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WASHINGTON — Steve Paska waited two weeks for Washington’s famously fickle cherry blossoms to emerge, then spent two hours searching for the perfect spot beneath the canopy of fluff. He lured his girlfriend there on the pretext of buying a painting of the blooms. Then he surprised her by dropping to one knee and proposing.
She said “yes” so fast he forgot to pull out the ring.
Go to any wedding celebration this nuptial season, whether in a ballroom, backyard, or church basement, and it’s a good bet you can trace the big day to a similar start, with different flourishes.
If a man is marrying a woman somewhere in America, odds are that he proposed to her.
That may seem obvious, but consider this: Three-fourths of Americans say it would be fine for the woman to do the proposing, in theory.
In practice, only about 5 percent of those currently married say the woman proposed, and the figure is no higher among couples wed within the past 10 years. Attitudes actually seem to be trending the other way, an Associated Press-WE tv poll shows.
Young adults are more likely than their elders to consider it “unacceptable” for a woman to do the asking. More than one-third of those under age 30 disapprove.
While Mr. Paska, 26, believes female proposals are OK — after all, one of his sisters proposed to her boyfriend — he wanted to declare his love and dedication the traditional way.
“I think if she’d gotten down on one knee and asked me the question,” Mr. Paska said, “I would have called for a timeout.”
In the survey, nearly half of single women who hope to get married someday say they would consider proposing. Mr. Paska and his fiancee, Jessica Deegan, who live in Arlington, Va., already had decided together that they wanted to marry, she said. Still, Ms. Deegan was thrilled that he made it official with a grand gesture on April 10.
“It’s kind of like the moment you imagine your whole life,” she said. “I’ve seen that in movies. I’ve read that in books. You don’t want to miss out on that moment.”
That traditional moment has survived radical changes in U.S. marriages over the past half-century. People are marrying older; brides are more likely to be already supporting themselves. It’s become commonplace to live together first, even to have children before marriage. Some men are proposing to men and women to women, now that one-third of U.S. states allow gay marriage.
But the boy-asks-girl proposal still reigns, updated to a public art form in Facebook and YouTube videos that feature flash mobs or scavenger hunts or proposals while skydiving or swimming with dolphins. “Destination” proposals are trending, too, for men who want a beach or the Eiffel Tower as the setting.
There are even “proposal planners” who can help arrange flowers, musicians, and a videographer. Ellie Pitts, a planner who works in Dallas for The Yes Girls, said the group has handled more than 350 proposals around the country and abroad, nearly all by men.
Becky Paska, sister of Steve, said she worried that proposing to her longtime boyfriend, Danny Brady, might make him feel embarrassed or emasculated. But she wanted to demonstrate the depth of her commitment, because years earlier she had accepted Mr. Brady’s surprise proposal and then backed out.
So Ms. Paska, 28, asked for his hand at the Thanksgiving dinner table as her family was reflecting on their blessings.
“I said I was so thankful for having him in my life, and we’d gone through so many things, and I’d love to marry him,” she said. “And he said, ‘I’d love to marry you, too.’”
Ms. Paska, of Richmond, Va., and Mr. Brady, of Charlottesville, Va., plan an August wedding on the beach.
In the AP-WE tv poll, recently married couples were less likely to say they got engaged by “mutual agreement,” instead of through one partner’s proposal, than were people married longer. About one-quarter of those married at least 30 years say it was a mutual decision; that drops below one-tenth of those wed in the past decade.
Among the newer unions, 83 percent said the man proposed.
The Rev. Joel Stafford of Patton, Mo., sees nothing wrong with women taking the lead, as his future wife did more than 40 years ago.
“It just got to the point where she said, ‘Why don’t we get married?’ and I said, ‘Of course,” Mr. Stafford recalled. “I would have eventually built up the courage to do it myself. But she didn’t wait.”
Married in June, 1973, they have four children and 13 grandchildren.
“Whether you are the boy or the girl, if you feel you are at the point you want to make a lifetime commitment, express that,” Mr. Stafford advises. “Don’t be shy like I was.”