Sunday, October 26, 2008

Oh the irony

Let's figure out what's wrong with the latest of the dreaded "Modern Love" columns, about a man's wavering about whether he should honor his girlfriend with that highest of life accomplishments that would be being his wife. Because the proposal, in these most Modern of times, has to come from the man.

But wait. Didn't the proposal, in this case, already come from the woman? Why, if a woman asks for marriage, is it an "ultimatum," and if a man asks, pure romance? Here's the story:

Last May, my girlfriend, Jen, told me that if I didn’t propose by Labor Day she would leave. At that point we had been dating for two years and had been living together for several months. And while I couldn’t fault her for the tactic, given that she was 35 and wanted kids, I had never read a love poem that included the word “ultimatum.”

Um, dude, she proposed. Or you should have taken it as such. You should have had the decency to recognize that she is 35 and wants kids, and, if you were not super thrilled to marry her, or so much as willing to do so, you should have done the honorable thing and given her a chance to find someone else who could be the father of her children while time still remained.

But beyond the somewhat futile exercise of judging the author of this column for asinine (if classically male) behavior towards someone he is apparently now planning to marry (Jen, enjoy!), the question that interests me here is why this woman, clearly beyond the stage in life when a proposal could come as a flattering gesture or pleasant surprise, who had verbalized her desire to marry a particular man, not some point in the future, but ASAP, comes across as a nag. She's a romantic! She loves her boyfriend and wants to have his babies! Does this double-standard serve any purpose?


Paul Gowder said...

In the guy's defense, it seems like there is a difference between "will you marry me?" and "marry me or I'm leaving your sorry ass."

(Though I've not read the column, because, well, the usual reason, viz., modern love makes me want to vomit, so I'll take your word that the guy probably sounds more dickish than comes across from your summary.)

Paul Gowder said...

Oh barf. I read it. And now I want to hit people. WTF?!

Jen was very low maintenance and probably didn’t care which ring I proposed with, but I had already told her about the bigger one. I often divulged early on with women that my grandfather had left me a large rock, thinking that it offset some of my sketchier qualities, like the fact that I eventually wanted to quit my job as a lawyer and write fiction full time.

WHY WHY WHY WHY does modern love exist?!!?!?

Phoebe said...

"In the guy's defense, it seems like there is a difference between 'will you marry me?' and 'marry me or I'm leaving your sorry ass.'"

Well, there is and there isn't. If a man proposes and the woman says no, there's a good chance a breakup ensues, or ought to. There's really no cultural script for a woman 'popping the question,' so in a sense Jen here was forced to state things in honest, if blunt, terms. She wanted kids, was running out of time (no, 35 is not ancient, but one's assuming she wanted to get to know the father-to-be for some time before having children with him), and had every right to let the guy know that, much as she loved him, she would not put up with his lack of reciprocated enthusiasm.

As for the "why, why," I sort of wish his grandfather had left him an actual "large rock," like in Central Park.

Paul Gowder said...

Hmm... good points. (Is "let's wait" a standard answer to a proposal?)

I don't get the proposal thing at all, really. Seems like such a bizarre ritual, knees and rings and all that.

CJ said...

As a very shy male, I'm all for females being the ones to ask guys out on dates, pay for meals, and propose marriage. Anything as long as I don't have to work up the courage to do it.

And as a fun technical fact, the traditional method of marriage or asking people out, where males ask the females out, is provably chauvinist. It gives males the best woman they could be with while giving females the worst man they could be with. So all females should be deeply concerned about the lack of a cultural script for females running the show.

Fancy seeing you here Paul. Anywhere cynicism is needed you seem to magically appear.

Paul Gowder said...

CJ, that may be the nicest compliment anyone's ever paid me.

Daniel said...

I know someone who recently proposed to her boyfriend - and not in the "propose to me or I'll leave sense." They were enjoying a day at the beach and she took him by the hand, got down on one knee, and asked. He said yes and all is going well.

Granted, this is extremely atypical for our culture, but I think that it is becoming more common - just as women asking men out initially is becoming more common.

Just a comment - I haven't read the Modern Love column, because, you know, it's the Modern Love column...

Elizabeth said...

Oh, goodness, that whole column was so ridiculous. Can you imagine marrying someone who wrote a whole column in the new york fucking times about how much they were unsure if they really wanted to marry you? And how your family didn't want you to give them your grandmother's ring because they were sure it wouldn't work out?

Plus, the part at the end where she asks 'is it the big' ring before saying yes ... I would pretty much bet with complete certainty that it did not really go down like that.

Gaghhhghdh ....

C.S. Perry said..., in the South, where Chivalry is alive and well, things happen differently. My Ex-wife (Irony, eh?) met me in the parking lot at my job and said "Come on. We're picking out a ring today."
Now that's a class act, right?
But I had no trouble adapting to the rewritten social script. (Which is, by the way, a nauseating term.)I was in love with her and I was perfectly willing to marry her. But there was no ugliness in it and, no matter how you slice it, any threat of dissolution in any interpersonal relationship is ugly.
So naturally I was shocked when she filed for divorce...even over my protestations that simply hating women doesn't really make me a misogynist. Does it?

Anonymous said...

One of the worst columns I've ever read "Modern Love" or otherwise. He shouldn't quit his day job to write fiction full time. -- JM

PG said...

Is "let's wait" a standard answer to a proposal?

No, but it should be a more socially acceptable one. See also "I think probably yes but I need to think about it more."

Incidentally, even if you give one of the above answers, your male acquaintances will nonetheless insist that you were pressuring him to get married.