Let's look at the facts: The average engagement ring costs $4,000. Many people still practice asking for the woman's father's blessing. And studies claim that an overwhelming two-thirds of men and women still prefer the man to propose. With an estimated 2.6 million newly engaged couples a year (and that's just those who update Facebook), that's a lot of proposals leaning on outdated traditions.
But it's 2015, and that's not the only way to get engaged. A handful of couples have invented an entirely new way of proposing marriage that feels wholly modern, and they call it Engagement Day.
Openly engaged to be engaged: For one couple, the idea started with a language barrier. Molly Black, 28, had moved to France for a teaching job and was trying to tell her boss that her boyfriend, Casey, would soon be joining her from New York. With no direct translation for "boyfriend," Molly resorted to the word "fiancé." When Molly recounted the funny mix-up on Skype, Casey replied, "I want to call you my fiancée."
Just like that, Molly and Casey had found a lighthearted gateway into a serious conversation. While the idea of getting married sounded right, they didn't want to officially get engaged over Skype.
"We decided that we wanted to give ourselves a month of living together in France and getting used to the idea of getting engaged before actually getting engaged," Molly told Mic. "So we simply picked out a date two months in the future and started referring to that day as Engagement Day." The couple let a few friends and family members know they were sort of "engaged to be engaged," and spent the next two months planning.
When the day arrived, they spent it drinking, eating and shopping for engagement rings. "If a women gets to have a tangible symbol of her engagement, the ring, why shouldn't a man?" Molly said. They capped off the day with a dinner at a restaurant near their apartment in Lyon, then made the game-time decision to skip a planned proposal overlooking the Saône River due to the brutal cold.
"So we ended up looking at the river for about 45 seconds and then going back to our apartment," Casey told Mic. "We exchanged our proposals laying in bed."
Ultimately, the engagement was honest, mutual and authentically "them" — in this case, a day of fun, splurging and simplicity.
Popping the question together: Shira Schindel and Ron Gejman, both 27, heard about Molly and Casey's Engagement Day and knew it sounded right for them. Running through the list of modernized options for proposals — flash mobs, silent dance parties — they kept circling back to a mutual proposal. "We'd agree on a date, then plan surprises for one another, each with designated times throughout the day," Shira explained to Mic. "It clicked."
They picked a theme for their Engagement Day — travel — and decided to treat New York like a foreign city. Shira took the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift and filled it with big surprises for Ron. She stamped "Will you marry me?" into an antique spoon at brunch, arranged for couples head massages, then guided Ron to the Chelsea Flea Market to pick up an engagement ring followed by a trip to the Union Square Earth Day celebration. There, she had planted a series of gifts among the crates of books that included some of Ron's childhood favorites.
When Ron took over for the evening shift, he'd planned a special photo shoot and a stroll through Washington Square Park, where he got down on one knee and made a classic proposal to Shira.
The catch? They'd already been proposing to one another continuously throughout the day, with Shira taking to her knee a few times, with Ron doing it a few more for good measure. The couple topped the day off by celebrating with friends and family at a lounge near Columbus Circle, reveling in the reveal of their big adventure.
A trend of equality: For Shira and Ron, Engagement Day was a natural extension of their values. "Neither of us is passive. I think we both wanted to have an active role in this big moment," Shira said. "It was the whole 'surprise' part that wasn't making sense. We both wanted to surprise the other."
With its egalitarian approach, the concept of a mutual proposal strikes an inherently feminist and progressive chord.
"I'd always thought it was weird and unfair that a dude gets to look forward to and plan for an engagement for a long time, while a woman traditionally gets less than five seconds to decide if it's the thing she wants to do," Casey said.
Theresa*, a 20-something who was engaged to her fiance last year, was compelled to embrace a mutual proposal for similar reasons. "For feminist reasons and because of my personality too, I wanted the timing of our engagement to be borne of discussions about what was good for both of us and our families, not of his unilateral decision it was the right time," she told Mic.
Mutual proposals appear to be on the rise, as the rules of who should initiate an engagement — rooted as they are in patriarchal values, as marriage scholar Stephanie Coontz has pointed out — shift. According to Google Trends, searches for "mutual proposal" have shot up since 2012. As Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory, who had an understated mutual proposal of her own, wrote:
"We've seen the definition of marriage, not to mention gender roles, change dramatically. There's been an explosion of DIY brides and growing cynicism about the wedding industry. It would seem only fitting — especially given growing numbers of same-sex couples getting hitched — for the proposal to change too."
Mutual proposals for opposite-sex couples, of course, take a cue from LGBT couples, many of whom have embraced their own mutual engagement rituals. As Mic's Marcie Bianco noted previously, proposing to her now-wife took serious consideration: "The act of proposing, so rooted in traditional heterosexual roles, felt daunting." Their solution — designing rings together with friend and gay jeweler Rony Tennenbaum — felt most authentic.
"We both wanted the experience of proposing and being proposed to," Jennifer Barron said of her planned proposal to her wife, Meadow Braun, in an interview with the New York Times. "It felt really empowering for me."
As a most celebratory and personal mutual proposal, Engagement Day swaps the rote proposal for a ceremony, not unlike a relationship's birthday celebration, that acknowledges there are two distinct individuals involved.
"I think we just figured our relationship was unique and shaped by our personalities," Molly said. "Why shouldn't our engagement be as well?"
* Name has been changed to allow subject to speak freely on private matters.