I remember it well. Prior to asking my father-in-law if I could marry Sidney, I called him several days prior to arrange a time to meet with him. I actually extended the invite to my mother-in-law too but she thought it would be more appropriate for the two of us to meet one-on-one (wait, how did she know what was coming? Is it a giveaway to randomly call your girlfriend’s parents and awkwardly request a meeting with them?).
The afternoon of “our talk” I showed up at my in-law’s house pretty nervous. I walked up to the door, took a deep breath, and rang the doorbell. Mr. Sid (my wife is named after her dad) opened the door and warmly greeted me. He led me to the living room and after some small talk I launched into my speech. After I finished, he graciously approved my request to ask Sidney to marry me.
As the nerves and adrenaline started to subside, I went out to my car and brought in a cooler filled with some cold ones. Mr. Sid and I shared a few Michelob Ultras, Sidney’s favorite beer, and discussed life. At this time Sidney’s mom, Brenda, returned to the house and her suspicion was confirmed.
In the newspaper today, there was an advice column that dealt with the necessity of asking a woman’s father for his approval before popping the question.
The reader said he wanted to ask permission from his girlfriend’s parents because it was the polite thing to do and because it would start the relationship with his future in-laws on a good note. His big dilemma was whether to do it in person or over the phone. He preferred to do it face-to-face but her parents lived far away with no future trips planned. The girlfriend was hoping for a summer proposal.
The advice columnist responded by shaming the tradition of asking the father’s permission, saying that it originated from a time when women were property and belonged to their parents. However, he did concede that it would be a gesture well-received by her parents. He replied that asking from a distance would be OK and even offered a solution on how to do it: Set up either a phone call or Facetime session by email, allowing some organization and build up to take place.
I wanted to briefly respond to both parts of the advice given by the columnist (Philip Galanes). Sometimes the reason why a tradition originated loses its meaning over time and the reason why it is sustained is due to other factors relevant to modern society. In this day and age, asking for permission to marry someone is smart and courteous. It allows the parents to give the requester insight gained from years of experience. Fathers and mothers have a good idea whether their daughter and significant other are ready for a lifelong commitment and trust should be placed in them for final guidance. Also, it is about respect. Tipping the daughter’s parents off before she is asked ensures that they won’t be shocked or caught off guard, something they will appreciate. Finally, if the parents are nice enough to help out with the wedding in any way, I feel it is absolutely paramount to ask for permission.
So I don’t think the tradition of asking parents for marital permission is outdated or degrading at all. It might not serve the exact same purpose it did hundreds of years ago, but it nonetheless serves an important (and different) purpose today.
I don’t think Galanes struck out with his advice though. I am glad he gave the reader the green light to ask for permission in a way that didn’t require him and the parents to be in the same room. In life, there are many important situations when talking to someone face-to-face is preferred. But if geographic limitations exist, you still have to communicate somehow. Recently, my brother asked his girlfriend to marry him. Because he lives in Washington state and his future in-laws live in Florida, he asked via phone rather than waiting until earlier this summer when they visited Spokane. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
In my mind, the suggestion by Galanes to possibly ask for permission via video call was genius. By Facetiming or Skyping the father, the reader still has to look him in the eye and make his body language convey the exact same sentiment he is expressing verbally.
Asking for permission to marry someone is something you will always remember––and it is something the parents will always remember as well. It is important to do, regardless of whether you are able to do it in person or not. Don’t Blink.