By Darlene Pham

My (recent) fiancé, Mark, and I have been together for a little over seven years. We successfully stayed together as high school sweethearts throughout college, and as we began our young professional lives, I found myself wanting to move on to the “next stage:” marriage. 

After two years of casually (maybe not so casually) bringing it up, the perfect time to propose presented itself. We had planned a trip to California and were in a good place in both of our lives to take that next step forward. Mark and I had finished our first years of work and medical school, respectively, and we both had finally achieved a good balance after a year and a half of acclimating to post-graduate life.

As I lamented the missed opportunity of a “perfect” proposal to a friend if Mark didn’t end up proposing, we joked about how I should just propose first. We even came up with extravagant and outrageous proposal ideas, and joked about how surprised Mark would be; but the more I thought about it, the more I said to myself, “Why not?” Why did I have to wait for my boyfriend to propose? Instead of me bugging him all the time to be proactive about it, I should just take the initiative. And so, I seriously started planning my proposal. Little did I know, Mark had also been planning at the same time. 


“Why did I have to wait for my boyfriend to propose?”


A few weeks later, in California’s Napa Valley, Mark and I proposed to each other on the same day. He ended up proposing first, right before I planned on proposing. We were at a winery and just finished the tour. Mark led me to the vineyard and asked me those four words. The proposal was intimate; it was just us two, no secret photographer or people watching. 

Shortly after, I surprised him with my own proposal. It tied into how we began dating. In high school, I had asked him to a school dance using pictures on CD covers that corresponded with songs I had picked for him. I chose a similar idea for my proposal and shared pictures I had taken in places that were important to us with signs that asked the question. We both proposed in our own ways and we both said “yes.” It was (and still is) such a thrill to be able to say we took that next step in our relationship, and I was over the moon.

However, ever since I planned my proposal, I have realized a lot of things about engagements. I’ve become aware that even modern engagements are still perceived in a way that is in an extremely outdated tradition and, frankly, sexist.

Ever since I told my close family and friends about my plan to propose, all I heard, with the exception of a couple of people, was, “Don’t you think he’ll really be mad?,” “No, you should let him do it” or “I would be mad if my girlfriend proposed to me.” Then after the engagement, people would come up to me and say, “I’m so glad he got to do it first” and “Good thing you didn’t ruin his proposal.” I even found out recently that my family members warned Mark that I was planning to propose. To add insult to injury, I found it out at dinner with both of our families through a casual, off-handed joke.


“I’ve become aware that even modern engagements are still perceived in a way that is in an extremely outdated tradition and, frankly, sexist.”


I wanted to be happy and celebrate our new engagement, but I found myself feeling hurt, disappointed, betrayed, angry… and mostly confused. Why would a man be angry that his partner, who happened to be a woman, proposed first? Why would asking Mark if he would marry me upset him or ruin his proposal? And why did so many people assume that he would even be angry? I kept wondering, did people view my decision to propose as so insignificant that it was perceived as nothing more than an annoyance to Mark? Clearly, my proposal wasn’t taken seriously if my own family members were comfortable joking that they were worried his proposal plans would be ruined, so they had to tell him. Someone even told me, “A woman who proposes first is seen as desperate." They even told him about my plan to propose so he could do it first. … What? WHAT? Cue the rage.

So, this is what I have to say: If you are in love, if you are in a committed relationship, IT DOES NOT MATTER who proposes. Furthermore, if someone makes that big decision to ask their partner to marry them, be happy for them! Keep your unwanted comments to yourself, regardless of your own preconceived notions about tradition or marriage. And especially, don’t ruin the surprise for either of them.

Everyone seemingly wanted to protect Mark’s feelings and his pride, but no one even considered about how much effort and thought I put into my proposal. This says to me, “Hey, you’re a woman, so your proposal isn’t as important or legitimate as a man’s.” It showed blatant disregard for my commitment and love for my significant other. 

To all women out there, if you want to ask your partner to marry you, GO FOR IT. Shut out all those people’s comments and don’t be afraid to make the decision to propose. And ladies, I assure you that no decent man would be angry if their partner took the courage to pour their feelings into four little, life-changing words. A proposal is asking the person you love to spend the rest of your lives together. It’s a symbol of trust, commitment and vulnerability — no gender roles or tradition necessary. 

Darlene Pham is a second year medical student living in Indianapolis.