies. I've read that in books. You don't want to miss out on that moment."

That traditional moment has survived radical changes in U.S. marriages over the past half-century. People are marrying older; brides are more likely to be already supporting themselves. It's become commonplace to live together first, even to have children before marriage. Some men are proposing to men and women to women, now that one-third of U.S. states allow gay marriage.

But the boy-asks-girl proposal still reigns, updated to a public art form in Facebook and YouTube videos that feature flash mobs or scavenger hunts or proposals while skydiving or swimming with dolphins. "Destination" proposals are trending, too, for men who want a California beach or the Eiffel Tower as the setting.

There are even "proposal planners" who can help arrange flowers, musicians and a videographer. Ellie Pitts, a planner who works in Dallas for The Yes Girls, said the group has handled more than 350 proposals around the country and abroad, nearly all by men.

A few clients were lesbians. Only one so far was a woman asking a man - a boyfriend whose proposal she had turned down previously.

"I think it probably takes a woman with a lot of guts to be able to do it," said Pitts, who is newly engaged herself, to a man who did the asking. "At least in my experience with my girlfriends, women tend to be a little more ready to get engaged and move forward than men are, so asking the question before he asks might tend to backfire."

A woman who proposes also risks criticism for her boldness, said Katherine Parkin, an associate professor of history at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

Parkin researched the folk tradition that claimed women could propose only during a leap year. She found that the idea triggered mockery every four years for much of the 20th century. Postcards, ads and articles portrayed women who would propose as desperate, aggressive and unattractive. The leap year joke has faded, she said, but the stigma lingers.

"I don't see much changing to challenge that notion, to say a regular woman, a good woman, could propose," Parkin said, although she notes that a few celebrities, such as singer Britney Spears, have done so in the public eye.

Becky Paska, sister of Steve, said she worried that proposing to her longtime boyfriend, Danny Brady, might make him feel embarrassed or emasculated.

But she wanted to demonstrate the depth of her commitment, because years earlier she had accepted Brady's surprise proposal and then backed out.

So Paska, 28, asked for his hand at the Thanksgiving dinner table as her family was reflecting on their blessings.

"I said I was so thankful for having him in my life, and we'd gone through so many things, and I'd love to marry him," she said. "And he said, 'I'd love to marry you, too.'"

Paska, of Richmond, Virginia, and Brady, of Charlottesville, Virginia, plan an August wedding on the beach.

In the AP-WE tv poll, recently married couples were less likely to say they got engaged by "mutual agreement," instead of through one partner's proposal, than were people married longer. About one-quarter of those married at least 30 years say it was a mutual decision; that drops below one-tenth of those wed in the past decade.

Among the newer unions, 83 percent said the man proposed.

That may reflect today's emphasis on creating a good proposal story to share with others.

Pitts, the proposal planner, said her clients usually have discussed marriage with their girlfriends and sometimes they shop for rings together before the man formally "pops the question."

The Rev. Joel Stafford of Patton, Missouri, sees nothing wrong with women taking the lead, the way his future wife did more than 40 years ago.

"It just got to the point where she said, 'Why don't we get married?' and I said, 'Of course," Stafford recalled. "I would have eventually built up the courage to do it myself. But she didn't wait."

They did wait a little longer for the ceremony, so she could graduate high school. Stafford and his wife, Sherry, married in June 1973, raised four children and have 13 grandchildren.

"Whether you are the boy or the girl, if you feel you are at the point you want to make a lifetime commitment, express that," Stafford advises. "Don't be shy like I was."

The poll was conducted in conjunction with WE tv from Jan. 17-21 using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,060 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for the full sample.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

Join the discussion

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nikkitytom May 06 2014 at 2:59 AM

We've jettisoned nearly all the conventions of marriage. At least this one graceful tradition should remain. Even with women's advances into equality and financial independence, there is still some stigma about being 'pushy". And I agree. When I returned to America after twenty fives years in Asia, I was starled by the brashness and pushiness of the young women. But delighted by the advances they'd made in business and education. We don't have to sacrifice grace and manners in our race for equality.

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ballhairball11 May 05 2014 at 11:51 AM

The real question is, why do people even get married anymore?

If I asked a person to invest $10,000 with a 50% chance of it completely being lost after five years, most people would call me crazy.

that is the equivalent of the success of Marriage. After 5 years, of the remaining 50% that didn't separate, 50% of those are thinking of it.... Pretty sad we are still following such an archaic tradition that society trains children is a must...

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3 replies
gat1mark May 05 2014 at 11:49 AM

This is one of the dumbest most sexist articles I've ever read in my forty years of life! It's 'acceptable' for a woman to propose?! What ******* idiots came up with these ridiculous, stupid societal rules! Women, if you want something take it! The only woman I could ever have the slightest interest in would be the one that got up off her ass, came over, and took some initiative! This is your life! TAKE IT! Stop playing by stupid, sexist bullshit rules that other ******** impose and do what you want! Propose, ask a guy out, pay for a date once in a while, and stop being forced into a role by a society that's not going to accept you anyway! Get over it and live your ******* life the way you want! Society needs to **** off and get out of the way of our lives!

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vampira1w May 05 2014 at 11:41 AM

Im 33 - I proposed to my husband (with a ring for him!) - he later bought me an engagement ring as well. But we've been happily married for 10 years. If a woman knows what she wants it's up to her to get it.

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1 reply
tptm vampira1w May 05 2014 at 12:37 PM

Don't worry your going to get a "suffer ring " soon and then you can take half of his sh%$.

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ocmaleis27 May 05 2014 at 11:28 AM

if a woman asks than who gets an engagement ring? if she asks, does he still have to pay for one? also, most of the times its the man is not ready to take the plunge, so it would be strange for a woman to ask the question and than get denied. that's just my two cents. im talking of a person of the gen x. most of the people responding to this article seem a lot older and old fashion

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1 reply
poll100 ocmaleis27 May 05 2014 at 11:39 AM

2 people usually discuss marriage before they do it. 2 way street she doesn't wait for someone to propose.

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1 reply
d1anaw poll100 May 05 2014 at 1:17 PM

Apparently they don't or we wouldn't have so many divorces. Of course the lack of maturity in today's adults and the lack of accountability and consequences also accounts for that.

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randmhunley May 05 2014 at 11:23 AM

my wife proposed to me 2 weeks after we met in 1991
i put her off for 2 and a half years
that was 1993
last december made it 20 years together
so i would say what does it matter
who asks the question

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stimpy58 May 05 2014 at 11:17 AM

As a man I think it is a fantastic idea. We guys don't always read signs well and sometimes a little jolt would be great. Go for it ladies.Whats good for the goose is good for the gander.

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ojedams May 05 2014 at 10:53 AM

Hell yah women should start proposing to men instead of vise versa!! Why do we always have to do the hard parts to prove out love to the opposite sex. I say Empower yourself women, and take the position as the proposer!!

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2 replies
randmhunley ojedams May 05 2014 at 11:25 AM

if its love
you dont have to work
let alone work hard to prove anything

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ndqnsny ojedams May 06 2014 at 3:33 AM

I LOVE EMPOWERMENT! I wonder how they will act when they get rejected we know women don't take REJECTION well. Yet! They seem very GOOD and actually enjoy and laugh when they REJECT their male counter parts. I bet after a few bad rejection from men stories and articles would not been seen about women doing this any longer. So much for EMPOWERMENT. It will go back to men being as*h*oles and men's fault!

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martrnbsn May 05 2014 at 10:50 AM

I'm 62 years old, so if she's in her 20s it's OK. ; )

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nyree May 05 2014 at 10:49 AM

I don't know why women don't do it. So many things have changed regarding marriages that proposing to a man shouldn't be so far fetched. I proposed to my husband of 17 yrs. This was going to be my second marriage and I felt I needed to do it. I wanted him to truly know that he meant everything to me so I went down on one knee in front of his family and pulled out a box and asked him to marry him. We both will always remember that day, he was shocked but said yes! He always teases me to this day that I took that away from him but I tell him there is nothing set in stone that said I couldn't do it and if he really feels inclined he can ask me to marry him on our 20th anniversary!

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1 reply
vampira1w nyree May 05 2014 at 11:49 AM

Love it!

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