The Weird Cultural Tradition That Excludes Women From The Biggest Relationship Decision Of Their Lives

Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, asks: "Why is proposing a man's job?"

a woman holding a man's hands and lovingly gazing at him in front of mountains and clouds that say "will you marry me" DragonImages via Canva, Zelfit from Getty Images

Many women and girls dream about their future weddings, even before the meet their spouse. They may sit and wonder where it will be. On a mountaintop? At a beach resort? In your hometown with all your friends around? 

Women spend a lot of time planning their weddings, and that's considered socially acceptable. But what hasn't been acceptable for women to do? Pop the big question: “Will you marry me?”  


Women often drop weighty little bombs in relationships, like: “Is this serious?” “What are your plans?” “Are we in for the long haul?” They often direct the overall tone and direction of the relationship, but, generally speaking, women don’t get down on one knee and propose. They wait. 

But why is proposing the man’s job?  

In our annual study of Singles in America, my colleagues at and I ask single Americans of every age and background about their dating lives. This is a general survey that represents the general population of adults — not just Match members! 


Each year over 90% of men report that they are comfortable with a woman asking them out. 

So why shouldn’t a woman propose, as well? Why shouldn't she be the one to plan a dream proposal for the person she loves, too? 

Women are the future of the marriage proposal

What the ultimate proposal looks like

It begins with knowing what will be meaningful for your partner and is bigger than life. Then the would-be spouse naively enters the proposer's set-up.  


Soon friends, relatives, dancing girls, marching bands, and even jugglers and acrobats appear to sing and dance before the astonished partner — a gala surprise performance, concluding as the proposer emerges from the chaos to pop the question.  And it’s all recorded— a film that regularly lands on YouTube.

RELATED: The Truth About Why Your Boyfriend Won't Propose

An anthropological perspective on engagement

People love to watch these precious moments. Certainly, I do. There’s something incredibly special about the words, "Will you marry me.”  

I suspect they were used more than 200,000 years ago as the human brain took its modern shape, and a proposal is still special. With this person, you will build the core of your future social, economic, and intimate life.  With this person, you may also bear children, parent, and pass your DNA on toward eternity.  


Given all of this, why not make this moment of profound commitment dazzling? And why not encourage women to join the fun?  

One piece of advice, of course— be sure you know in advance that he (or she) will say “yes.” After all, relationships should be based on equality, and cornering someone into saying "yes" isn't fair or kind. 

RELATED: 30 Most Incredible Marriage Proposal Stories Of All Time

The future of the 'ultimate proposal'

As female planners join the festivities, the “ultimate proposal” might become the newest art form, one of many ways that singles are transforming modern courtship. And it’s a good idea.  

From the biological perspective, the more metabolic energy you invest in a partnership at the start, the more you are obliged to sustain it.  Moreover, previous Singles in America studies have shown over 80% of American married people reported that they would remarry their current spouse.  And 75% said they were still “very much in love” with him or her.  


Marriages can and do work, and the ultimate proposal surely is one definitive way to tell the world: she (or he) is mine.   

RELATED: The Perfect Age To Get Married, According To Science

Helen Fisher Ph.D., is a biological anthropologist and Senior Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute and Chief Scientific Advisor to the dating site Match. She is the author of the book The Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, among other titles.