No One's Talking About the Stigma Around Women Proposing to Men. Let's Change That.

Zola encourages couples to consider the endless possibilities for their proposal and surveys 1200+ engaged couples to uncover all the ways they’re reinventing wedding traditions.

By Emily Forrest

Why Aren’t More Women Proposing to Men?
Photo by Jeremy Bishop

The First Look ✨

Weddings are events that are heavily steeped in traditions, ones that historically have been slow to evolve. But in recent years couples have made strides breaking away from customs that may feel outdated or out-of-touch in favor of ones that feel more authentic to them. Yet there are still barriers to be challenged when it comes to the gender norms surrounding proposals.

Despite most modern couples mutually deciding to get married long before they get engaged, the overwhelming majority of straight women are still waiting for men to make it official. We’re not saying more women have to propose (traditional proposals will always be beautiful), but is there a reason why most women still feel like they can’t?

Zola is setting out to celebrate couples who embrace the endless possibilities with all aspects of their weddings, and that includes reimagining what proposals should look like. We surveyed 1,200+ recently engaged couples to find out what's holding them back from breaking this barrier.

Women are breaking all kinds of gender norms in their relationships, yet only 2% of women today propose to their male partners.

The act of women proposing to their SO isn't something new. Same-sex couples have long been paving the way for couples to recognize that there’s no right way, or right person, to propose. Yet straight couples are slow to follow, with only 2% of straight women proposing to their partners.

And it’s not like adhering to strict gender norms is a priority for these couples. In fact, 98% of all couples see their partner as their total equal, and the overwhelming majority believe gender norms shouldn’t hold anyone back from things like:

  • Equal pay
  • Career, education, and leadership opportunities
  • Dividing childcare and household responsibilities
  • Being with whoever they love
  • And, surprisingly, proposing to their partners

85% of couples believe that gender roles shouldn't limit people from proposing, but the fact that they still do shows there’s something holding them back from challenging this tradition.

Most women think their partner would not be okay with them proposing, but 93% of men would have said “Yes” if they were proposed to.

The lack of women proposing in hetero relationships isn’t necessarily rooted in the idea that women can’t propose, or that they don’t want to; ¾ of women never even considered the possibility. When asked why, there was no one clear reason.

  • 36% said men are “supposed to” propose
  • 23% said the idea just never even crossed their mind
  • 16% said they were worried about hurting their partner’s ego
  • 15% said there was no good reason
  • 14% said they needed confirmation from their partner
  • 12% said they do not know, or have not seen, any other examples of a woman proposing to their male partner

When asked if they thought their partner would be ok with them proposing, more than half (58%) of women said “No.” But the men felt differently, almost all (93%) responding that they would have accepted. The #1 thing holding women back from feeling like they can propose if they want to is that 67% felt pressure or that society-at-large / media / the wedding industry shaped their idea of the "perfect proposal."

There have been very few examples of women proposing to men in the media period. When we think about examples from mainstream television shows or films, we often think about scenes where the woman does propose and it’s a joke, or where she almost proposes but in the end the male partner pops the question. No matter how beautiful the setting or how grand the gesture is, most expect proposals to end with the guy on one knee instead of vice versa.

Inline-WhitneyJustesen Photography Photo Credit // Whitney Justesen Photography

Couples are doing the majority of pre-engagement activities together, yet when it comes to actually getting engaged, ⅔ of women feel like they’re left waiting.

Despite what most engagement photos and videos may lead you to think, the surprise of the proposal for women is mainly in how and when it happens rather than knowing whether it’ll happen at all. That's because leading up to that incredible moment, couples are already talking about and planning their futures together.

Before officially getting engaged:

  • 94% aligned that they want to marry each other
  • 77% discussed when they want to get engaged
  • 63% talked about what their wedding would be like
  • 43% went ring shopping together

But in the end, ⅔ still felt like they were waiting for their partner to make it official – and ¼ shared that they waited a year or more. Others shared:

  • <1 month: 12%
  • 1-3 months: 23%
  • 3-6 months: 23%
  • 6-12 months: 21%

Though half of those women (52%) felt excited during this time, feelings of anxiety, stress, and worry were among the top for less pleasant emotions. So why the wait? Most women shared that they already knew their partners were planning to propose eventually. For some of those women, they knew the act of proposing was something their partner “always dreamed of doing.”

Other women shared that they wanted to be proposed to, both to experience the “moment of him proposing to me,” as well as to have the reassurance that their partner was ready to make the decision. Those women that even contemplated the idea of proposing first opted to wait out of fear of “stealing his thunder!” Otherwise, some would have been “happy” to propose.

The overwhelming majority of women who did propose felt excited about proposing to their partner.

77% of couples have never seen a woman propose to their male partner. It’s easy to see why then the thought wouldn’t even cross most women’s minds. However, the verdict has shown that most guys are into the idea of being proposed to, with 45% sharing that they’d feel touched/moved and very loved if their partner proposed, and 36% saying they’d be happy and excited about it.

And for the 2% of women doing the proposing, they feel a whole host of emotions. Leading up to the proposal, these women felt:

  • Excited: 83%
  • Joyful: 58%
  • Empowered: 50%
  • Anxious / Nervous: 50%
  • Confident: 38%
  • Stressed: 21%

After the proposal, they experienced a lot of the same feelings with one key shift: they felt even more joyful (92%). That goes to show that despite the majority of women never considering proposing, those that want to can create an incredibly touching moment for both parties. And it doesn't have to end there. Proposals, no matter who they’re coming from, evoke excitement all around.

Inline-Ava-Moore-Photography Photo Credit // Ava Moore Photography

After getting proposed to:

  • 7% of women proposed back to their partners
  • 46% percent of men proposed back to theirs

Every year, more couples are reworking more traditions to make their weddings feel more authentic.

Couples today are no strangers to subverting societal expectations. Things like moving in together before marriage, women being equal or majority breadwinners, and forgoing traditional name changes are increasingly becoming more prevalent.

Make no mistake, even if the majority of straight women are still waiting for their partners to propose (which we’re bound to see shift), they’re breaking societal expectations and gender norms in other ways, including:

  • 17% asked him out on a date first
  • 24% paid for or contributed toward the first date
  • 32% said “I love you” first

And leading up to their weddings:

  • 15% are having mixed-gender wedding parties
  • 12% are having co-ed wedding showers
  • 9% are having joint bach parties
  • 9% are walking down the aisle together or alone
  • 7% are forgoing traditional gendered wedding attire

Proper communication of your desires and setting expectations for everything from household tasks to intimacy are among the top ways couples are reinventing their own roles in their relationships. More and more, couples are throwing out the expectations of what a "normal couple" looks like in favor of what they know they want for themselves. For them, rather than equality in a relationship being “50/50”, they believe that relationships should be “100/100”. “You don't give half, you give your all to the one you love."

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