Marriage proposals are commonplace in American culture today and span a colorful rainbow in terms of execution and creativity. It’s common that before a man asks a woman to marry him, he “courts” her first and makes his intentions known. We call it dating now, but regardless of what you call it, the outcome is the same. Most couples “date” or “court” each other with marriage in mind and, eventually, one partner usually proposes marriage on bended knee. Once a marriage proposal has been made and an engagement ring has been presented, a couple is then considered “engaged.”
The engagement period could last anywhere from days to even years in some cultures. The length of an engagement also varies from couple to couple. At the end of the engagement period, the couple performs a ceremony to exchange wedding vows. Once the ceremony is complete, the marriage is considered to have “officially” begun and a couple begins the rest of their lives together as man and wife.
Wedding traditions have changed over the years, and different people “tie the knot” in different ways. While many practices are rooted in tradition, today, many couples focus on planning events reflective of their personal love stories.
Marriage Proposal Meaning: Popping the Question
There are a lot of ways men (and even women on occasion) choose to pop the big question: “Will you marry me?” Some couples talk about getting married for a long time before ever getting engaged. In these cases, the traditional proposal that follows usually isn’t a huge surprise, since it’s been the topic of conversation so much. Perhaps the when and how is a surprise, but not so much the question itself.
In other cases, the marriage proposal is entirely unexpected, which can be both fun and terrifying, especially for the one proposing. Usually the proposal comes from a man, although in many Western countries, gender roles are changing, and more women are now proposing to their guys and taking their future into their own hands. However, it’s still not a proposal tradition that has truly caught fire yet. It seems there are quite a few women out there who continue to value what some consider “old-fashioned” ideas of courtship, like having a man chase her, sweep her off her feet and ask her to marry him, despite the rise of rampant feminism.
Ultimately, when a proposal happens, where a proposal happens, how a proposal happens — all wedding proposal meaning boils down to one truth. One person wants to marry another person and spend the rest of their lives together. Seems simple enough, but the truth is, asking for a woman’s hand in marriage can be nerve-wracking, even for the steadiest of guys. We encourage you to subscribe to the old adage of nothing ventured, nothing gained! After all, if you don’t dare to ask, how will you ever know if she’ll say yes?
Marriage Proposal History
The history of marriage dates back millions of years. In fact, while “marriage” is often linked to the Christian version of a ceremony joining man and wife, the concept has existed since the dawn of time. Once upon a time, back when humanity was nothing but cavemen, it’s said men proposed to women even then. At least, it was a kind of proposal, although how much actual consent was involved is probably debatable. Cavemen were said to propose by creating and tying ropes around a woman’s feet and hands, made from grass. These grass ropes were meant to symbolize the caveman’s dominance over the cavewoman’s spirit.
Prehistoric? Definitely. But the apple didn’t fall far from the tree (literally) as time progressed. Ancient Greece reflects the practice of male suitors tossing apples to a woman when they found one they wanted to marry. This custom goes back to the Goddess of Chaos, Eris in Greek mythology. Legend has it that when Peleus and Thetis got married, Eris threw a golden apple at their wedding guests, with a note written on the apple saying it was intended for the most beautiful person in the room. In ancient Rome, marriage was a partnership between families. Its primary purpose was to produce heirs to inherit familial qualities, status and property.
The truth is, the marriage proposal's meaning and the different methods today are vastly different from the marriage proposals that pepper humanity’s history. From Ancient Egypt on through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, marriage was considered to be more of a transaction than a declaration of love and commitment. It wasn’t until courtly love, the medieval tradition of love between a knight and a noblewoman, that the idea of marriage was related to affection.
Today, when a man proposes to a woman, it’s because he wants to marry her, spend the rest of his life with her, love and cherish her and be there for her in sickness and in health. In history, however, most — if not all marriages — were arranged. They reflected a financial and legal transaction and had nothing to do with a ceremony of commitment or a lifetime of love and devotion.
It wasn’t until around the 1700s that people began to marry for reasons that transcended financial or economic gain. People began to recognize the value of individuality and personal happiness, although this mostly occurred in nations that were industrialized. Once that happened, love and emotion became a big driver in the reasons a couple would marry.
That’s not to say there weren’t still arranged marriages and that finances and strategic alliances weren’t considered. But by the 19th century (especially in America), more couples began choosing each other out of love and friendship instead of mere duty to their family name. During this period of wedding proposals and marriage, a man who fell head over heels for a woman would often first go to the woman’s father as a sign of respect and ask for her hand in marriage. The father could refuse if he thought the man unsuitable for his daughter or agree if he found the man to be worthy. Today, some men still like to adhere to this practice, even if only as a nod to tradition, or out of respect.
As time marched on, the modern tradition of kneeling on one knee to propose marriage began. This tradition was reminiscent of knights from the Middle Ages, kneeling to swear allegiance and protection to a woman he cared for. Except sans the coat of armor and dangerous swordplay, of course, it’s a tradition that remains dominant in many cultures — even now.
Modern Proposal and Marriage Traditions
Fast forward to the 1900s and we can see how the power of advertising campaigns came into play. Ever heard the phrase, “A diamond is forever”? Of course you have — it’s one that is still used today. However, that phrase originated in an ad campaign for diamond rings, from a jewelry company called De Beers Diamond Jewelry, founded by Brit entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes in South Africa in 1888. It was because of his campaign that diamond rings became such a phenomenon in marriage proposals. Now, most engagement rings and stackable wedding bands have at least one diamond.
Today, marriage proposals are almost “expected” in many cultures. In fact, they have become so normal it’s almost bizarre to think of marriage occurring without a proposal. Arranged marriages are frowned on as archaic and demeaning and, instead, people decide who they want to spend the rest of their lives with for themselves.
Of course, with the advent of social media, wedding proposals have become more and more a show or spectacle. What was once considered a private moment between two people is now an opportunity for couples to show off their creativity and romance and record the whole thing for posterity’s sake. Some couples even plan elaborate betrothal ceremonies to celebrate their love and commit to their future plan to marry. After all, if you can’t put it on Instagram or Facebook, did it even really happen?
Planning to Pop the Question
If you are planning to pop the question, let us be the first to say congratulations! Proposing is a nerve-wracking experience, but there are things you can do to minimize your anxiety. For starters, remind yourself that your partner will likely accept your proposal. You’ve probably already talked about marriage and know your significant other shares your desire to wed. Keep that in mind to keep your nerves at bay.
Don’t compare your proposal to anyone else’s. There’s a lot of pressure to turn popping the question into an incredible event, but don’t get so caught up in the proposal that you forget about the most important thing: the idea of spending the rest of your life with someone you love. Make the proposal sweet and meaningful, but don’t stress about spending a fortune or planning something super elaborate.
Lastly, make sure you’re organized. Buy a ring, decide on where and when you’ll propose and stick to the plan. While you may face some challenges on the day, being organized means you won’t have to worry about a misplaced ring or any other major mishaps.
Marriage proposal meanings have evolved through the course of history, changing things like how it’s done, why it’s done and even when it’s done. Despite its evolution, the end result is always the same. Proposal of marriage equals marriage to another person. Before popping the question, think about all the things to consider before proposing. Make a plan, talk to her parents and find the perfect ring that she’ll be wearing for a lifetime!