Why women won't 'put a ring on it'

THERE is one thing that keeps me perplexed in my counselling practice.

It is this: I see so many lovely, intelligent young women with good incomes, independent lives and loving relationships with friends and family. They love their partner and that love is reciprocated.

The big and distressing dilemma though, is waiting for him to pop the question. The stress of that situation begins to cast doubt on the relationship and with that women begin to label themselves as pressurising or nagging.

When I suggest that this issue of uncertain waiting surely is one that could be talked about with the man they love, their response is typically along the lines of "I don't want to be the sort of woman who says 'put a ring on it'".

So despite radical changes in marriages over 50 years and with the putative bride likely to be supporting herself and, indeed, often living together with her partner, if not their children - there is still a prevalent norm that women must wait to be asked.

And say nothing.

Proposals are trending - there's no doubt about that - just have a look at Facebook and YouTube videos which feature the question being asked whilst skydiving, swimming with dolphins and under the Arc de Triomphe. We even have an industry of proposal planners who set the scene, bring in a videographer and arrange a violinist. Men propose very beautifully with wonderful outcomes. All contributing to the fear of missing out.

But should the initiative rest on just that one person?

No matter that heterosexual weddings are far more egalitarian these days, with grooms working out how many candles might look nice and brides giving extraordinary speeches and retaining their own surnames, I am resolutely informed by the young women I see that it is not generally done for women to propose.

And attitudes do indeed seem to be increasingly trending away from the woman proposing - an Associated Press-WE TV poll in 2014 showed that young adults are more likely than their elders to consider it 'unacceptable' for a woman to do the asking.

And at liberal UC Santa Cruz University, students of both genders surveyed by psychology academic, Robnett, were overwhelmingly sure that they wanted the man in a relationship to propose marriage.

So despite social changes in gender equality, it would seem that cultural tradition in terms of gender roles or what Robnett, has termed "benevolent sexism" seem to prevail.

And let's face it, if those of marrying age typically want to be proposed to in a traditional manner - and it makes them happy - then what is the problem? In many cases, the chances are that the fundamental discussion has already taken place - and the date of proposal is the surprise element, which keeps the romance alive and exciting.

So all well and good if you and your love prefer to stay with the cultural norm of him asking the question -just make sure that the paralysis is not because he doesn't want commitment of marriage at all and wants to keep his options open.

One of my clients tells me that she and her girlfriends all agree that women are often more ready to marry before their partners are - and they worry a frank discussion about marriage could backfire and end up in a rejection. Another told me that the romance would be spoiled and she feared that her partner would feel emasculated.

But here is where I worry. If marriage means a lot to one of you and it doesn't seem to be happening - then forget the issue of gender. Have the heart to heart discussion. Waiting for a Leap year or feeling crazed as you hear of yet another engagement means that tradition is replacing flexibility. An anachronism that won't work well for your future relationship.

What is happening for your partner? Is there a fear factor operating - fueled by experiences of parental divorce, fear of joining up financially, expensive weddings, changes in identity?

Doubt felt by one person does not have to mean 'don't' - and initiating a discussion about your respective views on commitment and what that means for you both is likely to create an honesty which is liberating for you both.

By all means wait for the proposal if that feels right - but make sure that you are not cliff hanging. It is not good for either of you.

To remain mute about your feelings believing it is "unwomanly" - or worse - to name them is not being involved in "benevolent sexism".

It is oppressive and heartbreaking - you are too good for that and it is not healthy for either of you.

Topics:  editors picks engagement opinion

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