recently become popular for celebrities to turn marriage proposals into
big events. Elaborate plans are made by the man to create a magnificent
setting and to precede that with asking the woman’s father’s permission.
On the surface, this is cute, but it hearkens back to things diabolical.
of human history, it’s been only a brief span of time during which
asking permission was not deadly serious. In many parts of the world now, it
is still deadly serious. The father of a fifteen-year-old girl gave the
child to Osama bin Laden for one of his “wives.” In our own arts pages,
Father Heart—which is based on fact—reveals the life of a girl
who was forever cast out by her family for marrying against her parents'
wishes. Her life and that of her four children was made very difficult
as a result, and the parents never relented, never saw their only
daughter again, and never knew their four grandsons. The Arts page in
our Winter 2017 issue is a reprint from the 1800s about a Quaker girl
who was going to be forced to marry someone she did not “have a call” to
marry. She had to sneak away from the house in an elaborate plan in
order to marry the man whom she “had a call” to marry. In that case, all
ended well but not before her family had serious discussion and compared
her to The Prodigal Son.
Banerji writes eloquently in our October 2008 edition about her
grandmother who had been forced into a marriage she did not want
resulting “in a long, embittered marriage that was often turbulent and
violent.” That wasn’t thousands of years ago. It was in the last
well and good to make a romantic game of the marriage proposal—he gets
down on bended knee in a setting he carefully stages, presenting a ring
on which he spent three months’ income. It’s a nice fantasy. Tom Cruise
had enough money to get Paris to shut down the entire Eiffel Tower so he
and Katie Holmes could have it all to themselves when he proposed. That
did not ensure a lengthy marriage.
notion that it should be up to the man to propose and to determine when
to propose, rather than the engagement resulting from discussions
between both people, creates problems for each. She has to wait and
wonder what he’s thinking and when and if and whether their union will
ever solidify. He has to get his timing just right. If he waits too
long, she will have become emotionally exhausted and give up on him. The
proposal will then seem anticlimactic and dull. The subject of many
comedies revolves around her thinking that this important dinner
he has arranged is the setting for a proposal when he is
just thinking about how special the dinner is. It’s hard for him to come
back from something like that. It puts him on a much lower level in her
nefarious, however, is asking the father’s permission to marry her. It
evokes a time, not that long ago, when a woman could not own property
because she was property. A woman was chattel—appropriate that
the word is so similar to “cattle.”
instance, a father told the young man that he was really stupid to ask
him and should be asking his daughter.
prospective groom asked Judith Martin whether he should ask the father
of his intended for permission. Miss Manners responded by asking
what they would do if the father said “no”. Would they still marry? If
so, the asking is insincere and duplicitous.
updated version, young men who want to show respect to the lady’s family
ask both of her parents for their blessing, not for
permission which only she can give.