WASHINGTON — Steve Paska waited two weeks for Washington’s famously fickle cherry blossoms to emerge and 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, 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 in America, odds are that he proposed to her.
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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. Indeed, attitudes 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 younger than 30 disapprove.
While Paska, 26, believes female proposals are OK — 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 say they would consider proposing. Paska and his fiancée, Jessica Deegan, who both live in Arlington, Va., already had decided they wanted to marry, she said. Still, Deegan was thrilled that he made it official with a grand romantic gesture 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 in the past 50 years. 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.
A woman who proposes does risk 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 members of her family were 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, Va., and Brady, of Charlottesville, Va., 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.
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.