Permission to Propose
Rebecca Clark Photography

You’ve decided to propose, you’ve got your eye on a stunning engagement ring and you’ve decided on the perfect proposal idea but there’s just one thing you can’t quite make your mind up about: whether or not to ask permission before proposing.

Sound like you? You’re not alone. Asking the permission of your partner’s parents is a long-standing tradition dating back to when women had little choice in who they married, and the engagement was more of a transaction between two men. Despite the less than romantic history, many proposers still choose to ask permission today.

While we think seeking the approval of your partner’s parents is in many ways admirable, we’re also a little uncomfortable with the idea of needing permission from a parent as a fully-grown adult.

To settle our internal debate, we chatted to some wedding experts to find out what they thought and it turns out there might just be a solution that suits everyone.

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Permission to Propose
George Coletrain, Unsplash

'Asking for Permission Is a Sexist and Outdated Practice Rooted in a Time Where Women Were Owned'

"I’m a romantic idealist and I will 100% cry at your wedding," says Hannah Petrouis, Business Development Director at Shropshire wedding venue Hawkstone Hall. "Who could help but enjoy such an outward display of love, devotion and togetherness, where family and friends come together with food and Champagne on tap? It’s just that a lot of the traditions wrapped up in a wedding do not make sense in our modern world, including that seemingly time-honoured one stating your other half should seek permission from your dad before he seeks permission from you.

"This one, in particular, grates on me. It dates back to a time when women didn’t marry out of choice; where the vast majority of marriages among the middle class were arranged by parents; where the bride was expected to marry for financial or social status and had no say in her own future; where the concept of marrying for love was rare and far-fetched.

"Asking for permission is a sexist and outdated practice rooted in a time where women were owned. We’d all balk at the idea of an old man wishing to trade in his daughter in for a decent plot of farmland on the Cornish coastline, yet we continue in the pursuit of traditions derived for exactly that purpose.

"My dad and I get along great and I would call him without hesitation for advice on a life-altering decision I needed help with. But my partner and I manage to make key decisions about our future every day through our own conversation and experience of the world, without feeling the need to check in with our parents first. Like most 30-somethings we’re already shacked up, we have a ton of life and travel experience under our own belts and we don’t rely on each other financially. Our marriage would be my second, and his first, so is the prospect of us treating that particular decision like any other so crazy?

"Now, I can completely understand the sentiment of those who choose to ask, or put pressure on their partner to do so. They are still the majority. There’s a need to show ‘respect’ for those that raised you, to create and maintain a bond with your future in-laws and to feel you have the support of your loved ones. So what’s the modern day solution? How can we achieve this innate need for acceptance whilst acknowledging that this practice is, at best, outdated and, at worst, misogynistic garbage?

"Enter the ‘blessing’. By discussing your thoughts on an impending proposal with your partner first you’ll be ignoring the societal pressure for a ‘surprise’ engagement - cue diamond flashing ‘I had no idea’ status. Look, everyone knows it’s coming, it’s just a matter of when.

"If you both decide it’s important to you, ask for the blessing of those closest to your partner. If that happens to be dad, ask him; if it happens to be best friend and cousin twice removed, ask them. It’s a blessing, not a permission. Never allow other people to make important decisions in your life, that right is yours and yours alone. We live in modern times, so we better start acting that way."

READ MORE: Wedding Traditions & Their Meanings: 15 Things You Never Knew About Weddings

Permission to Propose

'There's Little to Lose; For the Parents, It Instils Confidence, Gains Trust and Earns Respect'

While not entirely convinced that asking permission to propose is always the right thing to do, Mike Robinson, Senior Event Sales Manager at Bubble Food, highlights why sometimes the benefits might just outweigh the drawbacks. "Whilst considered slightly ‘old fashioned’ and even sexist these days, the process of asking permission for your partner's hand in marriage is still alive and well, albeit on a lesser scale and more confined to certain sectors," he said.

"By the time we reach 18, we are allowed by law to do all sorts of things we could not do before and, by 21, are considered adult enough to make our own decisions in everything from purchasing a house or car to having a baby. However - whilst going against the grain of gender equality - cultural or even close-knit family ties are often considered reasons to get permission to propose. Consider the following:

  • Getting permission from the father, mother or both parents may help in bonding with them
  • It can earn respect from the get go and win some brownie points
  • It can be handled as more of an ‘opinion’ chat than granted permission
  • Traditional parents would rather you asked than not
  • In some cultures it’s an obligatory requirement that parents approve the groom to be suitable for their daughter, even if the bride and groom disagree - family bonds can be that strong!

"There is probably little to lose in going through this process and, for the parents at least, instilling a bit of confidence, gaining your trust and earning a bit of respect. However, to further complicate the decision, there are few things that demonstrate less respect for an adult than asking their dad if they're allowed to make one of the biggest decisions of their life. In an attempt to respect your partner's father, you run the risk of disrespecting them. It can become a tight balancing act!"  

READ MORE: 15 Things Every Couple Needs to Do As Soon As You Get Engaged

So Should You Ask Permission to Propose?

The bottom line: the choice to consult with your partner's loved ones before proposing is a personal decision that only you can make, however, reframing the idea of asking for permission as simply seeking out their blessing could be the best way to keep all parties happy.

By doing this you'll show your soon-to-be in laws that their opinions are important to you while reaffirming the fact that, ultimately, only you and your partner can make this decision. Sounds like a pretty good way to start a marriage to us.  

Planning on catching your proposal on camera? Read these proposal picture tips from a professional photographer