Giving Engagement Rings: Do People Still Get Down On One Knee When Proposing?
04 November 2022
The tradition of proposals
Some of our society’s most meaningful, ancient and continuing traditions are betrothals and weddings.
Marriages lead to families, which are the essential pillars of communities all around the world. Many may have been fantasising – for many years – about what their wedding will look like and how that all-important proposal will play out. Their hopes and dreams may have a lot in common with millions of other people’s, in terms of three or four elements: the exchanging of rings and vows, a gorgeous wedding dress, a honeymoon – all following on from a romantic engagement proposal. Does your notion of a marriage proposal involve the getting down on one knee on the part of the proposer? This genuflecting gesture is a custom which still occurs every day in many places, when that question is asked. Why is it done? Is it a good idea? Should you do it? Or is the practice becoming less common nowadays?
It is believed that the tradition of proposing whilst on one knee comes down to us from medieval Europe. In those times it was customary for a knight to bow when greeting a noblewoman. However, it is not thought that getting down on bended knee was actually widely practiced back then, or for that matter, very often in the centuries since. In fact, the act of genuflecting seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, and we are not really sure why. The fact is that marriages in the medieval era were more to do with negotiations between families, less about romance and even less concerned with a gushing proposal.
The chivalry of getting down on one knee
In our society, even in the mid twentieth century, many proposals were quite casual; it was quite common for the question and the engagement ring to be proffered in the front (bench) seat of a car in the 1950s and 60s! In that era, the institution of marriage was rather different from the way it is now in Australia, in the main. Most people married young and began a family straight away. In general, families were a much simpler model than they are today. In Australian society, for many people, marriages were not necessarily seen as the height of romantic expression, but more as practical matters; as the merging of two families.
In the Western World, many things changed following the so-called Cultural Revolution of 1968, including betrothals and weddings. People started rejecting the idea that their family should influence who they should marry. People began to marry later; they took the time to find the right person. Love and compatibility became priorities, and the whole business of becoming engaged and married became much, much more personal and romantic. Social historians trace the popularity of the bended knee proposal back to this epoch.
Not essential, but still romantic
It comes as a surprise to most people to learn that that the custom of getting down on one knee when popping the question and presenting the engagement ring is not really an old one. It has certainly been popular in recent decades, but will it continue to be, or is it likely to be viewed historically as somewhat of a fad? It appears that the action of bended knee proposing is becoming less prevalent. Could this be because our concepts of betrothal and marriage are again on the move? It would seem so. The union between man and woman no longer requires a man and a woman, for one thing. Same sex marriage is more and more common every year. Both sexes are now just as likely to propose, whereas it used to be strictly the man’s role. Marriages are now more typically viewed as two people in love in an egalitarian partnership, and although there’s still plenty of room for gallantry and romance, the symbolism of knights and damsels is no longer favoured in quite the way it used to be.
Industry experts have amusingly contrasting views on this matter. Amy Shack Egan is founder and CEO of a high-profile US event company, ‘Modern Rebel’. She says that old school proposals can be very frustrating: “You know that big change in your life that we’ve told you is the most important thing? You have no agency over when and if that happens.” She adds that she has had, “girlfriends complain that they feel desperate or crazy wondering if/when it’s going to happen.” However, Erika Swift, owner of US wedding planning company Erika Swift Events, thinks that the proposal on bended knee is, “…so romantic. I love it. It’s always funny to watch the face of the person getting proposed to because they don’t fully get it yet, and then when they do…be still my heart.”
It’s probably fair to say that in 2022, getting down on bended knee is not necessary or important, but if it feels right to you, and you are pretty certain that the person on the receiving end of the proposal will appreciate and enjoy the gesture, then why not? The crucial aspects of a splendid proposal are that it is authentic, a special occasion for both people, and that the answer is yes!
Frequently asked questions?
Is getting down on one knee when proposing marriage and presenting an engagement ring an ancient custom?
Not really. Though it is based on medieval idealism, the modern act of proposing on bended knee is a fairly recent phenomenon.
Is it important to get down on one knee when proposing marriage?
No, it is not important as such. But if you think it’s important, then it is!
Can women propose to men these days?
It is indeed becoming more and more common for women to propose to men, and even to present them with an engagement ring at the time.