Annette Gendler is a writer and photographer. Although she was born in New Jersey, she grew up in Germany. In 1985, she met the love of her life, a Jewish man whose family were Holocaust survivors. They kept their relationship a secret for three years, and then moved to Chicago, where they still live. Jumping Over Shadows, her memoir about their German-Jewish love, will be published in April.
“Remind me to tell you about my ‘non-proposal’ proposal,” my friend says as we make a lunch date. She’s just finished reading my book and is referring to the chapter in which my husband and I were making marriage plans without him ever having popped the question. And that in a relationship that had been, because of our German-Jewish constellation, pretty impossible to pull off.
A few days later, my friend and I are discussing marriage proposals.
“My cousin’s daughter has been dating this guy for years,” she says, “they’re living together and all, and she’s waiting for him to propose. I don’t get it. Why do women still need the guy to propose?”
“I don’t know. My husband’s personal trainer was so nervous about proposing on Valentine’s Day even though they were already living together! But what’s your non-proposal story?”
“You two discussing marriage while driving on an icy road reminded me how my husband never proposed either,” she says, and proceeds to tell me that they’d been dating for a while when they ended up in her kitchen, and he said, “Well, why don’t we get married?” and she replied, “Wait, I’ll tell you when you can propose to me.” (She still had her eye on another guy.)
“And did you?” I ask.
“I did, but by then it was obvious anyway.”
That’s the point. Isn’t it obvious when he is Mr. Right? My friend has been married to this very same guy for 34 years.
Why do women still expect the guy to propose? Do they also have him ask their father for their hand in marriage? What century are we living in?
Speaking of century, while my own husband (of 29 years) didn’t propose to me in the late 1980s, I have good evidence that you could also get away without a marriage proposal in stodgier 1961. I was an insufferable romantic as a child–my favorite fairy tale is still Cinderella–and I loved everything that had to do with weddings. My grandmother would take me on special trips to gaze at the windows of bridal shops. Naturally, in my kid mind, any romantic relationship entailed the guy falling on his knee to propose. I must have been about eight when I asked my father how he had proposed to my mother.
“I didn’t,” he replied.
“You didn’t propose?” I was shocked.
“No, I didn’t have to. It was obvious we’d get married.”
“But didn’t you talk about it?”
“Kind of. One winter night we were driving back from some date—your Mom had the VW bug then—and we talked about when we’d get married.”
How utterly unromantic! The only redeeming fact was that my parents (who were happily married until my father passed away) did have a formal engagement party on St. Patrick’s Day and a white wedding the following summer. But all that, my mother contends, was to satisfy her parents, not her.
Small wonder then that I followed in their footsteps. White wedding, yes, but marriage proposal? Who needs that? A conversation about wedding logistics while riding in a car on a winter night works just fine.