On 29 February, we expect the onslaught of adverts and articles telling women the world over: “This is the day you’re allowed to propose.”
If you’re popping the question today, more power to you – we sincerely hope it goes well. But in 2020, the idea that a woman has to wait for her one day in four years feels outdated and decidedly heteronormative.
So, we asked five women who proposed to their partners how they did it and why they’re glad they didn’t wait for February.
‘I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I’ve done’
Sophie North, 29, decided to propose to her partner Eliot Ruocco-Trenouth in August 2018, on his 27th birthday – just before their 7th anniversary. While speculating in conversation that Eliot might propose on their upcoming holiday, a friend made a throwaway comment that she could always do it if he didn’t.
“That sowed the seed and now, here we are!” says Sophie, who lives in London. “I’m almost annoyed with myself that it took my friend’s comment to make me think about proposing to Eliot – I think of myself as someone who doesn’t blindly follow tradition, but I really hadn’t thought of it at all.”
Eliot is an animator and illustrator, so Sophie wrote a proposal speech and asked a talented friend to animate it for her. “I didn’t actually have to speak any words, which was a massive bonus as I was in tears as soon as he started watching the video,” she says. “He was shocked – he had absolutely no idea it was about to happen – but really happy.”
The pair are due to tie the knot with a low-key ceremony later this year and since proposing, Sophie has “strong feelings” about women only proposing on 29 February. “Why do we only get one day every four years when it’s ‘acceptable?’” she asks. “I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I’ve done, and can recommend it to anyone.”
‘People should feel free to propose, simply because they want to’
It was midnight on her birthday in October 2019 when Alexia Lenoir, 35, proposed to her partner Aisha Shaibu, 30, taking her totally by surprise.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nervous about anything in my life but the wedding convo had been going on for quite a while, and we both knew we wanted to do this,” she says of the night. “We had been together for two years and it was the most amazing birthday present I’ve ever had – for her to say yes.”
Alexia, who’s originally from Paris, decided to propose in the intimacy of their London home. “After dinner we were chilling, watching movies and when it got close to midnight we wanted to have a toast to my birthday. I casually got the Champagne ready in the kitchen, and came back to the living room room, kneeled down and proposed,” says Alexia. “She literally burst into tears as she totally didn’t expect it. For a good 10 minutes she was still figuring out whether this was real or not, which I found super cute.”
Alexia chose to do the proposing in their same-sex relationship and thinks that choice should exist in heterosexual relationships, too. “Asking for someone to be united in marriage is something that should come from both partners, regardless of gender,” she says. “The societal standards and old-fashioned traditions shouldn’t really be an issue and people should feel free to propose, simply because they want to and they feel it’s the right time for them.”
Handily, she’s a wedding planner, so the next steps were a breeze. Alexia already knew some suppliers she wanted to work with, but found other ideas via Nu Bride – a wedding blog “dedicated to adding a splash of diversity to the UK wedding industry”. Although she’s loved every minute of proposing, she thinks there’s work to do around “deconstructing stereotypes” so that more women feel empowered to propose.
“Proposing is actually such a beautiful thing and I will never forget how I made my future wife feel when I did that,” she says.
‘I wanted to take the pressure off him’
Laura Glaister, 38, proposed to her partner Jeff in September 2016 after the couple had been together 14 months. It was a leap year and she’d read an article about how women “can only propose on February 29th”.
“It got me thinking how ridiculous that is, how much pressure is put on men to propose, and how many women ‘wait around’ hoping he’ll buy a ring,” she says. “I decided I was going to ask him, partly because I really wanted to marry him, partly to take the pressure off him, and partly because I thought it was a cool thing for a woman to do.”
She ordered some props to help her propose, including five glass bottles of Diet Coke with “Jeff will you marry me?” printed on the labels – a joke about her “addiction” to the drink. “I had them hidden in the boot of my car for about a month and then we went on holiday to Turkey, so I packed them in my case wrapping them up in towels,” says Laura. “On the day of the proposal I snuck back to our hotel room and put the bottles in the minibar.”
The moment Jeff spotted them is “a bit of a blur” for Laura, who says he was so surprised, he paced the room before saying yes. “Afterwards, he said he was pleased I asked him as it would’ve taken him a while to get around to it.”
The day they flew home to the UK, the couple went to choose a ring together, and in June 2018, they married in Manchester, where they live, in the empty swimming pool at Victoria Baths. Their wedding day had “feminist touches”, with Laura doing a speech and both her parents walking her down the aisle.
‘I didn’t want to sit around and wait’
Charis and Joseph, who chose not to share their surnames, got engaged in September 2018 on their eight year anniversary. The pair, originally from Essex, had previously chatted about marriage and agreed they’d love “a big party” at some point, but it was Charis, 27, who officially popped the question.
“I didn’t want to sit around and wait for something that I knew we would both enjoy, just because it’s the ‘done’ thing.” says Charis. “There’s no good time to spend the money the average couple in the UK spend on a wedding – so I was excited to see how far we could make our money stretch for a big celebration.”
The couple moved to London in 2014 and Charis enlisted 10 mutual friends to help make a “treasure trail” of clues and tasks around the city for her proposal.
“The whole way along my sister and I were watching it happen, hiding behind corners, ducking behind cars and trying to keep out of sight but checking to see it was going okay,” she says. “When the teams got stuck they could text ‘the trail hotline’ which was actually my sister’s work phone, and we would respond in rhyming clues.”
After “confusing the hell out of Joseph” with the tasks, Charis proposed. She’d prepared a speech, which she “promptly forgot” as soon as she started talking, but “thankfully the reaction was a surprised but happy ‘yes.’” Charis thinks the idea that women can only propose on 29 February is “ridiculously outdated”.
“As women we fight for independence on a daily basis – from everyday sexist comments to equal treatment,” she says. “We should be proud of the independence we fight for, and like men do already we should feel empowered to make decisions about our future regardless of what tradition says we should do.”
‘It was going to be a long wait until a leap year’
Sharon Everall, 37, and her wife Kate Everall, 32, got married in October 2012, almost three years after Sharon proposed in December 2009. The couple, from Brighton, East Sussex, had been together for a little over three years when Sharon decided it was time to propose.
“I can’t honestly pinpoint what made me make that decision. I guess, I just realised that I didn’t want to lose Kate to someone better,” says Sharon, who runs the Lesbemums blog with Kate. Sharon had initially planned to propose on Boxing Day with the ring hidden in the Christmas tree, but ended up hastily bringing the date forward to 9 December.
“I came home from work to find Kate sitting on the side of the bed, crying. She’d noticed I’d been acting differently the past few weeks (you don’t have to be Sherlock to work out why), and that made her think I was about to break up with her,” says Sharon. “So I calmed her down, reassuring her that we weren’t about to break up, and I figured I best explain, and proposed there and then. Not romantic in the slightest, but I’d rather ditch the romance than have a very stressed partner for next two weeks.” Beyond relieved, Kate instantly responded with a “yes”. “Being two women, if we went by the whole ‘women can only propose on 29 Feb’, it would be a very long wait.
“Personally I think it’s an outdated idea that women can’t propose,” says Sharon. “You should just propose if you want to when you feel the time is right, not wait for a leap year to turn the tables on the male in the relationship. It’s mad. Especially as it should be about your love and commitment.
“A lot of it will still come down to confidence within the relationship though, and most heterosexual women want that romantic gesture from their male partners, but we have to remember that they then feel the pressure too when it comes to proposing. Let’s lighten the load on both parties and just do it.”