It’s the 21st century, and as a society we’ve made great leaps forward in terms of gender equality – to name but a few, women getting the vote in 1918, the introduction of shared parental leave in 2015 and the increasing awareness around sexual harassment generated by the #MeToo movement.
But there’s one area where gender roles remain sadly entrenched, and that’s when it comes to when it comes to marriage proposals.
Yes, even in 2020, it’s still overwhelmingly the case that men are the ones to pop the question, while women can only wait around to be asked, apparently denied any agency.
Even Beyonce – a feminist icon – perpetuated this limiting narrative in the song Single Ladies, which features the catchy refrain: “If he liked it then he should’ve put a ring on it.”
There’s just one day every four years – February 29, also known as “Leap Year Day” – when members of the fairer sex are “allowed” to propose to their significant others.
With that date coming up at the end of this month, some women may have been thinking about proposing – either on that date, or even throwing the rule book out of the window and doing it at another time.
We spoke to Alexis Storey, co-founder of sustainability platform Planet Perks (on Instagram as @planet_perks), who last year asked her now-husband Joe to marry her.
Alexis, 28, met Joe at the University of Bristol and tied the knot in a small ceremony at Islington town hall last year. (They plan to have a larger celebration in 2021.)
‘No secret we’d spend the rest of our lives together’
The main reason Alexis proposed to her then-boyfriend Joe was for the simplest of reasons: she wanted to get married.
After seven years together, it was “no secret that we would spend the rest of our lives together”, she says. But when Alexis was offered an opportunity to work in New York, all other life plans were put on hold, including any plans to get engaged.
However, it was when the pair went travelling together – from March to June last year – that Alexis realised she wanted to move their relationship forward sooner.
She says: “It was just the two of us for three months. I always knew it would be great, but it was 10 times better than I imagined. I realised that, if you can live for months in a campervan and still love that person, there must be something right.”
It was at that point that it occurred to her she might want to propose.
“I didn’t want to be in this damsel in distress situation where I was waiting for it to happen so that pushed me over the edge. I thought, ‘If I want this, I’m empowered to do something about it rather than to sit around doing nothing’,” she explains.
While the decision prompted a couple of sleepless nights, ultimately she realised she felt stronger about taking the plunge.
“Part of me worried that I’d miss out on the experience of being proposed to. But I decided that I really didn’t like the idea of nagging Joe into doing it.”
So she planned a proposal to take place on 16 July, which was Joe’s 27th birthday.
Alexis took proposing into her own hands
The pair went away together for the occasion, staying in a luxury woodland cabin near Bristol, where they first met.
“He had a bunch of presents I’d brought with us from his family, so we were having tea in bed in the morning and he was opening his presents, and I got him to open mine last. He was taking ages looking at all his presents, and in my head I was like ‘hurry up!’.
“So he opened this matchbox, and I said ‘will you marry me?’, and he said ‘obviously, Lexi’, and then he started crying.”
Alexis and Joe left it a day before they told friends and family their good news – but when they did the response was largely positive.
“Joe’s mum loved it, she sent a message to everyone she knew and put that I proposed in the message. I think she really liked that,” added Alexis.
The planning process wasn’t without its hurdles, however.
While choosing a design was simple (she opted for a silver, engraved ring from Etsy), ascertaining the right size was anything but, as Joe – like many men – had never worn rings before.
“Normally a woman has at least one ring that you can take and roughly figure it out, but I had nothing to go on,” she says.
But the experience proved altogether positive – and now Alexis wants to inspire other women to consider following in her footsteps.
“I hear so many conversations between women where they say, ‘Oh you’re going away – do you think this is going to be when he proposes?’ But you could be the one to make that happen.
While Alexis says her and Joe have a very equal relationship, it strikes her as odd that women can certain dominant roles in a relationship that don’t seem to translate.
She adds: “There are plenty of households where the woman might run the couple’s joint life, maybe they’re more organised, or make those bold decisions about where you’re going to move, and then, what, they can’t make this decision?”