A question

The other night, and I were talking about queers getting married and choosing to have a traditional “engagement” – i.e. an expensive engagement ring, which one person buys for the other person, and the notion that one party has to propose to the other party, while the other party waits for that to happen.

In my mind, one of the few bonuses to being queer is that we don’t have to follow the same rules that others feel obliged to follow. The whole concept of an engagement comes out of the misogynistic belief that a woman needed a “deposit” from the man in case he decided to take off, and that the man would get his “deposit” back if she turned out to be damaged goods.

The whole institution of marriage is riddled with charming pieces of misogyny like that, but in the last few years I have seen some wonderful ways of making marriage meaningful and egalitarian, while still acknowledging the importance of marriage as an institution and rite of passage. I believe that queers getting married has actually opened up that process – made straight couples more likely to think about what the rituals mean and what they really want their ceremony to feel like. As and first articulated in their wedding ceremony, in our contemporary society marriage is truly a choice, not an obligation, whether we stop to appreciate it as a choice or not.

So what I am asking is this – is there some meaning to the idea of being “engaged” that I am missing? What is the significance of needing one person to propose to another, whether it is the man in a straight relationship, or the butch member in a queer relationship? What is the significance of an engagement ring, given to only one person in the relationship?


~ by realsupergirl on December 20, 2006.

29 Responses to “A question”

  1. I can only speak for my actions and our relationship here, but the only reason our engagment is “one sided” i.e, I don’t have a ring, is because I don’t wear rings. I would probably take it off at work to put on my lab gloves, and eventually misplace it or something. I don’t need to worry about some tiny, hundreds of dollars-worth of object. I have an iPod and a cell phone and a laptop to worry about- that’s quite enough, thank you! πŸ˜‰
    As for the proposal, I think SO would have been quite happy with something less formal/awkward πŸ˜‰ but I had always imagined myself doing it, the first symbolical step to creating a lifelong partnership with the person I love. (Because my mom always said that I would never find happiness and I would die alone or something like that…of course, I was a smart aleck and said, “Great, I’ll die alone. I don’t need any grave-mates.”)

  2. So, if it’s OK, I’ll deconstruct you a little:

    “the only reason our engagment is “one sided” i.e, I don’t have a ring, is because I don’t wear rings.”

    OK, fair enough. There’s not much to argue about there. Maybe men don’t wear rings, so they don’t feel comfortable wearing rings, so they don’t see not getting an engagement ring as a loss.

    But as for the other part…”I had always imagined myself doing it”…

    Why do you think this is? What do you think it was it about your conception of being engaged that made you feel like you should be the one to propose, as opposed to your SO?

    Hope you don’t mind me deconstructing you…I find this a fascinating topic and I really appreciate you being willing to respond to my query.

  3. When and I got engaged, we got each other rings so that each of us had one, and there wasn’t really a “proposal” as such, because we had talked it over together and decided it was something we wanted to do.

  4. You got me.

  5. I think that proposing has traditionally been the male role, ever since Isaac brough all that shit to Rebecca and asked her dad Laban for her hand. Of course it is mysognistic, transferring the woman from one male caretaker to the next, I don’t disagree with that. Of course, many women who are raised in a paternalistic society expect to be taken care of, or at least hope for it. I’m not saying my SO is taking the female role in our relationship, or wants to be taken care of in anything but a mutual way, but I still have that feeling of “male obligation”. Maybe it is just a matter of perception? i.e., I want to be perceived as male and thus feel inclined to take on traditional male roles? Of course, this is all really only relevant to my unique situation and doesn’t answer your more globally inclined questions…

  6. It may be more relevant than you think…

    I think many straight men feel less masculine, less male, if they cannot afford engagement rings, or don’t propose in a traditional way.

  7. That sounds very much like the “engagement” of me and …we talked about it for a year or so, processed what we would want, and eventually went to meet with a rabbi, who told us congratulations on our engagement.

    I’m certainly not implying that was an ideal way to go about it. In fact, one of the things we talked about in our conversation was whether we “missed out” on something by not having a more traditional engagement.

  8. As usual
    I’m gonna reply and THEN read the other comments hahaha

    I see where you are coming from, Supergirl.

    I think it’s different for everyone. I totally agree with your point that a great part of being queer is that we get to challenge all KINDS of supposed social norms and traditions. Lucky for me, I even have STRAIGHT friends doing that, too! We thinking people totally get the misogyny part. We think it sucks. And then we do it differently. Clearly, in a situation where there are TWO women – neither (hopefully) are women haters. So it’s less about that and more about tradition and fun. I think queers can RE-define the engagement period just like we have re-defined many things. So, to be queer and to be engaged means this (to me) – a place to start from. I give a ring because, well, I don’t wear rings so if L. were to buy me a ring it would be a waste of money. L., however, loves jewelry soooo I will buy her a ring to symbolize the beginning of a journey we are taking together. Maybe it’s more “traditional” than other ways – but then again, I don’t mind tradition. The only thing I mind is people making rules FOR me. I don’t think it’s a butch/femme thing, either. I think you are jumping to lots of conclusions and not taking into consideration that people do indeed think about these things. And just because it may outwardly seem like we are doing it the straight way fact of the matter is…..we aint straight. I, for one, just like to have fun and love the pomp and circumstance of it all. To each her own!

  9. I certainly don’t presume to think people don’t think about the decision – in fact, that’s why I am asking. Because I want to know the reasons for the decision to do something that seems foreign to me.

    It sounds like, similar to you don’t particularly like rings, and therefore that part is easy for you because of that.

    But what about the other part? Why do you think it is important for you and/or your SO to be the one to propose, rather than have her propose?

    (If, as I said to you don’t mind being deconstructed a little bit. I really appreciate you being willing to respond to this question at all)

  10. I know that I felt bad about not getting SO a “big diamond”, and SO didn’t even want a big diamond!

  11. It’s always about size with you guys, isn’t it???


  12. Well, I’m not much of an LJ commenter, but I feel compelled.

    I think I’ve probably thought about gender a lot more than most people I know – including most queer people I know. Queer people question MY gender expression and MY sexuality more than straight people do.

    As PF said, I like jewelry. So I want jewelry. That’s pretty straightforward.

    I also like pomp and circumstance.

    I also like having someone I love and want to spend the rest of my life with take the time to formally ask me to spend the rest of my life with her. And to have something to look at every day to symbolize that and remind me of that. So in those moments when things are stressful and we’re lost in the planning or in other stresses of life, I can look at my ring and remember that yes, I am committed to this and yes, it is a promise. Just like she can look at some of the other material things I have given her that can symbolize something much greater. Because we all sometimes need reminders.

    And if PF wore rings I’d get her one too. I have, in fact, bought her more than one gumball machine ring πŸ˜‰

    I’m not about copying straight people or mimicking or mindlessly adopting traditions. And I don’t think it’s fair to assume that queers who choose to follow some traditions are internalizing sexism, acting misogynically or trying to pass for straight. And in fact I think in some ways we are challenging society by choosing to adopt some of their traditions. Imagine when I get my ring (and I do say WHEN not IF – hahaha) and I go into work (where not everyone yet knows I’m queer) and they see my ring and ask me about my fiancee excitedly and I reply with female pronouns. As normally as can be. I just start talking about wedding planning and proposals from my future spouse – just like anyone would. And even though they look confused I just keep going. And relish in my own joy and happiness. And quietly challenge every last one of their assumptions. That’s activism. And even if it wasn’t, sometimes we just want to do what feels natural and beautiful and committed and exciting for ourselves. And whatever other straight or queer people think is slightly irrelevent because really we just two girls who are excited to actually be living at the right place and right time and want to get married. I for one am a little exhausted and exasperated with queers (and queer women in particular) questioning me and my choices. I’m a girl. A girlie girl. Not a straight girl. Not a queer girl trying to dress or act or be straight. I’m a girlie queer girl who just wants a ring on my damn finger before I say yes. Call me old fashioned.

  13. I guess it’s better I didn’t get the big diamond then. You know what they say about big cars… πŸ˜‰

  14. look up!


    i’m proposing and getting her a ring cause it’s what the girl wants!!


    no, really, just sayin – like most people, we talked about what we wanted in terms of commitment. we talked about what we wanted in terms of marriage (or not) and we talked at length about what that would look like. part of what it looks like is a ring. it never felt like an obligation. it actually feels quite nice. and i guess the decision of who buys the ring was simple – since i don’t want a ring. or at least an engagement ring. i’d take a tattoo πŸ™‚

    diff from FW, i don’t feel a sense “male obligation” but it’s a totally diff situation. i do, however, suddenly have this complex about not buying a BIG ENOUGH diamond. L. wants a small diamond bc she has small hands and i’m like, “NOOOO i need to buy you a BIG one bc it’s a refection of ME” hahahaha. so that’s been interesting. something unexpected since i’m so not a material possessions person. but i want the girl to have a BIGASS ring!! and she doesn’t want it. hahahaha.

    hope this helps answer some questions.

  15. I totally agree with everything you are saying. Right on.

    But…and again, only if you’re comfortable with me deconstructing you a little…I am curious to know why it is important for YOU to be PROPOSED TO, rather than the other way around?

    Because when you say “I also like having someone I love and want to spend the rest of my life with take the time to formally ask me to spend the rest of my life with her” – a sentiment which is beautiful, and well-written, BTW – I want to know why it is important that someone formally ask you, rather than you asking them. And I don’t mean this critically – I apologize if it comes out sounding critical. I just really want to understand, because I find this all so fascinating.

  16. I feel like engagement is important as a phase and it is pretty unimportant how you enter that phase or how you symbolize it. From my perspective, it’s like a habitation. So the gender of it could be like saying, “you know houses used to be a symbol of the patriarch’s wealth and all who lived in them were under his rule, so we should not live in houses.” Which come to think of it is an interesting idea, whether architecture could be made more symbolic and egalitarian (bring the counters and cabinets down to easy height for people who are 5’3″ for starters…) but I digress.

    I proposed in a relationship a long time ago and we were engaged 3 years. Though we did not enter the married state at the end of the engagement, it was the perfect thing to do at the time. Engagement itself is a certain statement and state. I bought a ring and was actually surprised to receive a ring myself a couple of months later. But it was nice and thoughtfully chosen, so OK. This time around, I was proposed to.

    I don’t know why this makes sense though I personally am a big fan of surprises in general so the tradition of it being a surprise present kind of thing appeals to me on that level. It certainly is a performance on both sides, for many of us the most staged thing we do (until the wedding…)

    I can’t seem to quite get to your point since the aspects you are talking about are almost meaningless for me though engagement itself is not. But there is certainly an aspect where it is relaxing, I would say, to relax into tradition and feel like, hey, I can just do what people have been doing forever and I do not have to think hard here, I can grab onto someone else’s symbol. Decisions about who you are spending your life with are actually fraught with stress on a certain level no matter how sure you are, and it feels like the world is more supportive if you are able to enter the covenant in the same method. I am not sure it is endorsing the traditions so much as wanting to be part of the social norms and current vernacular — though they are of course intertwined.

    Marriage and engagements are for the public at least 50%; there is some contract there that involves others, there is a need for a story to tell, a concrete act that can be externalized, so I think there are a lot of reasons that have to do with symbolism and signing that are not for the two in the relationship as much as are to provide them with a narrative and symbols to make a very long story very short when they are interacting with others.

    Perhaps some of the assumptions and questions asked, verbally or non, are inappropriate or misogynistic or have to do with ‘who wears the pants.’ But you can never communicate the complexities of your relationship to outsiders anyway. And I don’t think it says that much about the relationship. Usually, not always, one person does most of the work in a relationship. It’s rare that it’s even. But who proposes bears no relation to that emotional reality — it is more related to the traditions, or who wants to make the move first, or who wants to be on record, or who is interested in creating that particular story for the couple…

    While you have a point that this can also be a teaching opportunity and space for innovation etc., it does seem to be plain fact that the personal realm is always the last to be ‘liberated.’ It seems like after a hard day at work and challenges from strangers, it is much harder to gather energy to maintain your inner/family life in a constant state of innovation… and present it accurately to others…

    whoa there is apparently a length limit on comments and I’ve blown it…

  17. I do think there are issues of privilege and ‘passing’ here in various senses. But there is also one avenue that says that it is easier to innovate and experiment after you’ve already been accepted into the norm. Maybe we are still waiting for that…

    In my earlier relationship, for me to propose was the least traditional, but that never ever occurred to me (and i’m glad it didn’t. Ieew, I would not want to make choices on that basis.) In this relationship, you could take your pick about what is not conventional. I think SO may have wanted a bit of convention even for that specific reason. Marriage is at the same time a novelty and the thing we’ve all wanted forever. So I think a mix of responses is inevitable.

    I think this is a language problem — symbolic language. Am not surprised to find you two puzzling it out!

  18. i think hit the nail on the head here:

    “Perhaps some of the assumptions and questions asked, verbally or non, are inappropriate or misogynistic or have to do with ‘who wears the pants.’ But you can never communicate the complexities of your relationship to outsiders anyway.”

    i would just add subtleties to that. complexities and subtleties. aren’t there thousands of things in your day to day life with your SO that you do for her without really thinking much about it because you know it’s what she wants or what will make her happy? (which i think could tie into what the MW was saying that no relationship is ever equal. someone is always carrying a little more chores, a little more stress, a little more work, a little more litter box cleaning…and it shifts). so, not to speak for L. here, but, i don’t think that she’s made a choice NOT to propose to me. because in all of that subtlety that goes on, L. has proposed to me probably a hundred times. it was just staged differently. fine-tuned in a way that she knew would work for me. so, i don’t think L. is sitting back waiting to be proposed to (not that that was the implication) but more that we want different things in the way of HOW we formally ask a REALLY big question – which for us is – will you keep me forever? or as least as long as you can. ha. (that’s my part). and so, no one can really know that that is what is going on, bc no one knows the ins and outs out L. and S..

  19. how L. proposes:

    so the other day we were at costco (loooooove costco) and L. and i were buying tzatziki to dip our veggies in bc it’s something we really love to do. and i was joking with L. about how we should get married at costco bc we LOVE it so much and if we do it on a sunday there are free hor derves!! and i was saying that i really enjoy being donestic with her and she turned to me and said, “baby, will you be my tzatziki partner for life?”

  20. makes such a good point that people propose many times and in many different ways — and it gets discounted for what it is b/c it is outside of the master narrative — which can be so strong that we often ‘pretend’ all those other conversations didn’t happen for the sake of the story we finally tell. And I think that is relatively common across queer-non-queer lines. That would be really interesting for someone to do some real research on.

    It’s interesting. Makes me wonder: what’s the harm? not rhetorically.

  21. Big gas bills?

  22. Well, that too. Although I was thinking more along the lines of compensation…

  23. Seconded. It was pretty much the same for A and I – except I don’t really wear rings, so she got me a really nice watch instead (which I very happily wear every day). We talked it over, decided it was something we wanted to do and exchanged symbolic gifts.

    I see the engagement gifts as an extension of the wedding rings – a sort of private proto-wedding ring. As important, I think, as the wedding ring itself in a lot of ways. I viewed the engagement as the beginning of an irrevocable contiguous process that simply ended with a wedding. The engagement and wedding are in my mind two parts of a single whole. The wedding, as wonderful as it was, to me was the public recognition of what A and I had already done privately when we got engaged a year or so earlier.

  24. This is a most interesting question.

    I didn’t even figure out I was queer, much less that I was going to end up moving to Boston and marrying a chick, until I was 32.

    What I found interesting was that something about turning from “girlfriends” to “fiancees” really cemented our relationship in OTHER people’s eyes.

    I would have thought that moving halfway across the country for the girl would have been enough of an indication that this was Serious Business, but apparently it didn’t really sink in for some people (read: “my parents”, who have really been most supportive) until we announced our engagement.

    We didn’t have engagement rings though. We did have Ring Pops.

  25. Did one of you propose to the other one? Did it feel like one of you “should’ propose, and the other “should” be proposed to?

  26. Speaking as a hetero male who went the more traditional route, I would have been totally fine if Swankette had asked me–but it would have had to have happened after I was ready, which seriously was about a month or two before I popped the question.

    We went the traditional route (speaking for myself) simply because it is tradition, and while I certainly understand the misogynistic roots of this tradition and many others, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Part of the reason my wife is my wife is because she put absolutely no pressure on me to pop the question during nearly 3 years of dating prior to my asking…and her asking me would have probably made me run away. Not because of gender roles, but because she was ready before I was. So the tradition of the man asking and the woman waiting-to-be-asked was the template we played off of…because Swankette didn’t ever pressure me in spite of my traditional role as asker, I grew to love her selflessness and her patience with me, and that would have been less clear if we didn’t have the man-asks-woman tradition to bring those qualities to the forefront.

    I agree with everything you say about tradition often being a mask of outdated and ugly ideas…but they also can be the background to some beautiful responses-to and twists-on tradition. I agree with you–the move to gay marriage is making everyone tweak and consider these traditions, which is an unequivocally good thing.


  27. One of us did propose to the other, yes. Wouldn’t you like to know which? πŸ˜‰

    I don’t know that it was a matter of “should”, but it was what felt right, if that makes any sense. If it doesn’t make any sense, I blame cold medication.

    It would have worked just as well the other way.

  28. Also, we both knew we’d be getting married at some point, so the question was more a formality than anything.

  29. To further what the boy said – I knew I could make ours a permanent thing a few months into the courtship v2.0. I also knew he was NOWHERE near ready for that. So I waited. He had to be the one to ask, because that meant HE was ready for it. If the tables were turned, and he were the first one ready to make the plunge, then I prob’ly would have been the one to ask. We’ll never really know.

    For me the engagement period was an important part of the process. The journey to the moment. In the Christian church they are a normal part of the process. Lent leads you to Easter. Advent leads you to Christmas. You have to prepare yourself emotionally, mentally, spiritually for the event. We knew things were going to be permanent, but it was our time to work out all the details. Go through counseling for someone to give it their third-party seal of approval. Figure out how we’d meld the finances. Talk about kids and priorities and goals and how the rest of our lives would look.

    As for the ring, I like sparkly things, and Sweetie knows this. Does there need to be more of a reason than that?

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