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What It's Actually Like To Propose When You're A Woman

Why wait for Leap Day to pop the question?

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Queen Victoria did it. Monica Geller did it. A January 2014 poll found that 74% of respondents were cool with it. And yet, stories of women proposing aren't nearly as common as men doing the damn thing.

In many cultures (as well as in a divisive 2010 movie) Feb. 29, aka Leap Day, is *the* day for women to "balance out" gender roles by proposing to their partners, in the same way that Leap Day balances out the calendar.

But...what if a couple is already pretty well-balanced, thank you very much? What if the woman isn't proposing to a man, but a woman? What if she doesn't want to wait four years to ask someone to spend the rest of their life with her? The Leap Day tradition is sweet, but planning a future with your ~forever person~ doesn't have to wait for a holiday or gender roles to come around.

Here are stories from four women who popped the question on their own terms.

Ashley and Justin

"We don't have roles in our relationship. We are partners and are equals," Ashley told BuzzFeed of the dynamic between her and her fiancé Justin. She messaged him first on OkCupid in August 2011, initiated the marriage conversation two and a half years later, and, fittingly, proposed.

How did you know that you wanted to marry him?

I don't think there was ever an exact moment. We had been casually dating long-distance for about six months when I realized that my feelings were more than those of casually dating. I woke up at his house, looked at him sleeping in bed, and freaked out. I immediately left because I kept thinking, I cannot spend anymore time with this man because I will only start to care more about him, and we live far away from each other, so it will never work. But later that week, I explained my abrupt exit. It was then that we decided we were going to give this thing, whatever it was, a real shot, long distance and all.

Why did you decide to propose?

We had discussed having children, buying a home, and growing old with each other, but never really marriage. We have never expected something of the other that would fall within the ideals of traditional gender roles. We share the housework. We both work full time, and earn equally. We both put the needs of the other ahead of our own needs. Our relationship isn't about what a woman should do and what a man should do, it's about loving and taking care of one another. Proposing to Justin definitely wasn't outside of our norm. I didn't necessarily want to be the one to propose, but I didn't necessarily not want to be. I just knew I wanted to spend my life with this man, and I didn't feel any hesitation to be the one to ask.

I remember the night I decided to do it like it was yesterday. We were at a concert and I was having the time of my life, we were making new friends, and I just felt so full of love. I remember looking over at Justin and thinking to myself, I want to spend forever with him. I asked him what he would think if I proposed to him, and his was response was, "YEAH! I'd be cool with that." I honestly don't even know why I asked [permission]. I am stubborn, so I would have done it anyway. I started looking for engagement rings the next day.

How did you do it?

I proposed on July 4, 2014. I knew I wanted to propose on that day because we always go out to the Finger Lakes, where he is from, on the Fourth. It's a special place to us; it's where our relationship really began and grew.

I knew that finding a ring for him would be tough because he has very particular taste. I scoured Etsy for weeks trying to find the perfect one. Finally, I found one I liked and I messaged the owner, who was delighted to hear our story, and even happier to make me the perfect ring for Justin. Once it came in the mail, I hid it for about two months before the actual proposal.

We were staying at a friend's house on Lake Waneta with some other friends for the holiday. At the end of the night on the Fourth, our friends asked if we wanted to go out on their boat and I thought, This is the perfect moment! I grabbed the ring and hid it. While we were out on the boat, everyone at the lake started setting off fireworks, and I pulled out the ring and asked if he would marry me. He was so surprised — even though I had mentioned it at that concert, I don't think he thought I was serious. When I finally asked, he just kept saying, "Are you serious?!" After the shock wore off, and after he asked if I was serious a few times, he said yes. It was perfect.

He didn't do his own proposal because there was no reason to be not only redundant, but to also take that special moment away from me, and us.

How did your family and friends react to you proposing?

Some people were incredibly supportive of me proposing to Justin and others were honestly confused by it, and even not very accepting. Some even said to me that it wasn't real. Justin and I eventually got me a ring to wear to signify that I was engaged. We found it in an antique shop and it was only $20, but I loved it. I remember when I started wearing it someone said to me, "Oh good, now your engagement is real." That was really jarring. It was real before I wore that ring. It was real the moment I proposed. It was me telling the man I love that I wanted to spend forever with him. What is more real than that? But then there were others, so many others, who thought it was amazing and who were so supportive. A few people who were close to me even told me they were proud of me. They didn't really elaborate on it, but I think they were proud that to me it isn't about gender, as it shouldn't be — it is about love.


Christina and Lauren

Christina and Lauren were friends for three years before they started dating in 2008. When they finally got together romantically, they both knew it would lead to marriage, but Christina brought it up first and was the one to propose.

How did you know that you wanted to marry her?

I still remember when I first saw her. I couldn't help myself; I was drawn to her and I've been lost to her ever since. A year later into our relationship, I told her I wanted to spend my life with her. She said she felt the same. I knew she was the one because there was no one else in the world I wanted to spend time with, no one who made me smile the way she did and no one who both supported my growth and challenged me to grow even more than Lauren. We have enough in common to get along incredibly well and yet we have two very distinct different personalities that allow space for creative difference, peaceful disagreement, and open communication. Plus, she has a smile that could stop you dead in your tracks.

Why did you decide to propose?

I brought up marriage because it's very important for me to declare my love for Lauren in front of the people who love me most because we will need their support. Relationships do not exist in a vacuum. We'd only discussed the proposal in terms of venues and who we would want to be involved. When one of us felt the time was right, we would propose. There was no real plan. We were approaching our fifth anniversary, and I felt it was time to make her a promise that I would continue to work on our relationship together until we were ready for marriage.

How did you do it?

I hadn't decided how to propose to Lauren until the day before our fifth-anniversary photo shoot. The ring didn't fit in my bra and my dress didn't have pockets, and I couldn't figure out how to surprise her with the proposal. We don't share gifts for our anniversary so it would hard to explain why I had a gift for her anyway. I decided to wrap the ring box in a bigger box and hide it with the photographer to give me during the photo shoot for Lauren's "surprise anniversary gift." I was a hot mess! I had to pull over on the highway to call my mother and ask for her blessing. I brought my flask with me for some liquid courage and took a shot of whiskey before I left the car for the photo shoot in the park.

Lauren had said that she didn't want me to get down on one knee to propose, so when the photographer had us sit down on the stone wall next to one another, I thought to myself, This is my chance! She was first surprised by the gift, then scolded me for getting her a gift and breaking our rule. When she unwrapped the gift, she realized that I was proposing. She kept repeating, "What? What's happening? What is that? What?" I began to explain calmly and quietly that I was lost in love with her, my best friend, and I could not imagine living any day with anyone else. I promised to continue to work on myself and our relationship until we decided we were both ready for marriage. At that point, she burst into tears. I kissed her and held her hand until she said she was ready to listen again. I asked her to marry me and she said yes. Afterward, she could not stop smiling. She was surprised by the proposal, but mostly that I was able to pull it off flawlessly without her noticing. To be honest, I was, too!

How did your family and friends react to you proposing?

"It's about time!"

Harmony and Sean

Harmony and Sean got together in October 2006, and Harmony realized Sean was The One "around the six-month mark." Harmony was the first to say "I love you," and, ultimately, the one to propose on Feb. 2, 2014.

How did you know that you wanted to marry him?

We were probably dating for six months before we had open conversations about marriage; by one year, things were pretty clear. We've always been pretty open about those kinds of discussions, and I can't imagine having proposed without being clear on those things. It was still early at that time, and we were working our way through college and figuring out our careers so while we knew we were going to get married we kind of waited until our lives were settled a bit more.

Why did you decide to propose?

We discussed it four months before the actual proposal. Sean thought it would be great if I proposed; he wanted the feeling of being proposed to and also thought I would come up with a creative way of doing it. For me, I thought it would be fun to plan a proposal. I'd say we have very gender-neutral roles in our relationship. We both work long days as freelancer; we both pay for meals when we go out. We really will taken any role needed of us at the moment. I think for us it's less about roles and more about the day-to-day of being in a friendship/partnership with someone. I wouldn't expect him to do something for me that I wouldn't do for him, and vice versa.

How did you do it?

I proposed by pretending that we were setting up a photo shoot video intro on the beach for one of my dresses. Once he had the camera rolling, I told Sean to leave the camera running and join me on the beach. I had bought us some fossilized ammonite shell necklaces made from the same fossil as a token of the proposal. Sean and I work in fashion, photography, and video. We also love the Oregon coast so it seemed like a good place and way to do it.

How did your family and friends react to you proposing?

Our friends and family were all super supportive of our engagement or they didn't say anything. Even many of our very conservative friends were openly very happy for us. I think most anyone would be happy for their friends regardless of who played which role. The only hate we got was from strangers on the internet. People saying that it was emasculating to a man to be proposed to, and that I was taking away the only cool thing a man got to do in a relationship. We think that is ridiculous and certainly not the case for us. We are now working together to plan our wedding, which will be Sept. 24 this year!

Rachel and Josh

"We're a brain match and a heart match," Rachel said of her partner, Josh, whom she met in college eight years ago. After they mutually agreed it was time to get engaged, Rachel proposed to Josh on Dec. 28, 2015.

How did you know that you wanted to marry him?

I know some couples say that their partner is their best friend, but we actually were best friends before we started dating and really got to know and respect each other as individuals, which I think is why we fell in love in the first place. We support each other unequivocally. As we've gotten older we realized that making our commitment more public would be meaningful to our families and it became more important to us as well. We started talking about it more this past year.

Why did you decide to propose?

I really wanted to propose was because I love planning surprises, and didn't want to miss out on that opportunity! We have a very egalitarian relationship which is really important to both of us. We share household responsibilities and make decisions together. So I'd say our proposals were a fitting reflection of our relationship.

These days, I think more couples have at least some conversation about marriage before the proposal. But if you're planning to enter into the marriage as equal partners, I couldn't understand why so many engagements start out on unequal footing, with one partner in an active role and one partner in a passive one. We were in the relationship together as equals, so I wanted to get engaged as equals where we each got to plan a proposal for each other, and Josh really liked the idea. It was exciting, but also challenging, because there aren't really very many models for a mutual proposal out there, and there's still a lot of stigma about women proposing to men.

How did you do it?

Josh is really, really good at puzzles, so for my proposal, I planned an epic, daylong puzzle and scavenger hunt. I left a cryptogram on his pillow in the morning, and throughout the day he received phone calls, messages, and videos from our friends and family with clues in the form of scrambled words. He had to crack the code in order to solve the puzzle, which said, "Meet me at the Whisper Arch," which is in Grand Central Station. When he arrived, I was standing in one corner of the arch, where I played our favorite song. I then told him to count to three and turn around. I was standing holding a sign that said, "Will you be my partner?" written backward, because instead of a ring, I gave him a twin lens reflex camera, which shows all images in reverse. When he looked through the viewfinder, he could read my message. Josh then surprised me the next day with his proposal — it was a busy two days!

How did your family and friends react to you proposing?

Our friends and family were incredibly supportive and excited for us. I did get a few comments like "You're so brave" (which I doubt many people say to men who propose) and one person asked me If I proposed because I was worried that he'd never do it, implying that I must have been desperate to get married. I think that traditions around engagement and marriage are deeply embedded for many people, so I wasn't really offended, but I do hope that more women and more couples will think about these traditions critically so that eventually no one will bat an eye if a woman proposes or if couples propose to each other!