The notion that suitors need to ask the bride’s father’s permission to marry went out with the buggy whip—or did it?
Many couples are planning on marrying regardless of the answer, but they’re retooling old scripts to fit the modern marriage—slipping the request into casual conversations and asking Mom as well as Dad. As a result, popping the question before the question can get awkward.
had bought a house and a business together before Mr. Cox asked Alyssa’s father Steve for permission to marry her. To make time for a private conversation, he invited Mr. Knowles to their Charlotte, N.C., house to help install a porch swing.
Mr. Knowles says he was surprised to be asked for his permission. “I didn’t think people did that nowadays,” says Mr. Knowles, of Greenville, S.C. “Some people would look on it as an archaic and outdated tradition, but I thought it was nice,” partly because it motivates suitors to get to know the bride’s family well, he says. He and Mr. Cox had just finished installing the swing and sat down to relax when Mr. Cox popped the question.
Tell Us Your Story
Did you or your partner pop the question to mom or dad before you proposed? Share your proposal story with Sue Shellenbarger at firstname.lastname@example.org
Before Mr. Knowles could answer, the swing fell from the porch ceiling and crashed to the floor, pinning Mr. Cox’s legs. “Mike didn’t skip a beat,” Mr. Cox says. “He picked me up, said, ‘Yes, you can marry my daughter,’ and, ‘OK, we’re going to Lowe’s and we’re going to fix this.’ ” The couple were married in 2012 and own and run three Clothes Mentor name-brand clothing-resale stores.
Ms. Cox (nee Knowles) says that while asking for her father’s permission was a formality, she wanted Mr. Cox to do so. “I was only 24 years old at the time. Being 24 and making a huge decision like that, I would have been nervous” without her family’s blessing, she says.
Some 77% of suitors ask parents’ permission to wed their daughters, according to an informal 2015 internet poll of 12,000 brides and 1,200 grooms by The Knot, an online marketplace for wedding products and services. Some gay and lesbian couples are embracing the tradition too, with more than 40% asking parents’ OK, according to another survey by The Knot.
Parents don’t always say yes.
editor in chief of The Knot, says she has heard anecdotal reports of fathers rejecting boyfriends’ requests. One father told a 19-year-old teen he and his daughter, also 19, were both too young to marry.
tried to slip the conversation with his future father-in-law into a holiday gathering at his girlfriend’s Pompton Plains, N.J., home in 2014. He’d decided to propose to
before the new year, and the get-together was his last chance to ask her father Steve for permission to marry her. When Ms. Krol stepped out of the room for a few minutes, Mr. Spinelli rushed past startled relatives seated nearby and whispered his question into Mr. Krol’s ear. “It was the most awkward situation,” says Mr. Spinelli, a commercial real-estate broker.
Parents don’t always follow the script either. Mr. Krol says he welcomed the news and told Mark, “Fine,” then, “I started breaking his chops,” quizzing him playfully on his worthiness, including his spelling ability, finances and knowledge of current events. Ms. Krol soon returned to the room and they had to finish the conversation later. Looking back, Mr. Spinelli says he wishes he’d invited Mr. Krol to lunch or coffee instead. The Hoboken, N.J., couple have been happily married for almost a year.
Couples are often already living together and some have bought rings and booked wedding venues before they ask parents’ approval. Not surprisingly, some parents respond, “Why are you even asking?” says
research director for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of researchers, scientists and therapists who study the American family.
The custom of asking the bride’s father is obsolete, now that wives share breadwinning in most households and marriages are more egalitarian. The tradition survives in part because couples hope their families will take an interest in their marriage and help them hold it together in an era of widespread divorce, says Ms. Coontz, author of “Marriage, A History.”
Some couples update the tradition in a thoughtful way.
included Deb Drapac, the mother of his girlfriend Annette, along with her father
in the meeting he requested to discuss marriage. Ms. Drapac says she appreciated being included.
Rather than promising financial support, he pledged emotional support for Annette, by attending to “her ideas, her emotions and who she is,” says Mr. Furio, a Columbus, Ohio, civil engineer. And he asked for Deb and Steve Drapac’s blessing, rather than their permission.
He’d barely gotten started when Mr. Drapac says he choked up, and the conversation dissolved in hugs, kisses and congratulations.
The tradition serves another, distinctly modern purpose: It allows suitors to draw in-laws into planning the elaborate wedding rituals that follow.
an accountant at a New York hedge fund, invited Jennifer Friedman’s mother and stepfather, Linda and
to dinner at the Four Seasons to ask their permission to marry her. Both were delighted, and Ms. Kurzweil burst into tears of happiness.
Mr. Oliver quickly enlisted her help planning a surprise engagement party for Ms. Friedman two months later at a rooftop lounge in Manhattan. A hostess recorded Mr. Oliver’s proposal on bended knee, and 30 relatives and friends emerged from hiding to celebrate the engagement. The couple were married in June.
Work & Family Mailbox
Q: I loved the column on making better small talk. Can you recommend some books on the subject?—S.E.
A: Several are worth considering. “The Charisma Myth,” by executive coach Olivia Fox Cabane, shows how to make small behavioral changes that improve speaking and listening skills and the first impressions you make on others. “Chatter,” by social-skills coach Patrick King, has succinct strategies for starting and holding productive conversations in a way that makes others like and admire you. “The Fine Art of Small Talk,” by communications consultant Debra Fine, offers tactics one might learn in a networking seminar, including icebreakers, questions to ask and closing lines.
Some books on broader topics contain helpful advice too. “Networking for People Who Hate Networking,” by leadership consultant Devora Zack, shows introverts how to capitalize on their distinct strengths by engaging others in deep, meaningful interactions. “The New Rules of Work,” by Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew, founders of the career-planning website The Muse, has excellent chapters on networking and communications, tailored for readers who are launching careers.
More Work & Family
Do You Still Need the Parents’ Blessing Before Your Proposal?
June 13, 2017
Save Yourself From Tedious Small Talk
May 23, 2017
Dare to Let the Children Plan Your Vacation
May 16, 2017
Why You Can’t Concentrate at Work
May 9, 2017
Should You Tell Your Teen You Tried Alcohol or Drugs?
April 25, 2017
Write to Sue Shellenbarger at email@example.com