Keelia Silvis picked a dramatic setting.
She and her boyfriend Jeremy Kieser had traveled to the Grand Teton National Park in August 2017 to witness the total solar eclipse. As the edge of the moon started to creep over the sun and the morning sky went dark, she executed her plan.
“I got down on my knee and said, ‘Will you marry me?’ He said yes and we kissed. It was so romantic,” said Silvis. “We were laughing uncontrollably with pure joy. That moment was a representation of us — our love of travel, astronomy, nature, our awe at how big and beautiful the universe is.”
Now married for a year and a half, Silvis, 27, and Kieser, 30, don’t hesitate to share their story.
“I’m proud of my proposal. I’m the more outgoing person in our relationship and I’m the one who had the idea,” said Silvis. “We don’t follow outdated stereotypes in our relationship, like it should be the man who asks.”
Women seeking a reason to pop the question need look no further than a quirk in the calendar this week.
Irish folk legend holds that women may propose marriage once every four years, on Feb. 29. The leap year tradition is said to have originated in the fifth century when St. Brigid struck a deal with St. Patrick to allow women to flip the script.
But when it comes to proposals, the boy-asks-girl model is holding firm.
A 2017 survey by wedding planning site the Knot concluded that only 1% of brides had done the asking. A 2014 Associated Press-WE TV poll of married couples put that number at 5%.
“Just about every tradition related to marriage has been revised and modified but not this one. It persists,” said Ashley Thompson, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth who researches gender dynamics in marriage.
“Even as couples have shifted into more egalitarian roles, tradition and social messaging tell us that men are the initiators. Women who propose are seen as desperate,” she said. “Women are judged more harshly than men when they assume nontraditional sexual behaviors.”
Taking a knee
It wasn’t desperation, but real-life loss that prompted Julie Smith to pop the question.
Around the time that Smith and her boyfriend Matt began hatching their long-term plans, her father received a cancer diagnosis. His condition worsened more rapidly than doctors had expected and he died before their wedding plans were set.
“That was a reality check for me,” said Smith, 49, of Minnetonka. “I saw that life is too short.”
As long as she was taking the traditionally male role by proposing, she also followed the custom of asking his mother and father for their approval before she took a knee.
“Matt’s parents are divorced, so I called them individually. I’m old enough to know that when you marry someone, you’re marrying their family,” she said.
In addition to a rush of romantic feelings, Doug Bailey said he felt relief when his girlfriend asked him to marry her.
“It took a tremendous amount of stress off me,” said Bailey, 51, of Minneapolis. “It was pretty gutsy on her part.”
When they met, both Bailey and his now-wife Kate Kunkel Bailey were divorced. Throughout two years of dating, Kunkel Bailey declared — often and vociferously — that she’d never marry again.
“But then I changed my mind,” said Kunkel Bailey, 39. “I couldn’t expect Doug to know that, so I thought, ‘It’s got to be up to me.’ But I was worried. What if I had done too good of a job convincing him that not getting married was right for us?”
She broached the subject on Bailey’s birthday when they visited a beach in Washington state. With the surf crashing in the background, Kunkel Bailey presented him with a photo collection that documented their courtship.
“I said, ‘Will you spend the rest of your life having adventures with me?’ ” she recalled. “And he said, ‘Are you doing what I think you’re doing?’ I was so nervous that I had forgotten to actually ask the question. So I got down on one knee and did it.”
Making new traditions
Of course, long-accepted matrimonial customs and fixed gender roles don’t apply to gay couples.
“LGBTQ people turn their backs on the heteronormative traditions that don’t serve us,” said Kate Schaefer, editor of H&H (His & His/Hers & Hers) Weddings, a blog that lists wedding resources for LGBTQ couples.
Schaefer, an Eden Prairie native, founded the site in 2013 as more states legalized samesex marriage.
“Historically, proposing is a power move; it’s done on the man’s timeline. He decides when they’re ready and there’s that moment when the woman has to say yes or no,” said Schaefer. “We are more likely to say, ‘It doesn’t matter what people did before, this is what feels right to us.’ ”
In the LGBTQ community, Schaefer said, she’s heard of double proposals, an approach embraced by Dani Bennett-Danek and Candi Danek-Bennett, who married in 2015.
The Coon Rapids couple met in a women’s hockey league. At a game two years later, Dani, 42, was running the clock while Candi, 47, was playing. As the seconds wound down, Candi had arranged to have “Dani, will you marry me?” flash on the scoreboard.
“The whole hockey association knew this was coming. I went out on the ice, she went down on one knee and everyone cheered,” said Dani. “I decided I wanted to ask her back.”
She did it a few months later at a concert, where Dani proposed to Candi from the stage during a break in the music.
“Marriage was a dream we were never allowed to have. We didn’t think it would happen in our lifetime,” said Candi. “We didn’t grow up with images in our heads for our whole life, what the wedding would look like. So we don’t have to follow any norms, and that starts with the proposal.”
Several high-profile women have also initiated marriage.
In her autobiography, Elizabeth Warren writes about proposing to her second husband, Bruce Mann. No-nonsense Judge Judy got down to business by asking her husband, Jerry Sheindlin, to marry her. Pop star Pink proposed to motocrossracer Carey Hart at one of his races by holding a sign reading “Will you marry me?”
And just this past Christmas, Olympian Lindsey Vonn took to social media to share the news about her beau, NHL star P.K. Subban. “In a ‘nontraditional’ move, I asked PK to marry me and he said, Yes!” Vonn wrote on Twitter.
Schaefer thinks the example set by female stars and couples like Candi and Dani may be the catalyst that nudges the classic proposal ritual into new territory.
“Straight friends and relatives of LGBTQ folks are seeing how we go our own way and making our weddings our own,” said Schaefer. “It’s causing some of them to think, ‘Maybe we don’t have to be so by-the-book, either.’ ”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.