When I asked historian Katherine Parkin — who has studied the Leap Year tradition in which women ask men to marry them but only on Feb. 29 — about why this gender norm has remained for so long, she pointed to finances. She said that because the marriage proposal is a way of saying I will provide for you, and we are still uncomfortable with women earning more than men, there’s a “real suspicion” of women-initiated proposals.
Still, outside Bachelor Nation, there are positive examples of women popping the question on television. Here are a few of our favorite moments from scripted television that have subverted gender norms in ways “The Bachelorette” never has. If there’s another proposal story you love, please mention it in the comments below.
Topanga proposes to Cory, “Boy Meets World,” 1998
The oldest example of a woman (girl) proposing to a man (boy) that my colleagues and I could recall is from nearly 20 years ago.
In the fifth season finale, Topanga (Danielle Fishel) was trying to decide whether to go to the fictional Pennbrook University in Philadelphia with Cory (Ben Savage) or the very real Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Topanga is leaning toward Pennbrook, but Cory doesn’t want to hold her back. Mr. Feeny, their high school principal, advises her: “Unless you have a very good reason for not going to Yale, you should go.”
Well, she has a reason. Topanga asks Cory in the middle of their high school graduation ceremony if he will marry her. After the question and before Cory’s answer, the credits roll on the season, leaving viewers waiting until the next season’s premiere for Cory’s answer. He says yes, but they later break up, then get back together and tie the knot in the seventh season.
Even though they were young, they seemed to know what they were doing: From 2014 to 2017, Topanga and Cory’s marriage was still going on “Girl Meets World,” which follows the life of their teenage daughter Riley (Rowan Blanchard).
Monica (almost) proposes to Chandler, “Friends,” 2000
This episode aired two years before the first season of “The Bachelor,” and yet it looks like a Bachelor mansion preview, because there are candles everywhere.
Monica (Courtney Cox) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) have been discussing marriage for an entire season. Until Monica’s ex Richard (Tom Selleck) shows up in this episode and tells Monica he wants to marry her. She considers it, but mostly because Chandler has been openly doubting whether he’s the marrying kind. It was all a ruse, though, because Chandler has in fact bought a ring and is planning to propose.
Even though Monica wants Chandler over Richard, there is hesitation in her proposal. Ever notice how the audience’s reaction to her getting down on one knee is a mix of laughter and cheers? Perhaps that’s somewhat because, in 2000, a woman proposing to a man still seems desperate. Then there’s Monica’s inability to actually ask the question: “Chandler, in all my life, I never thought I would be so lucky as to fall in love with my best, my best. …” She breaks down into tears, saying: “There’s a reason why girls don’t do this.”
Chandler interjects to actually pop the question, saying: “I thought that it mattered what I said or where I said it. But then I realized is that you, you make me happier than I ever thought I could be. And if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life trying to make you feel the same way. Monica, will you marry me?”
So it starts out with Monica intending to propose, but Chandler is the one who actually does it. It’s similar to that scene in Season 7 of “The Office,” when Holly (Amy Ryan) almost proposes to Michael (Steve Carell). He cuts her off and slinks away because he’s already planning his own proposal. “I’m not going to be proposed to in the break room,” Michael tells the camera right afterward. “That’s not going to be our story.”
Brennan to Booth on “Bones,” 2013
It takes six seasons of “Bones” for the protagonist Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and her partner in crime-solving, Booth (David Boreanaz), to become romantic partners. They’re set up as opposites in several ways: Brennan, a.k.a. Bones, is a highly rational atheist who’s against marriage, which leads to many disagreements with Booth, a devout Catholic who’s for it.
Early on in the episode where Bones later proposes to Booth, she reiterates her marital skepticism: “I’m not going to propose to you, if that’s what you’re thinking,” she says. “Admittedly that moment looks good, but nobody can guarantee how they’re going to feel about someone 10 years from now.”
However, Bones changes her mind when Booth’s life is in danger, realizing that she wants to make him happy and that marriage will do that. So she proposes to him over a package of beef jerky.
Perhaps it’s more believable to audiences — and seems less desperate — that a woman would pop the question only after denying that she’s interested in marriage and then coming around to the idea.
Leia proposes to Leon on “Casual,” 2017
Now here’s a surprise proposal. Leia (Julie Berman) and Leon (Nyasha Hatendi) have been dating for seven weeks, the equivalent of less than one season of “The Bachelorette.” They’ve kept it a secret from the other characters for most of that time — they’ve appeared together onscreen for just two episodes before Leia arranges for a small group of musicians to serenade them at dinner while she tells Leon that the past few months together have been “surprising and tender and intimate.” Leon adds: “They’ve been perfect.”
“And perfect is scary for me,” Leia responds. “Let’s just say: Perfect isn’t me.”
Leon looks close to tears, as if he’s expecting a breakup talk. Instead, Leia proposes with a ring she puts on his finger as she says: “You make my heart burst when you walk into a room. Will you walk into every room with me? Will you marry me?”
He says yes. Meanwhile, the Hulu show’s main characters didn’t even know Leia and Leon were dating. Valerie (Michaela Watkins) is asked to be a bridesmaid; Alex (Tommy Dewey) thinks he will be the best man, but he’s not.
As a show, “Casual” is incredibly skeptical of marriage, and most of the relationships — familial, romantic and professional — are quite dysfunctional. Perhaps Leia and Leon, supporting characters who got together while no one was watching, will be the ones to serve as examples of love and commitment. The biggest surprise in this proposal is not so much that she’s asking him, but that they’re getting engaged after mere weeks together.