Feb 29th. The one day in four years that a woman ‘can’ propose to her man. Yay.
Or February 24th in Denmark (the medieval leap year day). And some enlightened folks say women have the whole year to propose. Double Yay!
Or is it? Things have obviously improved for many women over the last hundred years. We get to vote, work, own property and make our own decisions. Marriage is no longer a commercial choice, but a mutual decision based on love and respect. Yet so many cherished traditions hark back to times when a woman’s worth was in her marriageability.
In fact, according to many gossip magazines it still is but that’s a rant for another day.
Most modern brides no longer say ‘I promise to obey...’ but they still get given away by their father (myself included). Many women are financially independent, hold down a job, share a home, a mortgage with the groom, have independently decided to make a life with him, yet often he still asks her father (not mother) for permission before they marry, sometimes even before he proposes. Nearly every married woman I know has changed her surname to her husband's. Ancient, patriarchal traditions holding strong even in the 21st century.
And then there’s the proposal. Still the man’s job, a male prerogative apart from one day every four years. It puts a lot of pressure on both sides. On him to do a good job, make sure the story is worth retelling, provokes the right kind of misty eyed response. On her while she waits, sure he is the one, only locked into a timetable not of her making, not of her choice, waiting...
It’s not that way for all of us. I got engaged on a hungover Saturday morning, outside the old Arsenal stadium; we came out of the tube station after a night spent at friends the other side of London, walked along the row of terraces that hid the football club. We were discussing various friends and their compatibility, our compatibility. By the time we turned the corner we had decided to marry, neither of us are quite sure how to this day. A hungover decision but a mutual decision.
Romantic? Not really. But this was about the rest of our lives. It was a decision that affected us equally. To me, lovely as a beautiful story to tell the grandchildren would be, it was a decision that needed to be taken together. The rest of our lives is a big deal.
Romance novels are not usually about the big proposal either, although my favourite scene in Pride and Prejudice is Darcy's first, awkward, unsuccessful proposal. The happy ending in a romance novel is when two people take an equally big step, prepare to go out on a limb, take a risk, put the other one first. Resolve whatever is holding them back and do something that scares them, terrifies them, leaves them vulnerable. It goes beyond rings in ice-cream, announcements at football matches, the top of the Eiffel Tower. It's about two people doing whatever it takes to spend their lives together.
And that is pretty darn romantic, whatever the date.