A man down on one knee, a woman close to tears, a cool breeze, and a sunset to die for. That’s the setting of one of the most popular and romantic marriage proposals we see in movies.
Over the years, proposals have gone from planned weddings – where the man and woman do not even meet till the wedding day- to a man making a scene at a restaurant by asking the band to sing to his girlfriend, to men proposing in the presence of family and friends.
So what is the perfect way to propose to your girl friend? Is there a right time and place to do it? Is it even necessary to propose?
Louise Umutoni, the founder and director of Huza Press, says that it’s about the people in the relationship.
“It’s all about what the lovers view as the right time to do it. And it can only be perfect if the people involved in the relationship are for it,” she says.
Renowned musician, Emery Gatsinzi aka Riderman who recently got married, who recently got married echoes the same view. “It all depends on how much you love each other and if you are sure that you want to get married.
As for the perfect timing, it all depends on the couple and the kind of environment they both like,” he says.
However for Shemsa Uwantege it’s about how long you have dated.
“The most ideal time to propose to a girl is if you have been dating for more than a year and both of you want to spend more time together,” she says.
Umutoni adds that the feelings shared have to be mutual so that no one is pressured into anything because such will only result into a forced relationship.
However, some people think the culture of a proposing is alien to African values.
Olive Uwamariya, a gender activist with Care International asks Why one should wait for a proposal?
“As adults, why can’t we agree that we want to get married and go ahead and get married? Besides, why can’t the lady be the one to propose to the man? So, I don’t believe in the whole proposing idea,” she says.
Uwamariya adds that getting married should depend on how they both feel for each other, but the decision should also be an informed one.
“I can’t urge my daughter to get engaged after dating a guy for three months or agree with people who get engaged for selfish purposes, like when one partner is going abroad for further studies. That shouldn’t be the case,” she adds.
Uwamariya also believes that the perfect proposal should be how it is incorporated in our society. She says that proposing is a western value and it can only be perfect if we make it work in our context.
Sandrine Isheja who got engaged recently says that her engagement is all she had dreamt it would be.
“It was on my birthday, I had my best friends and family around and to add icing to the cake, my favourite musician, Christopher, was there to sing for me. It was awesome, my perfect proposal,” she says.
However, Dieudonne Ishimwe aka Prince Kid, managing director of Rwanda Inspiration Backup, says that the act of proposing shouldn’t be the most important but the reason for doing it. The reason for proposing will usually determine the timing and how perfect it will be.
“It depends on the sentiments of both individuals and their reason for marriage. When a proposal happens, that means even the wedding is around the corner. So is the act the most important or the reason? I think the timing depends on the reason,” Ishimwe adds.
How it was done in traditional Rwanda
Traditionally in Rwanda, couples had a unique way of ‘proposing’ that usually involved families.
Andreya Gasumuni, an elder, says that there were certain practices that took place prior to the wedding and the proposal was among them but very different from nowadays.
“It began with the man’s relative, in most cases the uncle identifying a girl for him to marry. This person was referred to as Umuranga and the process was called Kuranga. Then the groom’s family would go for Gufata Irembo literally translated as “letting the girl’s family aware of your marriage intentions,” he says.
It was during this visit that the man’s proposal would be accepted or denied. This is the same as the modern proposal where a girl can accept or refuse to get engaged to the man. The only difference then is that the girl’s family would take that decision without the girl’s input.
He also added that this mode of proposing is much safer than the modern way because back then families usually knew each other very well. Gasumuni says that it depends on what the couple involved want and usually, they are too young to understand certain things.
“Back then, the Umuranga would identify a girl from a family that is well known to the guy’s family and the girl had to be well mannered. Nowadays, people get married only to find out the girl is a crook or the guy is a thief. So, to me I would say that the current way of proposing possesses a lot of risks and I think it’s one of the reasons most marriages don’t last long,” he adds.
However, Pastor Andrew Mukinisha, senior pastor at Christian Life Assembly, says that a fusion of the traditional and modern way of proposing is important because it strikes a balance between marrying an individual and ‘marrying’ the family.
“In the old days, people ‘married’ the family not the individual and it helped because most of the time families knew each other. On the other hand, the girl would be at a disadvantage because she would marry someone she didn’t know. Can you imagine the fear and anxiety the girl would have?” he says.
Mukinisha adds that people should attach a lot of value in knowing the partner’s background and the family because someone’s character, culture, upbringing and values can be seen through the family. As for the ideal time, he says that a couple should identify certain elements before getting to that level.
“It is important to look at the common values they both share, if they share the same faith - because if they differ it might be a problem. Things like the personality of each individual and they have to be friends too,” he says.
Mukinisha also advises that it is important to know a partner’s background, it is also important to allow the individuals the liberty of knowing each other personally.
Want to propose? Here’s how…
The most romantic ways to propose
1. Choose a favourite place - whether it’s a fountain, hotel rooftop, monument or national park -- that has personal significance to the two of you. Once there, ask someone nearby to take a picture of you together, and instead of posing, drop down on one knee.
2. Have a choir, brass band or drum line show up for a surprise performance of your fiancée-to-be’s favourite love song in a park or public location for your proposal. For a really personal touch, ask the performers if they can incorporate your fiancée’s name into the lyrics.
3. Get in touch with the stage manager of your favourite production and propose after the cast’s curtain call. Call ahead and see if you can have a special note or ad placement added into the playbill, so you have a keepsake of the proposal.
4. Arrange a surprise proposal with a street caricaturist. Have the caricaturist sketch a picture of you two with word bubbles that say, “Will you marry me?” and “Yes!”
5. Send your unsuspecting fiancée-to-be on a treasure hunt that ends with your proposal. Start with a clue at home (a handwritten note or text message) that leads to a tour of your favorite spots all over town.
6. Go out for a night of dancing and ask the DJ or bandleader to pass you the mic so you can dedicate a song and propose on the dance floor.
7. Take out a full-page ad in a newspaper, and then pick the perfect spot to have a relaxing morning of catching up on current events. Another twist on this idea is to call into a radio station and then make sure your fiancée-to-be is listening when your proposal is on the air.
8.Go to the beach and build a sandcastle together (at a safe distance from the ocean!).When your partner isn’t looking, put the ring on the highest tower.
9. Turn off all the lights in your apartment and make a trail of candles that leads to a circle of votives positioned around the ring.
10. Tie a red velvet ribbon from one spot in your home to another. Attach little notes recalling perfect moments in your relationship along the way. Wait for your partner at the end of the ribbon with the ring in hand.
11. Ask a baker to make a custom cake with the proposal written in frosting. Then, have the cake displayed in the storefront and take your partner window-shopping. Bring the cake home to share and celebrate afterward!
YOUR VOICE: Can a woman propose to a man?
Irene Babirye, accountant
Proposing to a man is a sign of desperation. I don’t care how long we have dated. It’s just not in our nature to do so. A man who proposes to a woman sees things that he admires in her, so let him be the one to propose. If he wants to spend the rest of his life with her, he will.
Doreen Umwali, business woman
What happened to a man proposing if he sees the wife material in me? I am an ‘old school’ woman who believes that a man should be the one to propose. If this is a trend, I think I will pass. Besides, there are other ways to get him to propose faster, like getting pregnant on purpose. It happens a lot in Kigali.
Claudine Utuje, beautician
With words yes, but with a ring, No!. I would probably make my intentions known to the man by telling him or showing him but I wouldn’t bring a ring. When it comes to men in Rwanda, I feel that he probably wouldn’t get it and in the end, I perhaps would appear desperate.
Sean Kirezi, accountant
I think it is fine, though I just do not see myself doing it. I am a coward and sometimes my ego gets in the way. I know a few women that are fearless enough to do it. They live each day like it’s the last, they choose happiness over whatever else might stand in their way and they are not afraid to wear their heart on their sleeve. I think if I met a man I could propose to, he would be the kind that would appreciate the courage it took for me to do it. He would have to be really smart and respectful.
Rama Isibo, farmer
I don’t see any problem with it at all. It actually happened to me. I just stood there, silent for an hour. It was my way of saying no. There is no way that relationship would have worked. But can a woman propose to me and I say yes? Absolutely. Timing and reasons are important.