Here's How My Feminist Approach to a Traditional Proposal Fit Both of Our Needs

My partner and I felt lost in a world of convention, but communicating our wants and needs led us to the most perfect proposal moment.
L. Moore
by L. Moore

In the winter of 2016, I met my fiancé in a nontraditional setting—we were on dates with other people, exploring our roles in the San Francisco Polyamory community. Our connection was immediate. We gravitated toward each other and had our first kiss within minutes of meeting one another. From the beginning, we were aware of each other's unconventional approach to relationships and the level of communication needed to maintain those types of relationships, which I like to refer to as consensually non-monogamous. He told me early on that he didn't believe in marriage and abhorred the traditions surrounding the act. I knew deep down that I wanted some kind of societal acknowledgement in relation to the primary partner I chose, including a celebration to mark our commitment to each other as partners in life. I struggled with his beliefs on the subject, discussed them with friends, and tabled my concern until perhaps, this topic came up again in the future. I began to rationalize that great love didn't need to be defined or marked by society's expectations.

However, it's difficult to discard the real and, honestly, prejudicial privileges that come with legal marriage. In the smallest sort of example, being married grants you access to two-for-one flight deals. But most significantly, marriage provides beneficial tax outcomes, the possibility of spousal benefits (which is huge for us, as my partner owns his own business and I work in the health care field) and increased retirement security.

When I knew I wanted to be with my partner forever and he began to express the same feelings, we revisited the marriage conversation and it was clear that his perspective had changed. He told me, "I never thought I could meet someone who I couldn't imagine life without, at any age. I want you to be all mine forever." Although he still wavered about the standard wedding formalities and related expectations, he was sure he wanted the legal protections—with me. The thought of being taken away from one another in a crisis situation was enough to change his mind.

We had been talking for weeks about wanting to be with each other for all time, so I knew we were on the same page, and I also knew he had started talking to my best friend about how to move forward. In my mind, I thought, she'll tell him what ring I want and he'll plan something, and that's it. That's what people do. One night, however, he unexpectedly brought up getting engaged in a nontraditional way that didn't sit well with me. Overwhelmed and confused, I turned away tearfully and shut down. I realized I both wanted and needed a "real" proposal, specifically, a moment with a ring and a heartfelt speech. A moment we could share somewhere beautiful. But that idea didn't quite fit, either. I wanted something that still mirrored our relationship—most notably, how we communicate about everything, especially about things that are shared.

I realized I wanted both something traditional and something different, but that in wanting something traditional, I felt disgusted with myself. How could I want this type of proposal as a woman supporting social justice and nontraditional relationships? How could I push for this type of proposal when I want to model that something different can work for my friends, community and family? My partner is pansexual/queer and grew up with radically feminist parents. From his upbringing and interest in history, he had always felt that wearing a ring signified something dark from the past he didn't want to perpetuate. In Ancient Rome, rings were used in a way as a response to the dowry. Men would present rings to women to symbolize ownership over them. Wearing a ring in the ancient Middle East symbolized faithfulness; rings were complex to remove and if the woman removed it, she was presumed unfaithful. Men weren't required to symbolize their fidelity in this way. This historical context doesn't align with our feelings for each other and the future we want to build.

Figuring out how to hold both the more feminist perspective and the traditional bedrocks of engagement took some time and reflection. We ended up deciding that we'd design the ring together and it would symbolize our work together in creating a piece of our life. We thought (correctly!) that it could provide me with something tangible I can hold onto when days are tough (I'm a therapist). Further, we split the cost of the ring, and slowly paid it off together—which was a good exercise in money management before linking ourselves legally. I wanted to somehow propose to him at the same time, but this didn't quite make sense in terms of me wanting that "down on one knee" kind of moment. To honor that desire, we decided that I would design a piece of stone for us with the date of our engagement to bury in the backyard of the house he owns, as an ode to a Celtic tradition from his family. This tradition is called the Oathing Stone, which is usually utilized during the vows portion of the wedding ceremony. I'm still in the process of making the stone a few weeks post-engagement, but I look forward to presenting it to him, exchanging words of love and commitment, and burying it together. With this act, we'll both have a tangible piece symbolizing our forever bond. I also would have been thrilled to present him with his own engagement ring during the actual proposal, but wearing a ring while working as a chef is a difficult task he didn't have an interest in tackling. I've made my own peace with the fact that he doesn't want to wear a wedding band after we're married as well.

So, how did the proposal go down, you ask? We got the ring in the mail, weeks earlier than anticipated, and I gave him the box. We searched together for a beautiful cabin under the stars for New Year's weekend, but our Airbnb host cancelled days before the stay. Chaos and sadness ensued. We went last-minute roadtripping through Northern California, splurging on a quaint (dog- and LGBTQ-friendly!) bed-and-breakfast in Napa for New Year's Eve. At midnight, toasting with ginger beer and raspberries in the hot tub, he got down on that adorable knee of his and told me he couldn't wait any longer to ask me to be his wife. Would I be his partner for however long it makes me happy? I said "yes." We celebrated again the next day on our favorite hike (and second date location) overlooking the city. He handed me the ring in the box and I asked him to be my forever person. He said "yes."

So what can you do to facilitate an egalitarian proposal?

Examine your needs.

What comes up for you when you think about the act of a "proposal," and why? I challenge you to listen to your reactions and try not to think about social media—really. Dig deep beyond familial expectations, patterns and history. What feels right to you?

Have an open discussion with your partner.

The whole idea of being the person who waits around until their partner decides to plan something is disempowering. Further, the notion of another person, no matter how knowledgeable about you/your tastes, blindly picking, sizing and buying an expensive object is a bit impractical. I barely knew about ring sizing, metal malleability or related concerns when it comes to rings, so how would I expect my partner to figure that out alone? Finally, being engaged, planning a wedding and beginning a future with someone is something you're sharing with your loved one. I encourage open communication about what engagement might look like, even if it feels "weird."

Plan something fun.

This is the best part. Since you don't have to tread around the surprise factor in its entirety, you can help orchestrate something that feels perfect to you and your relationship. Don't want your partner to propose when you're at a campsite and had a rough night's sleep, even if it's a beautiful spot? Great—you can make sure that doesn't happen. Want to be at home, somewhere private, to exchange loving words, and not at a fancy restaurant in front of your friends and family? Good to know!

Up Next
  • Couple hugging on bridge in Minnesota
    Here Are the 15 Best Places to Propose in Minnesota