Word Worth®
                      World Magazine of Ideas and the Arts™ — ©Spring 2019 Volume XIX,  Issue 2

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Columns

Engagement

It has 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.

In terms 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 Heartwhich is based on factreveals 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.

Rita 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 century.

It’s all 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.

The 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 mind.

Far more 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.”

In one instance, a father told the young man that he was really stupid to ask him and should be asking his daughter.

A 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.

In the 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.

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