The Proposal (Part 1)

Every wedding begins with a proposal, right? Wrong!

In our case, our families have been informed, our closest friends have heard the news and wedding prep is already underway, but no formal proposal has been made. How can that be, you might wonder? Well, for a number of reasons, first and foremost my “inofficial fiancé”, as I currently awkwardly introduce him to new acquaintances, is rather traditional.

In the olden days, and even among more conservative Chinese families today, the decision to get married is not actually made by the young couple but rather by their families. If a couple has been going out for the appropriate amount of time (which in China often ranges between six months and one year), the discussion is usually brought up by both side’s parents, who are all eager to see their children get hitched sooner rather than later out of their passionate desire for grandchildren; a concept I find fascinating to put it lightly. Luckily, my future mother-in-law is a very open-minded and intelligent person, who was easily appeased by my proclamation that foreigners don’t get married before they are thirty (yes, I know, not true, but it kept the questions at bay). Now after torturing my future in-laws with that line for almost three years, I have finally decided that despite my only 27 years, I am happy to put an end to their suffering. But in all honesty, they have been incredibly respectful of my opinion and I have not been subjected to any pressure; I truly appreciate how rare this is in Chinese families, although it may be down to the fact that I am the woman here and it is usually her side who is more eager to get things settled quickly. Anyway, I digress.

So, traditionally, Chinese families decided upon the fact and hence there was no true proposal. Nowadays, as Chinese culture gets more and more Westernized and Chinese women’s expectations, after a steady diet of Friends, HIMYM and Big Bang Theory are exponentially rising, things are a-changing. Back in 2012, when Mr. Li (the inofficial fiancé) and me were still living in Newcastle, a Chinese acquaintance proposed to his girlfriend right in the central square of the small city by playing a romantic video on a big screen in which all their friends asked the girl in Chinese if she would marry her partner. He then knelt down in front of everyone and presented her with a dazzling engagement ring.

Interestingly, this indirect way of proposing via video or by having someone else pop the question is very popular amongst Chinese, partly because many Chinese men tend to be rather shy, and partly because Chinese culture is not a very offensive one, communication being rather indirect most of the time.  Asking someone straight on to marry you with the possibility of them saying no is even scary in our direct, speak-your-mind Western culture, so no wonder Chinese men often try and find a more indirect approach.

So, to sum up, yes, wedding proposals are becoming increasingly common in China. In my case, I have not had one yet. What actually happened was that after a three-hour Skype session, we managed to discuss and sort out any lingering concerns about what marriage entails and how our relationship dynamic might change if we take the plunge. And then we decided that we were finally getting married. It was not until later that Mr. Li looked at me quizzically and asked:

“Do I actually have to propose to you?”

As a child of the Disney and Hollywood era, I have to say that no proposal is a bit of a no-go, especially considering that I will be organising two weddings, one in China and one in Germany, and all Mr. Li needs to do is show up. Hence, I need him to do at least his one thing. But more importantly, it is a little bit of a test I have set him, since when romance knocked on his door with free hand-outs, he decided to pretend he wasn’t home, so for one time in is life I want him to prove to me that he can be at least a little bit romantic.

He is still trying to get out of it by regularly reminding me of my cousin who proposed to her husband and pointing out:

“You always insist on being a feminist, why can you not be one the one time I need you to be?”

Or he tries to trick me by arguing that by making wedding plans and arrangements I am consenting to the marriage and hence no proposal is necessary, the sly little snake (this is not an insult, but actually his Chinese zodiac sign).

Anywho, long story short there has not been a proposal as of now but there is a ring (which is an entirely different story), and I have been assured that the planning of the grand gesture is underway. I am incredibly curious to see what the possibly least romantic person on earth comes up with!


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