Will you do me the honour?

There was a long thread (200+ comments) over at Pandagon last week about the pressures on both men and women regarding marriage expectations, which was quite fascinating. Amanda was reading a book about proposal angst and was worried that people might think she was reading “bridal p*rn” because of the picture of a woman in a wedding dress on the cover, and that they would then conclude that she was one of those who’d bought into the hype of needing to be married, the fear of being “left on the shelf”.

The post concentrated particularly on the romantic and dramatic expectations regarding the proposal itself:

  • how long into the relationship should a proposal be expected?
  • were guys who didn’t propose after several years together playing some power trip?
  • was a woman resorting to a “propose to me or I’ll find someone who will” ultimatum being unreasonable or just communicating clearly?
  • is a man who responds to such an ultimatum being trapped, giving in or just being brought to a realisation of what he might lose?
  • was a woman who asked a man to marry her forever going to be held up as desperate by her community?
  • was it OK for a man to propose without having chosen the ring and having it on hand?

The responses surprised me, and I wondered whether the answers would be different here in Oz: there were a lot more traditionalists about who should propose than I expected, although there was also a strong showing of women who asked, and couples who just discussed the issue and came to an agreement, without a big dramatic question being involved at all. The really big surprise to me was the very strong expectation that the man would choose the ring before “popping the question”, or if he got surprised into a low-key proposal he would “make up for it” by enacting the whole romantic cliche complete with diamond presentation as soon as possible. There were couples who’d bypassed that who had to defend their relationship to people around them, as if with the romantic gesture the proposal somehow meant less, and the relationship therefore must as well.

Then it got onto dresses and weddings and the whole Wedding-Industrial Complex. Apparently there are people who believe that if a woman doesn’t become a Bridezilla she’s not sufficiently excited about getting married and mustn’t really love her husband-to-be. If she wants to keep her own name after marriage? – she must be one of those cultic feminists Pat Robertson warned us against:

<"Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

– Rev. Pat Robertson (1992 GOP Convention)

Now Americans generally get married in higher proportions than we do, and they’re generally a(n even) more consumerist society, so the tentacles of the Wedding-Industrial Complex wrapped around this most personal relationship to this extent is perhaps not surprising. But I nonetheless was surprised – maybe because I was never really the girl who dreamed about My Perfect Wedding (TM). When other young women at places I worked at got married and pored over bridal magazines and asked my opinion, I wouldn’t mind the first three or four dresses, but then they all merged into a white frilly mass.

That said, I did wear white for my wedding, my father did walk me down the aisle, and I did toss my bouquet in the direction of unmarried women, so I hardly had the perfect rad-fem wedding. But: it was via a civil celebrant in a friend’s waterfront garden, the reception was very low key in a local community hall (decorated only with helium balloons tied to the chairs) and we paid for it, not my parents (so at least I didn’t succumb to the Wedding-Industrial Complex entirely). I kept my own name and I refused to have an engagement ring (we had matching gold bands which we wore on our right hands during the engagement and put on the left hand during the ceremony).

As for the proposal, we were the type who came to a mutual agreement about the time being right to get married after several previous discussions where we knew we were both looking for a coparent and felt good about each other but wanted to be sure. When we decided that yes, we wanted to have kids with each other and nobody else, I actually would have been happy just to cohabit. However mr tog wanted a marriage certificate and I had no objection to the associated party, gifts and honeymoon, so I agreed.

I was pleasantly surprised by the powerful emotion of standing before kith and kin declaring love and commitment, which I would highly recommend as a ritual moment even for those who don’t want a piece of paper from the state. This is not to say I didn’t later envy the relative who had a quiet ceremony during a holiday abroad (in order to avoid his intended’s family’s ginormous traditional display wedding expectations), and who then had a big joint family party to celebrate the wedding a month later after their return home to Australia, which was just a big jolly feast instead of the huge Bridezilla production.

So, hoydenistas, I’m curious about your views.

  • Is marriage a trap (either of the patriarchy or of clutching women), or is it that without which a woman is unfulfilled and a man is never mature?
  • Do/did you dream of a big wedding with all the works, or is/was it your nightmare?
  • Were you forced into the upper/middle-class wedding extravaganza and resent it, or was it actually fun?
  • Did any of you blokes do the full romantic cliche of ring in your pocket and bended knee?
  • Have any of you girls had to reject a bloke who went to all that trouble?
  • Where are the girls who proposed?
  • Where are those (men and women) who will never propose and never accept?
  • Who’s going to keep their birth name, who can’t wait to get rid of it, and who really wishes their partner did take their name?

Now I know the questions above smack hugely of heterosexism, so I’m intrigued to know how gay partnerships have negotiated the shoals of ritual partnering arrangements too. I know there are some radicals who reject the idea marriage or a form thereof as irrelevant, and others who take a more traditional yet liberal view of the joy and power of a public declaration of commitment, and others who view insisting on homosexual marriage recognition as a political act. How has that affected the courting and proposals?

Last but not least: has anybody ever really thoroughly enjoyed themselves at a monumentally consumerist Bridezilla wedding?

Categories: gender & feminism, Life, relationships, Sociology

Tags: , , ,

12 replies

  1. Sorry about the comments problem – fixed now! I know Vicki and Matilda at least wanted to say something, so I hope you remember what it was.
    I should also add that what most surprised me about the Pandagon weddings thread was not that there were a lot of people who’d opted out of the big expensive status wedding (I would have expected no less there) but how they spoke about the intense pressure from family members and people around them in their friendship groups and communities who were also applying  pressure on them to “do” their wedding “properly”.
    The ring-on-your-finger pressure is of course huge all round.

  2. I’ll never propose, nor will I accept a proposal. I must admit, however, that I’d be quite touched if someone did propose to me. But I have no interest in marriage. At 28 my belief has already spelt the end of a couple of promising relationships. If I ever did get married I’d be quite happy to take the unlucky lady’s surname – these strange traditions mean absolutely nothing to me.

  3. So J, it sounds as though you’re not commitment-shy, just agin the ‘M’ word. Did you make that totally clear to the women concerned? I can imagine it still being a dealbreaker for some, but it’s not for all – my parents only have half their grandkids born into wedlock, but they’ve all been born into loving committed partnerships.

  4. The Zombie King and I celebrated our 10th anniversary together yesterday. We’ve been married less than 2 years.
    We decided around the 2-year mark that we both were in this for the long haul, and there was a surprise “proposal” (from him). It wasn’t about rings or announcements, though, it was between us. We did the long-distance thing (California-Chicago) for 5 years before he moved.
    During that period, NOTHING I could say would convince people that I was not chasing him around the table with a frying pan trying to get him to marry me. By virtue of my biological sex, I was assumed to have some innate drive to be married. And, of course, we would have gotten married much earlier if the ZK had had his druthers. In 2004 we decided to make things legal for those most romantic of reasons: taxes and health insurance.
    There was never any engagement ring (neither of us likes the baggage that goes with that symbol), although I did get a pretty emerald ring that I liked when we were in the Carribbean. For our wedding bands, we chose titanium (because we’re nerds and he likes the idea that they’d have to chop his finger off in an emergency) with a mokume gane inlay and three runes (“beloved,” “partnership,” and “family happiness”) set 120 degrees apart. In addition to our matching bands, I wear my grandmother’s wedding band and the emerald ring, in keeping with the Swedish tradition of the bride wearing three rings (we’re both of Swedish descent).
    For the actual wedding, we chose New Orleans so that both families would be traveling and, well, because it’s New Orleans. We were married on the deck of a paddlewheeler steamboat by the captain (in a VERY short ceremony, which I wrote), and the reception was also on the boat, which cruised the Mississippi for a few hours. Immediate family and close friends only (fewer than 50 people all told). On the day of the wedding everyone kept telling me that I wasn’t nervous enough.

  5. People don’t like other people having long engagements, do they? And they always assume that it’s the man dragging his feet.
    The best weddings I’ve been too were all well under a hundred guests (we had 70). That means the couple gets to talk to everybody. I remember the photos from yours which looked like great fun.

  6. I find it strange, having been in same sex relationships that my family paid no attention to, and my friends (straight and queer) saw no need to rush, that my relationship with a bloke is treated so differently. I knew, intellectually, that same-sex and hetero relationships are treated to different sets of social expectations, it’s just rather confronting to be at the receiving end. While I have no particular interest in making it legal at the moment (not a fear or objection to being married so much as a laziness about organising it all) I find the acceptance of our defacto partnership offensive in light of the lack of genuine acceptance and invovlement I’d expect from our families if we were of the same sex.
    I think having a society that expect hetero couples to think about committment, to involve their parents, to move the relationship along in a public fashion, works pretty well for most people. Two thirds of Australian marriages do last the distance, after all. That lack of family acceptance and involvement (the point where your partner is one of the family, even in your absence) is one of the things that makes it harder for queer couples to stay together.
    All of that being the case, I don’t think the growth of the bridezilla consumerist wedding does anyone in our community any favours. They’re not fun weddings to go to, or be part of, and they don’t make the marriage last.
    I know only one person who proposed having already purchased an engagement ring. She didn’t like it. If a woman’s going to wear a rock every day for the rest of her life, she should choose it. Hopefully soon we’ll see a revival of the non-diamond ring, I’m so bored with being shown almost identical gold bands with solitaires. How a couple shopping for such a thing together is considered unromantic I’ll never know.
    I wear only one ring, my Grandma’s souvenir of the family’s travels abroad in the 1960s, when she’d been married about ten years. As a reminder of the happiest and most exciting period of their life together, I like it.

  7. Do you think it’s the perception of potential childrearing that makes the family reaction so different? Obviously, lesbians can and do have children (all over my innerwest Sydney suburb, definitely) but I wonder how many families of the sort who find it difficult to embrace a samesex partner just don’t know many queers and don’t really think that children are going to happen in a samesex relationship?
    ANd I totally hear you on the rings – I’m not a ring person myself, but how is choosing it together unromantic?

  8. “So J, it sounds as though you’re not commitment-shy, just agin the “M’ word. Did you make that totally clear to the women concerned? I can imagine it still being a dealbreaker for some, but it’s not for all – my parents only have half their grandkids born into wedlock, but they’ve all been born into loving committed partnerships.”
    Nope, I’m not commitment-shy at all. I’m not sure that the topic of marriage ever came up in the relationships concerned; not, at least, until we’d spent some time together. It’s something I’d freely tell a girl if asked, but marriage isn’t something I even think about discussing under normal circumstances.

  9. I’ve been married twice, both times after a few years of cohabiting. First time: I proposed while walking home from a party. We had the ceremony at home and over the weeks before the wedding I spent a lot of time smoothing things over with people because my fiancée was so stressed by the planning that she offended most of our friends. But on the day, we had about 50 friends and family with us and everything was perfect.
    Second time: I was proposed to in Kings Park overlooking the Perth CBD. Neither of us wanted to have a fuss and we eloped. We went to a small country town and our two witnesses were the celebrant’s husband and a staff member from the hotel we stayed at.

  10. Boris, your second wedding sounds much less stressful even though your first wedding was a good day.
    J, I know lots of happily unmarried couples, so here’ hoping you’re one of them when the time’s right.

  11. So late! But I wanted to chime in and say I have an engagement ring and Mr Kate picked it himself and did the surprise engagement — and while it’s not really something I wanted, I found it touching and really sweet that he went to the effort that he did. (The diamond is West Australian — no blood diamonds here.)
    However, I could quite happily never get married and at this rate I think we’ll be engaged for a very long time. I hate wedding fever generally and organising the whole thing seems like such a chore, especially as we’re strapped for cash and live in a different state to all of our family and most of our friends.
    Most of my friends think much the same as me and any weddings that are happening are pretty low-key, but I do have one friend who recently announced that she expected her boyfriend to spend at least $8000 on an engagement ring. Which horrifies me, frankly.

  12. Kate – awwwww. It’s interesting that I found both here and at LP that there were a few men very invested into the romantic traditional proposal, yet it seemed few women dreamed of or expected it, although I can imagine it being rather lovely when it’s the love of your life who’s gone to the effort, as you say.
    I’m coming more and more around to the idea of a quiet elopement and then a big welcome-back party as the way to go to stave off wedding drama but still feel the community congratulations connection.

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