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The One Wedding Tradition It's Time To Break

Photo: Getty Images.
The New York Times just published a story that explains why, in 2016 — a time in American history when single women are arguably at their most powerful — we still don't feel comfortable being the ones to propose marriage. Just reading the headline was enough to make my blood boil.

As Alix Strauss explains, thanks to a fifth-century Irish nun who was hoping to balance traditional gender roles, we now have a custom where women can ask men to marry them on Leap Day. Yes, just like the awful Amy Adams movie. Of course, this whole one-day-every-four-years concept is totally ridiculous. But if an ancient nun was able to see the inherent sexism in proposals — and this was back when marriage was truly a business arrangement, long before romance ever entered the picture — then maybe, 1,600 years later, it's time for the rest of us to question a tradition that gives men all of the power in making such a huge life decision.

While I'm technically "single" — at least when it comes to filing taxes — I have been in a relationship with the same man for nearly eight years now. We have a daughter who recently turned 1. We're in the process of buying a home. We plan on spending the rest of our lives together. But I would argue that at least part of the reason neither one of us feels completely comfortable with the idea getting hitched is the sexist bullshit behind so many of the traditions associated with marriage.

Why are we all so terrified of disrupting the rules of proposals? One of the experts in the Times' story says that women still want to be courted and men don't want to feel rushed or powerless. Beth Montemurro, a professor of sociology at Penn State University, blames social media. “Women don’t want to be seen as less feminine, too sexual, or coming on too strong. And there’s a concern for men about being publicly emasculated...They may be afraid to take bigger risks and break gender roles, because they’re concerned with how their story will come across.”

Can you feel my eyes rolling out of my head?

My gut instinct is that the kind of women who would be more inclined to propose are, like me, not entirely sure how they feel about the institution of marriage altogether. And to be clear, I'm not made of stone. I love a juicy, incredibly romantic proposal story just as much as the next person. I just think it's incredibly silly for us to perpetuate this myth that men control the timing of proposals — that the moment is somehow less romantic or less legitimate if it's a woman popping the question. If a woman wants her partner to propose, fantastic. If she wants to be the one driving that moment, she shouldn't have to worry about society judging her for it or him feeling emasculated — privately or publicly. A declaration of love shouldn't be a coded power struggle.

The proportion of married American women has never been lower. We are no longer defined by the men we marry. Thanks to the women’s rights movement, we have so many options and choices about what our lives look like today. But if we never challenge society’s assumptions about what a proposal looks like — or if we choose to tell women that it’s only normal for them to propose on one day every four years — things will never change.

Maybe you think this is a trivial matter to get all riled up about. I would argue that, like many things, the implications of this long-held tradition are much deeper than we realise. If my daughter chooses to get married one day, I want her to feel free to propose to whoever she damn well pleases (as long as I like the person).

Millennials have been unfairly stereotyped in many ways, but if there's one thing the media gets right, it's the fact that we're a generation that disrupts things, that refuses to be put into the same old boxes and told what to do. I believe we'll be the ones to change this, too. Imagine living in a world where a woman proposing isn't the subject of a trend piece in The New York Times. It's simply the way things are done approximately half of the time.