Decent proposals

Lisa Scott
Lisa Scott
The Casanova of Wanaka sees proposals everywhere. He’s like that kid from The Sixth Sense who sees dead people, just more frightening. I take a knee to tie a shoelace at my peril, and I’m always having to watch how I ask for help.

“Will you…?”

“Good God, woman, you’re incorrigible!”

He only does it to wind me up of course, because I’m allergic to matrimony. Marriage is a swindle. You can only have sex with one person and you have to surrender your worldly goods? Sounds like a cult to me.

And yet. In the words of Peter Cook in The Princess Bride: “Mawwage. That bwessed event, that dweem wivin a dweem!’’ For all my cynicism, I still want to believe in life-long romantic love. The idea of marriage being humanity’s answer to our desire for companionship and belonging is undeniably seductive to me. Having been married before, albeit only for three-and-a-half weeks, I know marriage is hard work. Marriage is, I said.

I’ve been proposed to a couple of times, too. From experience I can tell you it’s super awkward if someone does it in a crowded restaurant - because you have to say ‘‘yes’’ for form’s sake and then find a way to get out of it later.

The only popping I’ve ever done myself is that of champagne corks and bubble wrap. In a heterosexual relationship, I’ve always thought proposing should be an excruciatingly stressful procedure endured by the man - if only to make up for centuries of inequality. Marriage started as an economic and political transaction, a means of building alliances. It wasn’t till the 18th century that a shift towards choosing spouses based on love and affection began and women started to be more than just pawns to move about the board.

Men historically proposed to women because we were too emotional and irrational to select a good husband for ourselves every day of the year expect Leap Day, when women who proposed were relentlessly ridiculed and mocked; portrayed as ugly, aggressive and desperate, going to any means necessary to lasso a mate. Because men are that great.

By the 1950s marriage was seen as a financial gift a man made to a woman; and being able to ‘‘keep’’ a little woman put the man in the role of provider and guardian at a time when a woman couldn’t go to the movies on her own or a restaurant, let alone open a bank account, easily access birth control or run a marathon. Marriage gave women value and purpose in society, legitimised their lives.

Spooky isn’t it? Especially when you remember this is only a generation removed from ours. How backwards it now seems; how cringe-worthy those born during that same generation, some of whom grew up to see te reo as a threat and homosexuality as a disorder. Thank God things have changed. You’d never get a city councillor sharing a racist cartoon now and nobody would object to a rainbow crossing to support the LGBTQ+ community, or care that New Zealand is also called Aotearoa.

Cultural norms are radically shifting, at the same time as they clearly are not. Even though we’ve seen a lot of gender role change in society, the marriage proposal has remained pretty static. However the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for marriage equality has influenced us hetties, women propose in only 5% of heterosexual couples. The other 95% are apparently just waiting around dropping hints.

Because a wedding is the most important day of a woman’s life, there’s the idea that there should be some kind of anticipatory lead up. Women are meant to wait, not ‘trap’ men, being bold is considered a flaw, women don’t want to be seen as coming on too strong, yet a survey of 500 men by Glamour found 70% would be psyched if a woman proposed. I guess it would rather make your day. The survey didn’t say whether they were being proposed to by a woman they knew.

I’m not the waiting type, or subtle enough for hinting. I want free milk without the burden of cow ownership. Sausage without having to buy the pig. Basically, if I’m hungry, I’m going to eat right now. Problem is, the Casanova and I both want to be kept and neither one of us wants to do the keeping.

Do I really want to be married? Does he?

“It’s definitely something I’d think about, if the right woman proposed,” he says.

It’ll be a cold day in hell.

Then again, the climate is changing.


It's Old NZ. People never look at each other, broaching matters that may lead to emotion. They stand facing the same direction looking at the Far Horizons.

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