Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Think about couples you know who are married. Do you know the stories of how any of them got engaged? If so, what are those stories?

Have you read any books or seen shows or movies in which a marriage proposal happens? What, if anything, do you like about how those proposals take place? Do you hope you will have a similar moment someday?

In “Forget the Fancy Proposal. Let’s Just Get Married.” by Suzannah Weiss, she writes: “The proposal is often deemed an essential step toward marriage, having been around since ancient Rome. But many couples today consider it obsolete or superfluous. Some could do without the engagement ring as well.” What do you think? Do proposals seem essential and timeless — a necessary step on the road to marriage? Or do they seem outdated in today’s world?

The article states:

“I found the whole ring thing to be shallow and one-sided,” said Margaret MacQuarrie, a 57-year-old marketing and communications professional in Nova Scotia, Canada. She decided to get married via mutual discussion with her husband, George Bauer, a retired marketing professional. She also found the notion of wearing a ring to signify that she was “taken” sexist and old-fashioned.

Traditional heterosexual proposals, where men do the asking and women respond, strike some as inegalitarian, said Ellen Lamont, an associate professor of sociology at Appalachian State University. Between 2010 and 2015 she interviewed 105 people ages 25-40 in the San Francisco Bay Area about their relationships for her recent book “The Mating Game: How Gender Still Shapes How We Date.”

Ms. Lamont’s research found that many people decided to get married during conversations with their partners, rather than through proposals. L.G.B.T.Q. people in particular expressed a view of proposals as overly gendered and preferred instead to make marriage a joint decision. “People said, ‘I don’t want to remake heterosexual norms within my relationship — those norms are contrived, they are gendered, and those are not things I want,’” she said.

The article also addresses the expectation, or lack thereof, of surprise as part of a marriage proposal:

Even when a proposal takes place, both parties often play a role in planning it. Karen Hopper Usher, a 36-year-old journalist in Cadillac, Mich., began talking to her partner about marriage early on because she was getting older and wanted to have children, and the idea of waiting for him to propose was too nerve-racking for her. So, they ordered a ring together, picked a date, and started planning the wedding before he formally proposed.

Stories like Ms. Hopper Usher’s appear to be more the norm rather than the exception. In a 2017 survey by the wedding site the Knot, only 35 percent of brides said their proposals were surprises. And Ms. Lamont said that the 22 proposals she had analyzed for her book were more often for show. Most married people she spoke with, she said, had discussed marriage with their partners before the engagement, sometimes even setting timetables and picking out rings. Only three of the 19 married or engaged women waited for their partners to propose without weighing in themselves, she said. Many put pressure on their partners, with eight of them giving ultimatums.

The author spoke with Samantha Bellinger, a wedding planner, and Marissa Nelson, a couples therapist, to gather information for the article.

Despite the tradition of men initiating engagements, Ms. Nelson has also found that in heterosexual relationships, it’s often women who will first bring up marriage, then their partners will plan proposals.

Ms. Bellinger agreed with that scenario. “The general trend is that the couple decides that they want to get married, and only then does one of the partners concoct a romantic proposal plan,” she said. “It is rarely a surprise that the proposal is happening — the date and timing might be a surprise, but it is usually expected.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What are your thoughts on marrying someday? If you think you may marry, do you see yourself or your significant other popping the question? Or do you think you might just talk about it and mutually decide to marry?

  • In the article, what, if anything, surprised you? Why?

  • You have read that some people see marriage proposals as obsolete, superfluous, overly performative or gendered. How do you respond to each of these claims?

  • What do the people who are quoted in the article seem to have in common? Why did they skip the proposal before they married? What, if anything, do you think each couple missed out on?

  • If a couple doesn’t have a memorable proposal, do you think that they may regret it later? Explain your answer.

  • If you envision marrying a partner someday, what role, if any, might an engagement ring play in your plans?

  • Now think about another type of planned-in-advance ritual that involves a question: the promposal. What are your thoughts on it? Have you ever experienced a promposal? If so, was it memorable, romantic, funny, embarrassing, fun — all of these, none of these or something else entirely?


About Student Opinion

Find all our Student Opinion questions in this column.
Have an idea for a Student Opinion question? Tell us about it.
Learn more about how to use our free daily writing prompts for remote learning.

Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.