We're Surprised That Millennials Are Reviving This Old-Timey Wedding Tradition

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Millennials are supposedly killing marriage by staying single in record numbers. Reportedly, we're also killing face-to-face interaction, homeownership, paper napkins, and scores of other things, though many of these claims are questionable at best.
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But those of us who are getting married seem to be keeping the traditions surrounding matrimony very much alive. According to a 2015 report by The Knot that surveyed more than 12,000 U.S. brides and 1,200 grooms, the majority of grooms in heterosexual couples are still "taking tradition to heart" when they propose. The study found that 77% of men asked for either the bride's father's or both parents' permission before proposing. This was up from 71% in 2011.
A more recent survey, conducted by JamesAllen.com, an online engagement- and wedding-ring retailer, polled 2,000 married Americans and found that 63% of millennials asked a partner's parent for permission before popping the question, compared to only 20% of people over 45. Millennials are also twice as likely to view seeking permission as an extremely important part of the proposal, the survey found.

One survey found that 63% of millennials asked a partner's parent for permission before popping the question.

It's not just heterosexual couples: The Knot's 2016 LGBTQ Weddings Study suggests that things are rapidly heading in the same direction for same-sex couples, too. Out of almost 1,000 respondents, 42% of men and 46% of women reported asking permission from their partner’s family before they asked for the ultimate commitment.
Struggles with family acceptance undoubtedly play a role in the reason this figure is still lower than that for straight couples, but it did double from 24% of women and 21% of men in 2015. (The study also found that more families approve of same-sex marriages; 43% for men and 44% for women, up from 28% for both in 2015. It should be 100%, but at least we're seeing a marked change in attitudes.)
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Before you wonder when we all got so traditional, remember that the numbers don't tell the whole story (they rarely do). A recent Wall Street Journal article paints a different picture of millennial pre-proposal culture — one that at least slightly subverts the staid "groom asks father for bride's hand in marriage" custom.
These days, couples who may count themselves among the above-mentioned 77% are more likely to slip their intention to marry into a casual conversation, ask the mom in addition to the dad, and ask for a parent's blessing rather than "permission." The latter change is not just semantics; after all, the decision is now completely the couple's and no one needs permission. More traditional couples are still going through with the groom asking the father, although some report that they only consider it a formality.

Millennials have always been told we can do anything — so maybe we can modernize marriage, too.

Because many couples already live together and getting married is a bit of a foregone conclusion, some parents understandably respond with, "Why are you even asking?" Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage, A History, told the WSJ.
The answer is complicated and, like all things that have to do with marriage, the decision is not the same for everyone. For many couples, the reason lies in community-building and maintaining family ties. Asking the bride's father may also be all but obsolete due to the fact that women are sharing breadwinning responsibilities in most households, but the tradition survives because couples hope their families will help them keep their marriages together in an era when so many lead to divorce, said Coontz.
Switching up the tradition in these minor-seeming ways changes the dynamic and makes the process of asking the parents a gesture of respect — "I love your daughter and I want to include you in our lives" — rather than an obligatory "it's not happening if you say no" kind of thing. That's an important distinction. Adding the bride or groom's mother to the process makes the process more egalitarian as well, distancing modern couples from the whole patriarchal rigamarole.
Despite some tweaks in tradition, some things haven't changed. The pre-proposal process is still rather gendered — it's very rare that the woman in a straight couple pops the question, and according to the 2015 survey by The Knot, 85% of grooms still propose on bended knee. There's a lot of progress to be made when it comes to these rituals — but millennials have always been told we can do anything, so maybe we can modernise marriage, too.
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