This week contains that rarest of days … Leap Year Day, Feb. 29.
Tradition has it this is the one day that women may propose marriage to their “fella.” And with women running companies and outnumbering men in law schools, one would think that scores of ladies will be presenting rings to their boyfriends today.
But I doubt it.
Before explaining why, let’s examine the history of the Leap Year tradition. My crack research staff has uncovered the “fact” that it all began in 5th-century Ireland, when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait so long for a man to propose.
So, being a kindly gentleman, St. Patrick apparently proclaimed that on this particularly rare day females would be permitted to propose marriage. (Was this the kickoff of Women’s Lib?)
Then, English Law ignored Feb. 29 for a few centuries. Eventually, people reasoned that since the Leap Year Day existed to fix a problem in the calendar, it could also be used to correct an unjust custom that only men could propose marriage.
So in 1288, Scotland passed a law that allowed women to propose to the man of their choice on Feb. 29 of that year. Supposedly the Scots then added a legal ruling that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year must pay a fine, which ranged from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves.
Today, with the onset of the Women’s Movement and the continued narrowing of the gap between the sexes in virtually every aspect of society, it might seem logical that women would jump at the opportunity to propose marriage to their guys.
But I don’t think so. While running the dating service LunchDates for nearly 23 years, I always found it intriguing that there seemed to be two exceptions to the general rule of women insisting on equality with men.
The first involved determining who should pick up the tab for the “lunch date” that we arranged. One of the questions we asked in the membership interview was “Who should pay for the date?” We offered three answers: “The man should pay;” “It should be Dutch;” or “No preference, wait and see what happens.”
Most people answered “wait and see.” BUT the feedback that we received from women after dates was almost unanimous; that if the man suggested they split the bill, the women would respond by vehemently labeling him as “cheap.” And this accusation of cheapness came from many women who elsewhere in the interview trumpeted the fact how successful they were and how much money they made.
The other exception to women insisting on an equal relationship referred to asking the man out for future dates.
While some women said they didn’t mind taking the initiative in advancing a relationship, most indicated they still preferred waiting for the man to call. I often heard my counselors saying to a female client who expressed hope that her date would phone her, “Well, why don’t you call him?”
And the woman’s inevitable response was usually something like “Oh no, I just couldn’t!” (Even though this same woman was probably CEO of a large business, managed a hundred million dollar hedge fund, or just delivered a brilliant closing argument to a jury in a manslaughter trial.)
Of course she preferred not making that call! Who does?
Speaking as a man, I admit that since I was in high school, the most difficult phone call I ever had to make was the one asking a woman out for a second or third date. Even as an adult I would revert to my 17-year-old self, with sweaty palms, calling the cute girl in my French class to ask if she wanted to go to the movies with me on Saturday night.
My daughter tells me that most young people today rely on “texting” someone to ask for a date, thereby averting a “face to face” rejection. In the dating world there are few moments more awkward than those following an out and out rejection over the phone. Should the “rejectee” just hang up, or perhaps try and change the subject? “Well, uh, how do you think the Sox will do this year?” sounds pretty feeble.
Of course far down the relationship road from merely asking someone for a date, the marriage proposal issue looms, like the proverbial elephant in the room. I recall one woman at LunchDates excitedly calling her counselor to announce that the guy she had been seeing for almost a year had finally popped the question.
“I didn’t even know you two were serious,” my counselor responded in amazement. “After all, you have been meeting new guys regularly for the past year.”
The woman responded “Well, I never thought he would actually propose, and I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket!” Yes, it never entered this modern woman’s mind that perhaps she should initiate the proposal.
So I have to wonder if any woman this Wednesday will have the nerve to drop to one knee, ring in hand, in a restaurant to pop the question to her beau. Is this the final hurdle that females must overcome to achieve equality between the sexes?
Frankly I would love to hear from any woman who is taking advantage of today, Feb. 29, to propose marriage.
I am sure she would make St. Bridget very proud!