I’m not ashamed to admit it: A few weeks ago, I played along as my friends (independent rockstars of women in their late 20s) imagined our hypothetical engagements out loud. Usually, when any marriage-related conversation commences, my eyes kind of gloss over while I consider ordering my fifth new swimsuit of the summer. But this time, the topic du jour — how important it is that a boyfriend should ask a dad for permission before they propose — piqued my interest. As we went around the room, I realized I was the only one who hadn’t considered the practice much, and still blurted out my truth with resounding clarity: Any man of mine would be remiss to ask my dad’s permission for my hand in marriage.
I’ve never really envisioned my hypothetical engagement, or even my wedding for that matter. I couldn’t distinguish a cushion cut ring from a whatever-other-cut exists if you paid me (but if you want to I’ll darn well try). I have no idea where we would have a ceremony and how many people we would invite, as I suspect those details will be ironed out in partnership with my future fiancé, if I get engaged down the road. However, during this highly-speculative conversation, my reaction arose from my gut unmistakably. My fiancé — and my father — should both respect that I find the gesture paternalistic and insulting to my personhood.
At worst, popping the question to a dad before a daughter is rooted in ancient beliefs that women are property to be "taken," as well as father-knows-best ideology. Some may say it’s disrespectful to a dad if a fiancé doesn’t ask, but how disrespectful is it to their intended life partner? Last I checked, I am no one’s — including my dad’s — property, because I’m not an object. I’m a fully functioning human being (five days of the week). A man needn’t seek guidance from any party outside of our Party of Two on if he is actually *allowed* to propose to me. Namely, doing so would remove my full agency in making my own decisions.
As a person who has worked hard to take responsibility for my own decisions, that would be deeply crushing to my psyche. I don’t need someone else as a check or balance when making arguably the biggest decision of my life, and if I did, I’d reach out and ask for help myself like the mature adult I aspire to be. As my equal, how would my fiancé feel if I asked his dad for permission to marry him? I’m not entirely sure because he’s fictional, but something tells me he would find that notion frivolous.
If my suitor chose to seek my dad’s "yes" before mine, I’d feel undermined, like I’d spent the last decade cobbling a rough-and-tumble life together in a city 1,200 miles from my parents, learning what works for me in a relationship and what doesn’t through heart-wrenching experience, and honing my own beliefs for naught. Even though my past life decisions are likely the path to lead me to said fiancé, if he asked my dad before he asked me, I’d feel reduced (ceremonially) to a woman incapable of being trusted with my own future. I can think of few things more disheartening than my imaginary fiancé not recognizing how significant finding and establishing my own identity has been to be me.
OMG, ALANA, but what about your poor dad?
My father happens to be a traditional guy. I’d never want to hurt or disrespect him, and making him proud is important to me. However, my romantic relationship has nothing to do with him. It’s not convoluted, conspiratorial, or dad-hating (dads are seriously the best). It’s just that simple.
In fact, any time I have sought my dad’s advice on one of life’s many gray areas (love, marriage, happiness), he has always said, "Look, this is what happened for me, but I don’t know what will happen to you." Seriously frustrating, you know? Ask him for financial advice or whether the Steelers should throw on third down and he responds with laser-like precision, but in matters of the heart, my dad has always been decidedly quiet to advise.
In his restraint, my dad has showcased his true wisdom. He’s never lied to me and pretended to have all the answers; he’s remained honest that he doesn’t, even and especially when I’ve asked the hard questions. Come to think of it, my dad hasn’t weighed in on my love life since I started dating in 1999. Overall, he trusts me to navigate my heart and life’s uncertainties on my own, and I trust him to realize his value to me isn’t through his pre-approval of my husband.
Every father/daughter relationship is different and personal, and so is every romantic relationship. In general, I think women should consider what feels right to them, regardless of life stage, and not let anyone else make them feel guilty, inferior, too feminist or not-feminist-enough, before explaining their preference to their partner. While I feel confident that a man asking my dad’s permission isn’t for me, every single one of my wonderful friends in that discussion expressed not only their desire for the gesture, but insistence upon it. Many women want their significant others to secure their dad’s blessing, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either. "He HAS to ask my dad first," "He knows he has to," and "He’d be in trouble if he didn’t," were some of my friend’s impassioned responses.
And you know what? I want that for every one of them. I just don’t want it for myself.
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