The time has come. You've thought about it and thought about it. And talked about it. And thought about it some more. You know her like you've never known anyone else. You love her like you've never loved anyone else and you can't imagine spending a week without her, let alone the rest of your life. It's time to ask for her hand in marriage.
Photo by Geoff White Photographers
Tradition says you'll need an "okay" from dad before you pop the big question.
Now, there was a time -- only a few generations ago -- when the next step was clear-cut and simple: you paid a visit to her father and asked him for her hand. Back then, marriage was more a matter of class, status, dowries and other financial arrangements, and love was given less attention. Whether or not the potential groom could provide for his bride, as determined by the bride's father, weighed heavier on a family's mind than love.
As love became more important to marriage than money, this tradition has continued, although it is not nearly as common as it once was, at least in middle-class America. Today, when a man asks his girlfriend's father for her hand in marriage, he does so more out of respect than anything else. Generally, both the father and his daughter's boyfriend are aware that, approval or no approval, if they truly want to be married, there's little to stop them. The father's approval is almost expected. After all, guys are pretty smart sometimes, and they usually know where they stand with their girlfriend's father; if they don't get along with her father, there's little chance they'll even ask.
But even when approval is expected, there's still something nerve-wracking about the process -- there's always the chance her father doesn't realize how serious their relationship is, or that he'll be caught off-guard. And sometimes fathers are just naturally intimidating. Troy, a project manager for a computer product company in Utah, had dated his girlfriend, Tania, for over four years; he got along fine with Tania's father, who is from Yugoslavia and is very Old World and traditional. But Troy admits to feeling too intimidated to ask him for Tania's hand, even though Troy knew both Tania and her parents hoped that he would ask; the fact that her father is an enthusiastic hunter and keeps the heads of various deer and elk mounted on his wall may have contributed to this intimidation.
Sometimes it's difficult to know exactly which father to ask: the birth father or the stepfather. Dave, a manager at a consulting firm in San Diego, dated his girlfriend, Cory, for over six years before he was ready for marriage. Cory's parents were divorced and both remarried; Dave decided to speak to her natural father first, though Cory had spent more years with her stepfather. She had a good relationship with both men, and Dave thought, since both had been fathers to her through the years, the blood relationship a birth father has commanded special respect. Plus, he had been given Cory's mother's first engagement ring diamond a few months prior to use for Cory's ring, so her stepfather at least had an inkling of the impending engagement.
Of course, there's no reason you need to ask her father first; sometimes asking him after the fact is enough to show proper respect to her family. Matt, an electrical engineer in Tucson, had dated his girlfriend, Rebecca, for four years before asking her to marry him. She, of course, gladly agreed. But when her parents visited over Christmas vacation, Matt realized he had never officially received Rebecca's father's permission to marry her. Matt took him aside, poured a couple of whiskeys (to calm both their nerves), told him how much his daughter meant to him and how they could enrich each other's lives, and asked for his blessing. Although her father had met Matt only a couple of times before, the blessing was promptly given, and Matt and Rebecca have now been married for almost two years.
Of course, a father's acquiescence is by no means guaranteed, no matter how well the aspiring groom gets along with him. One young man of 19 asked his girlfriend's father for her hand (she was the same age) and the father immediately denied his request, arguing that they were far too young. The couple ignored her father's wishes and got married anyway. Sometimes, such an obstacle can be a test of love; will you let anyone stand in your way? It's wise to have considered every scenario and know what your response will be.
The decision whether to ask your girlfriend's father for her hand in marriage depends more on the kind of relationship you have -- or want to have -- with her father. After all, he's soon to become your father-in-law, and good relations will make everyone's future happier. It's a show of respect; imagine yourself with a daughter, and how you would feel if her boyfriend asked you for her hand. Chances are, you'd appreciate the gesture and accept it as a show of friendship. While any father would be happy to have his daughter marrying someone who'll treat her well and provide for her and love her beyond measure, there's a respect you gain from him nonetheless, just by showing him a similar respect. And any relationship built on mutual respect has a strong foundation to build a new life upon.