Permission to wed: should you ask your partner’s father before you propose marriage?

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When you decide to propose to your partner, there are quite a few things you need to consider before you ask that life-changing question. Where shall I do it? How shall I do it? When shall I do it? What type of ring shall I buy?

But there is another question that you might want to consider: should you ask your girlfriend’s father for their hand in marriage? This is a tradition that’s been observed for centuries in numerous cultures across the world, from the giving of a coin to potential fathers-in-law by Roman suitors to a nineteenth century papa negotiating dowries with their future son-in-law.

But it’s the 21st century, and things have moved on. Women are no longer seen as their father’s possessions, so is this a tradition that should even still exist? And what about LGBTQ+ couples – is this something that applies to them? You may be surprised…

Do people still ask fathers for her hand in marriage?

You would think in today’s much more equal society, modern grooms wouldn’t entertain the notion that they needed to ask their partner’s father before proposing marriage. But this tradition does seem to be alive and well: according to a 2015 survey by The Knot , over three-quarters of men asked for permission from her father or parents before they popped the question. In a 2016 survey of  LGBTQ+ couples, 42% of men and 46% of women asked for parental permission – a number that had nearly doubled since 2015.

On the surface of it, millennial couples do seem to be keeping this tradition alive. So why is it considered important by many to ask for a father’s or parents’ blessing? And if you do want to do it, what’s the best way to go about it – and how long before the proposal should you ask for permission?

Making the right decision for your partner

Like everything to do with weddings and marriage, there are lots of opinions and it really comes down to what you and your partner would prefer. So when it comes to the topic of asking permission from her father, the first thing you have to establish is whether this is important to your partner.

For some people the thought of this is an absolute no-no, such as Jane, who runs The Oxford Calligrapher. “I feel it’s a terribly outdated tradition, harking back to when women were treated as possessions. I was very clear to my now-husband that I didn’t want him to ask anyone if he was allowed to marry me! The result was that my dad was as happily surprised as everyone else when we announced our news.”

Zoe Gilbertson from London agrees. “My fiance Matt didn’t ask my Dad first as he didn’t think that would be my preference – and he was right. I think a lot depends on your relationship with your parents and your personal choice.”

For others, however, the thought of seeing a blessing from their father is a lovely tradition that they want to uphold and feel their father would also appreciate.

“Simon did ask my dad and I thought it was lovely,” reveals Chloe Earl from Surrey. “It was more as a nice gesture than anything less and showed respect to my family – yes, that might be seen as old fashioned but I thought it was sweet. I wouldn’t have asked him to ask my dad but I was touched he did and my dad was too. I know there’s a whole male ownership argument against it but as I took my husband’s name I’ve already lost that one!”

Dan Phillips from Bristol asked his now-wife Deb’s father for permission – but her dad’s answer made Deb chuckle when she heard the story. “Dad apparently replied with ‘’Don’t you think you would be better asking her instead of me?’” Good point!

Of course, it may be the case that your partner’s father isn’t around, for a variety of reasons, but you can still ask for a blessing from someone they have a close relationship with. For Crissie O’Keeffe from London, it was very important that her partner Tom asked her mother. “There was no father to ask; it was just me and mum. She is both of my parents,” explains Crissie. “So I felt very strongly about my mum being asked and Tom was very happy to do so. Mum’s a bit of a traditionalist so even though she never asked for this to happen, I knew it would score him major brownie points and show an understanding of our family and traditions. But most importantly, it wasn’t so much about Tom asking her if he could marry me, it was about them having a conversation together where the bond between my mum and me was acknowledged, where reassurances that I would be OK with him were made and where she was able to welcome and accept him as part of our family.”

Crissie also explains that in Tom asking her mother for permission, there were two other unexpected bonuses. “It was a really lovely moment as she was able to feel proud and privileged to be in on the secret, but it also set the foundations for the positive and loving relationship she and my husband now share.”

Things to consider when asking permission

So if you are going ahead with asking for permission from your loved one’s dad, you might want to consider the following points in order to make sure the experience runs as smoothly as possible – and you get the right answer to your question!

Consider asking both parents, not just the father. The last thing you want to do is alienate your future mother-in-law, so have a careful think about whether she would like to be included in any pre-proposal conversations you initiate. If necessary, have a chat with your partner about their mother’s feelings on the topic. Asking both parents is also a lovely way to keep the tradition going but make it much more equal. If your partner doesn’t have a close relationship with their parents, you could also ask step parents or even siblings.

Have a think about the type of person your partner’s father is – traditional, or more easy going? If the former, you might want to word your request more formally, but for the latter, a casual conversation over a beer might be more appropriate.

Remember, you’re asking for her father’s blessing, not outright permission. Even if he refuses to give his blessing – which hopefully won’t be the case, if he can see that the two of you are in a loving and committed relationship – you can still go ahead with the wedding.

Finally, judge your timing. You don’t want to leave too long between asking for a blessing and your actual proposal, in case anyone gets over-excited and accidentally tells your partner!

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